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What did we learn at the World AgriTech Innovation Summit? 

Last month’s World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit’s 48 hours of networking, 400 one-to-one meetings and 60 industry leading international speakers all focussed on commercialising innovation in tomorrow’s agri-food systems amounted to quite some occasion. In between other high profile industry events, including CleanTech Venture DayEast of England Farming Conference and Agri-Tech East’s REAP 2017SmithsonHill’s managing director Emma Fletcher has found time to share her highlights … 

What a beautiful morning it was that saw us arriving in our droves to this year’s World AgriTech Summit, a morning that saw the following notable quotes: 

Nestle’s Hans Jöhr explaining that consumers now want to know where their food comes from, how it’s made and what’s in the finished product commented: “We need an end to end view, a positive impact on human health and natural stewardship.”   

Sven Tormahlen of Arla Foods agreed, commenting: “As an industry we need to respond to consumers, participate more in public debate and engage.”  

Monsanto’s Daniel Pereira added to this theme, stating “Partnerships and solutions come from unexpected places: 12 – 13 year olds are very aware of issues now around food.” 

What were the general trends emerging from World Agritech Innovation Summit? 

  • Food miles were not referred to as much as might have been expected 
  • ‘Local is the new global’ 
  • The need to replace chemicals in the diets of our massively growing population 
  • The adoption of data-driven solutions to streamline operations 
  • The need to change current food systems to ones that ‘do well by doing good’  
  • The significant leapfrogging of tech by developing countries (driven by the need for long-term sources of food supply)  
  • Fake news becoming a big problem in AgriTech, meaning there is a need for more work on consumer trust and understanding  
  • Aspire Food Group also revealed some interesting trends of future food sources, including insects. 

What were the technology trends emerging from World Agritech Innovation Summit? 

 In terms of technology there were some powerful discussions around:  

  • Whether we need an open plan architecture approach to digital farming 
  • The Green Pea Company presented a persuasive case study about auto steering technology and how technology can reduce costs and impact on the environment 
  • Gs Fresh Wholesale presented on the efficiency gains made with precision farming, including Spectrum Aviation aircraft survey and informatics 

DEFRA minister George Eustice summed up the situation nicely with statements including:  

“Technology has the answer to many of our problems.”  

“We need to fuse traditional farming with modern genetic science.”  

“We need to move on. We do not need to be in the EU to work in a collaborative way.”  

“AgriTech strategy, centres of excellence, grant support for tech take up and faster deployment are essential.”  

We also saw the world’s first white asparagus harvester in action (on the screen rather than in a field, of course, though in a field on a screen – just to clarify) and heard again and again about the massive explosion in satellite data over the last 5 years (did you know that radar can now see through clouds btw?) and the urgent need to turn this data into information. 

 What were the talent trends emerging from World Agritech Innovation Summit?  

In terms of talent there were some interesting insights around the need to work collaboratively and the need to work harder to attract people to farming. I particularly enjoyed G’S Fresh Produce’s point that you don’t need to join the Air Force to fly a plane. 

What were the finance trends emerging from World Agritech Innovation Summit?

The good news here is that AgriTech has broken the $1bn mark, according to AgFunder’s mid-year report, with $4.4 billion in funding across the wider AgriFood chain and AgBioTech still getting the highest level of investment. 

Shall I conclude with my favourite quote of the day? Oh alright then. It came from a gentleman in the audience and seemed to sum up the entire conference to me:  

“Space and technology are not complicated, but agriculture is…” 

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