European funding has kick-started a new programme of agricultural innovation that aims to accelerate the development of promising ideas into practical tools for other economic sectors by bringing together researchers and small businesses to work on collaborative projects as start-up enterprises.
Up to 25 "short-leap" projects over the next three years will cover four themes: Soils, Water and Environment; Internet of Things; High Value Products; and Sustainable and Green Products. The venture is backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with the support of the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
"The projects will use the lean technologies practised by start-ups," says Angela Karp, Director for Science Innovation, Engagement & Partnerships at Rothamsted Research, which is leading the new venture as part of the institute's Agricultural Research and Innovation Accelerator (AgRIA).
"AgRIA is founded on a dynamic model developed at the institute to accelerate innovations arising from our strategic research programmes," notes Karp. "We've introduced the fast-start:fail-early/pivot practises of lean start-ups into research thinking."
Rothamsted is also a founding member of three of the UK's four agri-tech centres of excellence and innovation: Agrimetrics, Crop Health & Protection and the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock; and is a partner in the Ceres Agri-Tech Knowledge Exchange Partnership, announced in April.
"We are delighted to have been involved in the development of this new AgRIA venture, which will harness Rothamsted's agri-tech expertise to fuel businesses innovation across a broad spectrum of industries," says Tim Burton, ERDF Projects Facilitator at Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
Burton adds: "AgRIA is a fantastic addition to the Hertfordshire Growth Package, our EU-funded portfolio of specialist business support programmes designed to help SMEs prosper and grow."
The new AgRIA venture is launched today at Rothamsted where the institute is hosting farmers and other agri-tech professionals to preview its weekend Festival of Ideas. The Festival, which marks the 175th anniversary of the start of experimental work on site, will showcase the institute's research for the public.
Half of the venture's budget of £2.7 million has come from the ERDF, with matching funding from public and private sources. The venture's themes support the government's Industrial Strategy and, in particular, its mission to strengthen regional growth through innovation.
The venture, says Karp, will aim to create a hive of innovative activities, based at the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise (RocRE) on the institute's Harpenden campus, to attract researchers, entrepreneurs, companies, seed funders and investors.
"Our goals align with the Industrial Strategy's five foundations of productivity, particularly Ideas, People and Business Environment," notes Karp, "and they respond to the government's call for fresh thinking in how innovation arising from work funded by UK Research and Innovation is achieved."
AgRIA operates three basic models: short-leap projects of 6-18 months that provide early proofs of concept; new entrepreneur projects of 2-4 years that involve entrepreneurial studentships; and longer leap-of-faith projects that tackle high risk innovations focused on solving defined challenges.
The EDRF-funded venture will support short-leap projects involving small and medium enterprises. It separately complements two existing AgRIA activities at Rothamsted: FarmInn, jointly sponsored with the Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board (AHDB), and SoilAgRIA, with Cranfield University.
FarmInn supports short-leap projects that jointly engage farmers and researchers in testing farmer-led innovations; SoilAgRIA supports an entrepreneur-mentored cohort of innovation studentships that are developing solutions towards improving soil health.
"Partnership with Rothamsted in the FarmInn project allows AHDB to progress our commitment to accelerating innovation on farm and building our Farm Excellence Network," says Susannah Susannah Bolton, Director of Knowledge Exchange at the AHDB.
Rothamsted is joined in the ERDF-funded AgRIA venture by the University of Hertfordshire, University College London, Cranfield University and The Green Triangle, a partnership of organisations and local authorities in Hertfordshire that promotes green technology.
"We are delighted to be a partner in this ambitious programme," says Leon A. Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University. "Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Cranfield and we are excited to be bringing our expertise to the projects and supporting them as they look to start-up their enterprises."
"We are pleased to support this project's aim to take agri-tech research into the wider world," says Julian Daly, Chair of Green Triangle. "This will help entrepreneurs and businesses to find new solutions to practical problems, particularly in food production."
Daly, who is also a councillor on Harpenden Town Council and on St Albans City and District Council, adds: "This major European funding is further recognition of Rothamsted's global reputation as a centre of agri-tech excellence."
NOTES TO EDITORS
Rothamsted Research contacts:
Angela Karp, Director for Science Innovation, Engagement & Partnerships
Tel: +44 (0) 1582 938 855
Susan Watts, Head of Communications
Tel: +44 (0) 1582 938 109
Mob: +44 (0) 7964 832 719
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute's economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 2015 (Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard). Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research's national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.
Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.
For the past 50 years, Cranfield has been contributing to enhancing natural capital and ensuring that global food systems are more resilient for the future. We are recognised worldwide by industry, government and academe for our research and teaching in plants, soil, water and air.
We believe that environmental problems can be alleviated through technological innovation and risk management.
We are working with the UK government on two multi-million pound agricultural technology centres - Agri-EPI (The Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre) and CHAP (Centre for Crop Health and Protection).
Our education, research and consultancy is enhanced by our world-class facilities including the National Reference Centre for Soils, which houses the largest collection of its kind in Europe and is recognised as the UK's definitive source of national soils information, and our big data visualisation suite, which has tools to analyse big data collections including environmental resources from 280 countries/territories worldwide.