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Business Board chair visits new £1.25m agritech hub in Soham




The chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority’s Business Board, Austen Adams, visited Eastern AgriTech’s new £1.25m innovation hub in Soham last week.

Business Board chairman Austen Adams chats to Cambond CEO Prof Xiabin Zhao
Business Board chairman Austen Adams chats to Cambond CEO Prof Xiabin Zhao

The hub opened in 2015 and is run by Cambridge-based crop research organisation the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and is a base for small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups involved in waste reduction and improving the value of waste products in the food and crop supply chain.

The upgraded facilities include new polytunnels, a glasshouse, heat pump, sustainable water-use facilities and a 33KW solar farm installed on the site.

The green technologies, alongside the business focused on reducing waste, will support the National Farmers’ Union’s net zero carbon goal for agriculture by 2040. They include Agrigrub, which uses waste fruit and vegetables as feed for black solider fly larvae which is then used in pet and animal feed, and Cambond, which is developing a carbon neutral bio-resin adhesive from waste from the brewing industry.

Business Board chairman Austen Adams with NIAB’s Dr Lydia Smith, who manages the Eastern AgriTech innovation hub
Business Board chairman Austen Adams with NIAB’s Dr Lydia Smith, who manages the Eastern AgriTech innovation hub

Mr Adams heard how the hub, since opening in 2015, has worked closely with local farmers to ensure innovations are aligned with agriculture’s wants and needs. The facility offers new start-ups not just lab and office space, but also access to fields and farm machinery to allow pilot testing and the commercialisation of ideas. NIAB also offers advice and support to help businesses scale and bring products to market.

Mr Adams said: “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has some of the best quality farmland and most advanced farming enterprises in the UK. Linked to that, we also have great pedigree in agri-tech, a growing sector which is pioneering what food and farming will look like in decades to come. Our region has always been open to farming innovation and the upgraded facilities on show at this fantastic centre will contribute to furthering our region as a world leader in this area.

“The obvious observation from the visit was not just the jobs that have been created on the site but the potential for the technologies which are being developed to evolve and scale up, creating even more employment and business opportunity in the future.

Business Board chair Austen Adams learning about crops at NIAB’s Eastern AgriTech innovation hub
Business Board chair Austen Adams learning about crops at NIAB’s Eastern AgriTech innovation hub

“Some of the environmental benefits that can flow from work being done here in waste reduction is really quite breathtaking, so I applaud NIAB for all they are doing to support this flourishing sector.”

The new unit was part-financed by £625,000 of the funding provided by the Business Board through a Local Growth Fund grant.

NIAB’s Dr Lydia Smith, who manages the Eastern AgriTech innovation hub, said: “It’s vital for our current, and future, licensees that investment was made in the site and we’re incredibly grateful for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board’s support and funding.

Chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority’s Business Board, Austen Adams, during his Soham visit
Chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority’s Business Board, Austen Adams, during his Soham visit

“These emerging companies need a sustainable infrastructure to grow and create their products. We’re confident the improvements in the Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub will allow SMEs to grow and prosper in the waste valorisation sector.

“It was a pleasure to show Austen around the hub, including how the new and improved facilities are already starting to benefit our licensees.”

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