A combination of a scientific glimpse into the future and Brexit were the lead features of Agribusiness 2017, the Agricultural Industries Confederation conference, dedicated to the agrisupply industry.
The conference was held at the East of England Showground and chaired by former BBC Business presenter Declan Curry.
Chief Executive David Caffall highlighted the need for a ‘digital agricultural revolution’ and spoke of the resource implications of dealing with on-going Brussels-based legislation and the dialogue which AIC will face as Brexit negotiations begin. AIC is looking to join forces with like-minded organisations as well as collaborating closely with both farming organisations and the food industry.
“At AIC we are offering government the real expertise of our Members, many of whom trade in both the single market and further afield. We will lobby hard for the industries we represent, but we can also provide government with a very valuable resource.”
This offer resonated with Defra’s deputy director Tim Mordan who explained how government was in listening mode regarding Brexit.
“A lot of complex preparatory works are going on,” said Mr Mordan. “We’re listening and we want to work in partnership with the industry.”
Both Mr Mordan and Tom Hind, AHDB’s Chief Strategy Officer, repeated the need for innovation in the agricultural industry. Both gave examples of how UK agricultural productivity is falling behind other European nations. Mr Hind pointed out that only half of employers provide any training – the lowest proportion of any industrial sector in the UK.
Delegates received an insight into the revolution occurring in a range of technologies that may help drive a return to world class standards. A recurring theme was the reducing costs that will accelerate opportunities for innovation.
Professor Daniel Morton from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology spoke of the way satellite data, once a very expensive item, was now mainly free. His group has worked to produce a crop cover map of the UK which is expected to become available in the coming year. Such mapping will not only reveal the cropping in individual fields, but may offer the opportunity to track infestations such as blackgrass.
The massive fall in the cost of DNA profiling will bring many more opportunities to both carry out research and accelerate progress, according to John Innes Researcher Dr Cristobal Uauy. He described how DNA profiling is reducing months of costly testing on disease resistance down to a few weeks. While Professor Luke Alphey of the Pirbright Institute described the work that has been achieved in parts of the world using genetic techniques to tackle pest challenges such as mosquitos. Although uptake of such advances in Europe is restricted by both public opinion and regulatory frameworks.
“Overall, the conference delivered on its promise to address the ground breaking opportunities being driven by the next agricultural revolution, while at the same time addressing some of the early thoughts on what Brexit may offer,” said John Kelley, Chief Executive Officer, AIC and Agribusiness 2017 organiser. “Our delegates left having received an exciting insight into the future.”