Cambridge engineers, the University of Lincoln, and the Ceres Agri-Tech partnership have been awarded a £4.9 million grant to make the Lincolnshire and north Cambridgeshire (LINCAM) region a global innovation center for agricultural technology (agri-tech).
The LINCAM region is already a major UK production center for crop-based agriculture and the associated supply chain. Its significance and sheer scale have led to the establishment of a nationally renowned agri-tech cluster – centered on the Universities of Cambridge and Lincoln, where interdisciplinary agri-food innovation is focused on digital technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence, to boost productivity.
Now with this latest funding boost from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), awarded through a new scheme called the Place-Based Impact Acceleration Account (PBIAA), the hope is that it will deliver a step change in activity. The aim is for the LINCAM region to become an agri-tech gateway for the world – enabling the development of technologies at an industrial scale and providing export opportunities for agri-tech companies and inward investment opportunities within both the agri-tech and primary production sectors.
Fumiya Iida, Professor of Robotics at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, said: "This is a long-awaited mechanism to foster collaborations between researchers and end-users to enable the UK agricultural industry to be one of the most advanced around the world. Now we have no excuse to make our engineering research useful for broader benefit in the near future."
There is a long track record of agri-tech collaboration between the University of Cambridge, its commercialization arm, Cambridge Enterprise, and the University of Lincoln.
LINCAM1 will build on the success of the Ceres Agri-Tech program, a collaborative agri-tech partnership based at Cambridge Enterprise, which provides translational funding and commercialization expertise to drive agri-tech innovation. It does this by accelerating high-quality research to market. It has launched four agri-tech spin-out companies to date and created 13 licensing opportunities.
LINCAM will broaden participation in the cluster by offering access to the EPSRC funding to all UK higher education institutes (HEIs) involved in agri-tech research, those with the potential to drive economic and environmental or social sustainability in the region. Projects that are successful in securing a share of the funding will be actively mentored by the LINCAM team to accelerate the delivery of results.
Simon Pearson, Founding Director of the Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, said: "The LINCAM agricultural sector supports 88,000 jobs, generates gross value added (GVA) of £3.8 billion, and farms more than 50% of the UK's grade 1 land. However, despite this scale, there are still significant challenges and opportunities.
"Food production accounts for 24% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, leads to significant biodiversity losses, and drives challenging social issues – not least from seasonal worker influxes to rural communities. In addition, farmers are under relentless cost pressures, which are eroding supply chain equity and local economies.
"These challenges are acute across the LINCAM region, but this funding award offers an opportunity to harness agri-tech to secure sustainable growth, bringing high-value and skilled jobs to the region whilst mitigating the serious environmental impacts of the food production system."
Louise Sutherland, Director of Ceres Agri-Tech, said: "Ceres Agri-Tech has an established track record for the translation of world-leading science that can concurrently drive economic and environmental productivity within the agricultural sector. Effective University research translation leaves a legacy of exciting high-value jobs, drives skills, and can significantly enhance the environment. The LINCAM program is an exciting opportunity to step change Ceres Agri-Tech, now working with all UK HEIs who wish to deliver their agri-tech impact within Greater Lincolnshire and north Cambridgeshire."
Professor Miles Padgett, Interim Executive Chair at EPSRC, said: "I'm pleased to announce our first 10 Place-Based Impact Acceleration Accounts, which will play a unique role in enhancing the capabilities of innovation clusters across the UK. A key priority for UKRI2 is to strengthen clusters and partnerships in collaboration with civic bodies and businesses, thereby driving regional economic growth."