SmithsonHill welcomes the speech by Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, DEFRA Secretary of State, at the Oxford Farming Conference on 8th January 2020, setting out her vision for the future of farming, combining the need to deliver food security in the UK and globally at the same time as tackling climate change and promoting nature recovery.

Setting out a framework for a new UK agricultural policy, the Secretary of State said that she wanted to boost ‘sustainable productivity to support farmers in their hugely important task of feeding the nation’.

As well as committing to using money released by changes to the Direct Payments system to launch the national pilot of the Environmental Land Management scheme, she also emphasised the need to ‘provide targeted financial assistance to improve agricultural productivity’.

The overall ‘ambition is to incentivise a profitable, productive, sustainable farming sector … using fewer inputs …producing healthy animals and reduced pollution … and achieving healthier soils, and cleaner water and air’.

To deliver these ambitions the Secretary of State stressed the need to invest in sustainable productivity growth by ensuring that we ‘get technology out to farms and into the fields’, by supporting ‘investment in equipment and infrastructure, more precise application of nutrients, and greater use of robotics and energy-efficient machinery’.  She also committed DEFRA to continuing to invest in R&D and to increasing the input of farmers to research and innovation.

Emma Fletcher from SmithsonHill responds,

Whilst we wholeheartedly agree with the Secretary of State that farmers should be more involved in R&D and innovation, in our opinion there needs to be more discussion of how to commercialise this R&D. There is a missing step between innovation and industry adoption, that is commercialisation, and that is what we need to do quickly.

Other industries have thriving clusters and places to converge, but the Agriculture industry is crying out for a global-scale place that brings together Agri with Tech to commercialise the R&D innovations including through the use of technology.  Our proposed ARC Cambridge site is designed to meet the needs of innovators, at the heart of one of the most important agricultural and innovation regions in the UK.

The proposed ARC AgriTech park aims to spearhead this agenda in the UK by creating a global-scale specialised technology park where entrepreneurs can commercialise new agricultural technologies by working directly with others in the industry.  This would build on the East of England’s globally significant cluster of agricultural research and World class farming industry to lead transformative change in the industry.

John Shropshire, OBE, CEO of G’s Group Holdings and member of the National Food Strategy Advisory Panel, says of the project,

I fully support the vision behind the AgriTech park and believe it will deliver a key piece of the jigsaw to ensure we can attract new businesses into the region, increase productivity and marketability of our food and make the industry more sustainable, as well as grow and export new technologies that will help farm businesses like ours, around the world.

SmithsonHill looks forward to working with the industry and government to being part of this exciting future vision for farming.