The start of the year is always a time for looking ahead.
It’s a time for identifying what’s on the horizon and will be coming down the track. It’s a time for taking a fresh look at existing challenges. And as a result, it’s a time when new ideas and innovation are inevitably at the forefront of our thinking.
Stimulus for thought and debate
In the agriculture sector, the Oxford Farming Conference has been the catalyst for this for over 70 years. And although this year’s event was digital, the conference undoubtedly remains a stimulus for thought and debate for a range of agri-food themes.
No surprises that carbon, net zero and broader sustainability objectives featured heavily throughout the event.
And those were similar themes that emerged as the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres joined the opening day of the conference to give an insight into our work and our respective priorities.
Quickly evolving area
For me, it’s still an area that’s evolving quickly, but where there’s plenty of rhetoric as well as evidence.
It’s an area touted as offering sizeable financial rewards. Yet many farmers and growers will be conscious that their agricultural businesses have a carbon impact and are understandably wary.
All of which underlines the importance of independent focus on science that the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) and our sister Agri-Tech Centres collectively bring.
Agriculture is part of the solution
I was pleased to see successive speakers emphasising that agriculture is part of the solution when it comes to carbon and climate.
That said, the route is far from straightforward.
There are issues around affordability. When the industry is facing tight margins and a shifting policy framework, do we need to reassess our expectations for farmers to invest in solutions? Whilst it was at least partly reassuring to hear the challenge of “being green when you’re in the red” is not unique to UK farmers. The broader supply chain must also shoulder the challenge.
Although it can sometimes feel like agriculture is in the firing line when it comes to our environmental impact, farming should be upbeat about our position. We know there’s an impact of food production to climate change. But, as both a source and sink of carbon, our industry has greater opportunity than most to deliver positive action.
Net zero and sustainability
When I look at the work taking place across the Agri-Tech Centres, net zero and sustainability are a consistent thread.
And as we showcased to conference delegates, we’ve all been active in building the links between the science, practical technology and farm-level impact. With a strong carbon focus across the agri-food sector, they’ll remain priority areas for agri-tech.
In a more normal year, I’m sure conference chatter would have picked up on some of the more contentious issues:
- businesses not offshoring production
- price movements to match rising costs
- shifting shopper behaviour.
These were all points that would have been debated in the coffee queues (and let’s hope we get the chance to do that again this year).
Accompanying the discussion though, 2022 must also be a year of action, delivering solutions to the complex issues UK farming and the wider supply chain is facing. The UK Agri-Tech centres are focused on doing just that.
The Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation are supported by Innovate UK.
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Top image: Credit: HowardOates, Getty Images