“The question for society is no longer ‘how to feed the population’ but ‘how to feed it well’,” comments Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, ahead of the organisation’s annual conference in November. With its theme of ‘Innovating for One Agriculture’, REAP 2019 will be reviewing the changing conversation about food systems and the opportunities that emerging agri-tech offers to mitigate the grand challenges facing society – through the eyes of millennials.
Dr Clarke explains: “Food systems, human health, animal health and the environment are inextricably linked by best practice in agriculture. This brings with it a huge opportunity to create sustainable, productive and profitable farming enterprises.”
One of the keynote speakers is Simon Doherty, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and chair of the UK One Health Coordination Group. He explains that a collaborative approach between the medical and veterinary spheres has already achieved success in addressing the grand challenge of antimicrobial resistance; leading to a 40% reduction in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals over the last five years.
He says: “Sustainable production of animals and animal products can have a positive impact on animal welfare, and this provides an opportunity to drive consumer demand for healthier, higher welfare products.”
Agri-Tech East reasons that it is time to widen the debate and recognise the role of agriculture as an enabler.
Belinda Clarke continues: “One Agriculture will require a combination of new technologies, improved knowledge, and enabling policies and regulations, as well as collaborative, innovative thinking, and we are seeing growing evidence of this from across the agri-tech cluster.”
Speakers at REAP will include a panel of farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers who have been brought up in the digital age. Many are from farming communities and have returned to agriculture bringing experience in areas such as genomics, data-analytics, consumer insights and marketing from other sectors.
Rosie Begg, Head of Farm Strategy at Gorgate Products Fruit Farms in Norfolk, worked in London for six years; she says that greater collaboration across the farming generations is crucial for progress:
“Things simply cannot stay as they are,” she comments. “Farming will become more sustainable because, I believe, it’s the only way to have a resilient business in the future.
“We have a new generation of conscientious consumers who care about provenance, health and farming practices. An emphasis on the farming community’s responsibilities as custodians of the countryside and environment, along with a phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme and reduction in the armoury of sprays, will drive the wider adoption of new technology and bio-innovations to increase efficiency and manage costs.
“I hope that exemplary farmers will be kind enough to share their expertise and wisdom with the next generation. Collaboration, in my opinion, will lead the way.”
Camilla Hayselden-Ashby, Head of Product for farming app fieldmargin, agrees: “New technologies have a great potential to improve sustainability but technology alone is not enough,” she says. “The biggest obstacle to farmers changing their methods of production is a perceived risk of trying something new without proven results. The cost is often prohibitively high and there is often little or contradictory research about the return on investment.
“Agriculture is moving towards being more data-driven but there is still a long way to go; a lot of farming decisions are still made on instinct. There is massive potential to demonstrate the benefits; it’s easier than ever to share data about production systems and results, and we have the tools to analyse it, which is better than expecting farmers to act on faith or limited trials.”
REAP will feature emerging technology and scientific discovery that will underpin a move towards One Agriculture. In previous years it has been the launch pad for many young exciting companies and the ‘Start-up Showcase’ will again be a major attraction.
REAP 2019 takes place during Agri-Tech Week on 6 November 2019 at Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket, CB8 0TF. To book a discounted early bird ticket go to reapconference.co.uk