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REAP Conference 2017: Where Today’s Knowledge Met Tomorrow’s Technology

REAP, the UK’s leading UK AgriTech conferencebrings together farmers and growers with researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors. Organised by AgriTech East as part of AgriTech Week, this year’s focus was on bridging the gap between producer needs and innovation-based solutions. The increasingly vibrant AgriTech start-up community in the east of England and beyond was also showcased. 

In this blog SmithsonHill’s MD, Emma Fletcher, shares her highlights ..

“Productive, profitable and sustainable: can AgriTech deliver a hat-trick?” This was the question posed at REAP 2017. It’s a question deserving attention since facts show that soil tillage has led to soil erosion at rates that threaten sustainable food supply. As a result, farming practices that work with nature are gaining momentum, yet, for the whole value chain to embrace this challenge, a dialogue based on good science, relevant metrics and consistent standards is needed.  

REAP 2107 gave a stage to such a dialogue, giving early adopters an opportunity to showcase how today’s best practice is being enhanced by emerging AgriTech, early career researchers the chance to share their findings and regulators the space to outline future strategy.

 

What experiences did early adopters share from the field at REAP 2017?

 

Before six of the hottest young AgriTech companies presented their technologies, Maria Beatriz Giraudo, Argentinean farmer and winner of the Kieckner Global Farming Prize showcased her farm’s no-till farming success. Advising that 90% of farmed land in Argentina is now no-till and that Argentinean farmers are enjoying huge benefits, including the reduction of water evaporation by 70% and fossil fuel use by 60%, Maria encouraged farmers globally to consider the benefits of no-till farming.  “Farmers trust farmers and the same principle of knowledge exchange works around the world,” she commented. 

Professor Ian Crute, former chief scientist at AHDB, responded to Maria’s keynote. He made the audience aware of a recent event in Eire that backs up the effectiveness of a no-till policy and also noted how social media is enabling farmer-to-farmer communication and promoting knowledge sharing.  

Following Professor Crute’s response, Philip Garford, managing director of Garford Farm Machinerymarks, Matt O’Hagan, senior agronomist at Marks and Spencer and Sachin Shande, co-founder and CEO of the Cambridge headquartered crop intelligence platform KisanHub, shared their experiences of adopting new technology and collaborative approaches too. 

 What insights did researchers and technologists provide into emerging AgriTech developments at REAP 2017? 

 

Early career researchers made lightning presentations. Jamie Puildo Fentanes from the University of Lincoln presented research on improving soil understanding using robotic exploration. Stephanie Swarbreck from the University of Cambridge presented on selecting wheat varieties that can tolerate or suppress blackgrass. Sophie Harrington from John Innes Centre presented findings on the importance of senescence in wheat. Jim Stevens from the University of Essex explained why early flowering barley varieties used less water. Asna Javaiud from the University of Hertfordshire asked whether we are missing something important, as signified by phoma canker on oilseed rape. Francesca Stefanoto from John Innes Centre looked into the affect of irrigation and bacterial communities on common potato scab control. And, finally, Dr Marina Pais from The Sainsbury Laboratory talked about reducing late blight in potatoes using a 3-gene stack. 

What future strategy did regulators outline at REAP 2017? 

 

Perhaps this headline should read, “What future strategies did farmers ask regulators to address?” Most seemed to be in agreement with Rothamsted Centre for Research & Enterprise (RoCRE), who tweeted: 

There was a significant announcement made at the event too.  Agri-Tech East and AHDB (the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) launched a joint initiative to help the adoption of innovative technology in the sector. They are to create a new position of ‘knowledge and innovation facilitator’ to help deliver a programme of new projects. Cambridge News’ Matt Gooding was quick to share how Cambridge expertise will be at the heart of this new partnership to accelerate the use of technology in agriculture in the paper’s evening edition. 

Less significant in nature was our announcement that Connecting Food’s Britt Kiritzler was the lucky winner of Cozmo, the robot we put up for grabs at the fava bean beer evening reception we proudly sponsored. 

I’ll leave the last word to Dan Jolly whose final tweet summed up the day: 

 

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