Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum

Today I attended the Westminster Food & Nutrition keynote seminar entitled ‘Next Steps for Farming Productivity; AgriTech, Investment and Knowledge Transfer’. It was held at the Caledonian Club close to Hyde Park, which was a marvellous venue (it even had a snooker room).

On the whole, the UK’s food and farming policy plans for when Britain leaves the EU, as proposed by Michael Gove recently, seem encouraging and have been well received. Not least due to the emphasis on sustainability and the environment. It was in this context that the forum took place. Deputy Director of farming Productivity at Defra, Tim Mordon, opened the forum stating that the government was serious about improving food and farming productivity.

The general mood of the event was that Britain has aspirations of being a world leader in food and farming innovation, but so far seems to be underperforming. Themes that kept cropping up were poor productivity performance (many speakers referred to productivity graphs which shows the UK lagging behind other nations, despite a comparable investment in research), a fragmented knowledge exchange landscape, no mechanism for bringing innovation to market in the UK, and a call for policies which encourage co-operation and collaboration in the farming sector and to encourage the best young people into the industry.

The AgriTech park at Hinxton which has been proposed by SmithsonHill just fits so perfectly with everything that was being called for at the forum. There is so much exciting research in the field of AgriTech happening in Cambridge; pioneering work that could have massive impact on the future sustainability of food production, but if it doesn’t find a route to market locally then we’ll end up finding that the innovation is commercialised in other countries. As one of the speakers put it, ‘AgriTech could become a major new export sector for the UK’.

The planning application for the AgriTech park was rejected last week. Disappointing, but not unexpected by any means. If this forum is anything to go by, and if the government really is serious about productivity, sustainability and turning the UK into a market leader in AgriTech then perhaps the application might stand a better chance next time round.

Duncan

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