Business secretary Greg Clark launches £90m agri-tech fund

PUBLISHED: 13:37 22 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:03 22 February 2018

Business secretary Greg Clark speaking at the NFU Conference 2018. 
Picture: Simon Hadley

Business secretary Greg Clark speaking at the NFU Conference 2018. Picture: Simon Hadley

Simon Hadley/

A £90m government agri-tech fund has been launched to help farmers make better use of robotics, artificial intelligence and satellite data mapping.

A crop-weeding robot on display at the 2017 Cereals Show.A crop-weeding robot on display at the 2017 Cereals Show.

Business secretary Greg Clark announced the funding at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham.

He hailed the potential of technological innovations including the Ordnance Survey’s use of cutting edge satellite imagery and digital data collection to map 200,000 miles of England’s farmland, and the Croprotect app which helps farmers protect crops from pests, weeds and diseases.

And he said the new investment, part of the government’s industrial strategy, aimed to fund similar developments to fuel further growth of the agri-food sector which contributes £14.3bn to the UK economy.

Mr Clark said: “As someone who has known all my life that farming is foundational not just to our economy, but to our country. Providing the food and drink we live on and stewarding the countryside that is so much part of our national and local identity means there is no more essential industry.

“As part of the Industrial Strategy, we announced a Transforming Food Production Challenge and I’m delighted to announce the government will invest £90 million to make this challenge a reality.

“This will include the creation of Translation Hubs bringing together farmers and growers businesses, scientists and Centres for Agricultural Innovation to apply the latest research to farming practice.”

NFU chief science adviser Dr Helen Ferrier welcomed the announcement, adding: “For many years the NFU has been highlighting the significant role of science and R&D in agriculture and the risks of under-investing in this area. Our ‘Feeding the Future Four Year’s On’ report sets out clearly the sector’s innovation needs and has already been used in formulating this successful bid into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

“We will continue to work very closely with BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), Innovate UK, AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) and all our partners across science and supply chains to ensure this funding gives a major boost to knowledge exchange and skills development, as this is the only way to turn scientific and technological advances into productivity transformations across the whole sector.”

“It is now vital that more attention is given to engaging more farm businesses in the [industrial] strategy and this new R&D programme, to make it real for farmers and growers.”

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