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University boosts agri-tech sector with new partnership

The commercialisation of research into agri-tech continues as farming becomes ever more integrated and underpinned by technology.
The commercialisation of research into agri-tech continues as farming becomes ever more integrated and underpinned by technology.

Ceres input 'will help make food industry fit for purpose'

Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East
Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East

Cambridge’s agri-tech sector has received a significant boost following deeper involvement from the University of Cambridge and a £4.78million new investment in the Ceres Agritech Knowledge Exchange Partnership.

The deeper involvement by the university confirms that it wants to enhance its engagement via a new agritech cluster.

Five leading universities including Cambridge have formed the partnership to develop and commercialise agritech research, in order to improve sustainability, increase productivity and contribute to global food security.

The Ceres Agritech Knowledge Exchange Partnership is a three-year project linking the universities of Cambridge, East Anglia, Hertfordshire, Lincoln and Reading, as well as the John Innes Centre, NIAB and Rothamsted Research.

The aim is to enable effective sharing of commercialisation expertise, a key aim of Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund, which has awarded the partnership £4.78million in funding.

Ceres will work with business partners to identify, build, invest in and run the most commercially viable development projects, based on the needs of the agritech sector.

The resulting technologies can then be licensed to industry or form the basis of start-up companies or partnerships with SMEs and large agritech corporations.

In addition to the funding from Research England, Ceres has secured funding commitments of more than £15million from industry and technology investors for further investment in commercial opportunities.

“The time is ripe for catalysing early-stage technology transfer in the globally critical agritech sector,” said Iain Thomas, head of Life Sciences at Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm.

“Advances in nutrition, genomics, informatics, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, automation and plant sciences have huge potential in precision agriculture and food production.

“Farmers, food processors and producers are eager to explore and adopt new technologies to improve their competitiveness and efficiency.

“Cambridge University wants to play a significant part in the successful development of an agri-tech cluster.

“The Ceres Partnership builds on models of collaboration, technology acceleration and effective commercial demonstration of proof-of-concept from other technology sectors, such as the pharma-biotech cluster currently flourishing in the Cambridge region.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, is delighted with the development. She said: “The grand challenges in agri-tech require a multi-disciplinary approach and we hope that the establishment of Ceres will facilitate this.

“Collectively the research base has considerable capability in fields such as nutrition, genomics, biologics, informatics, artificial intelligence, satellite imaging, sensors and remote sensing, diagnostics, meteorology, precision farming, but all too often these specialisms reside in silos.

“As a independent business-led membership organisation, we look forward to working with Ceres to ensure emerging agri-tech is fit for purpose and it can be rapidly adopted by industry.

“Innovation requires a framing of the problems in a way that makes it possible for all stakeholders, particularly end-users, to provide direction and input. The growing agri-tech cluster enjoys the involvement of all elements of the agri-food value chain – from producers through to retailers – this makes it an ideal test-bed for new thinking coming out of research.”

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