With a very strong team of leaders from across the agritech and biotech sectors, led by Polly Purvis of Intelligent Growth Solutions and Mark Bustard of IBioIC, the discussion was centred around the development of the agritech sector, the challenges it faces and the future outlook.
It is estimated that by 2025 the food and drink sector in the UK could overtake the finance sector in GVA delivered. This will be achieved in many ways but not least by the constant integration of a traditional sector – agriculture – with modern research and technology. Scotland is well positioned with leading academic institutes, innovation centres, Government support and excellent agricultural infrastructure.
There have been great advancements in measurement and analytics across cereals, dairy and the wider horticultural verticals which has allowed much improvement across pollution, animal welfare and how to reduce our carbon footprint. There has also been some disconnect between the scientists with the great ideas, to the farmers and the hard, operational work they do. Finding a better way to integrate the ideas from the technical teams to the operational people will be important. This is being constantly improved by organisations like Agri EPI, IGS, Kettle Produce and IceRobotics to ensure that technical developments are relevant. For some it is a simple camera for weed identification, for others it is a vertical stacking system with growth indoors creating the perfect climate and conditions. With dairy it is about utilising the millions of data points to drive better performance and remembering the importance of traceability for the consumer.
There are global changes with food protectionism on the rise, enhanced by the recent Covid 19 pandemic, and a concerted move to driving greater appreciation of the circular economy. Mark Bustard of IBioIC sees the importance of looking across the supply chain to animal products and waste, utilising them in the biotech industry. Mark Simmers, Celtic Renewables, was excited by their ability to diversify away from using the waste product from whisky production to a much wider use of agriculture waste in their production of biobutanol which vastly reduces the requirement for fossil fuels.
All agreed there will continue to be a drive towards increased automation. The challenge of sourcing relevant labour from Europe has been put in sharp focus with the inability for people to travel and this is important in both agriculture and aquaculture. There is a changing landscape in the retail sector and only time will tell whether the recent move to ‘shop local using domestic ingredients’ will continue. The reliance on internationally grown produce to satisfy consumer demand all year round comes with a huge environmental impact, yet we have the technology to grow many unique crops here if we can scale the technology. This also reduces our reliance on overseas production which affects our ability to feed ourselves.
Clearly all development and research needs funding and this is where the partnership between academia, innovation centres, early stage businesses and investors is key. Ian Hamilton, advisor to the Wheatsheaf Group, was clear that we are leading the way globally in terms of food standards and if we can bring the investment community to Scotland and show them our strength in agritech developments, including a clear ROI, then the future is very strong indeed.
This discussion could have gone on for much longer but to summarise it, the key is to look at early adoption of new agri-technologies, build on the relationship between research and the producer and connect them all with the tech investors. The future is very bright and has huge potential so let’s ensure we embrace and support it and do not let it slip through our grasp.
With thanks to:
Polly Purvis, Intelligent Growth Solutions
Mark Bustard, IBioIC
Susie McIntyre, Kettle Produce
Douglas Armstrong, IceRobotics
Ian Hamilton, Wheatsheaf Group
Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre
Mark Simmers, Celtic Renewables
Euan Duncan, MacRoberts
Ben Walker, Livingston James
Jozanne Bainbridge, MacRoberts
Francesca Christophersen, Livingston James