From left to right: Dallan Byrne (SoilSense), David Godding (Farming Data), Belinda Clarke (Agri-Tech East) and Howard Partridge (Innovate UK)
Lifting sub-Saharan farmers out of poverty by creating a market for their surplus and a water sensor that can create moisture maps from the air, were the two winning business plans at GROW – the UK’s agri-tech business plan competition. GROW was developed by Agri-Tech East to stimulate and support entrepreneurship in agriculture and horticulture.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, said that the entries this year were looking at global challenges: “Smart water use, enhancing data available for decision support and improving profitability by finding markets for edible waste were strong themes among the entries this year. Many were looking for partners and investors for pilot studies and this is where the agri-tech cluster in the east of England is particularly strong. Our membership includes investors, researchers and innovative farmers and for strong propositions there is a receptive environment.”
The keynote speaker was Robert Alston, Managing Director of Silfield Ltd and Board Director at Anglia Farmers. Alston is also chairman of AF Finance Limited, an agricultural pooled collective investment scheme.
Alston comments that for technology to be adopted by farmers it needs to be significantly better than what they have already, to offer the opportunity for them to differentiate their products, or to guarantee quality standards so they meet contractual requirements.
“You have to be able to adapt quickly in this market,” he says. “You have to get something out there and prove it. It must be a problem that is there for farmers now – not one that is only becoming a problem, which we might see further down the line.”
The GROW Judges’ Award went to Farming Data, a mobile trading platform that uses mobile money and SMS texting on a basic phone to allow smallholders and buyers to communicate and trade more effectively. “Local is the new global” comments co-founder David Godding.
For the first time the audience had an opportunity to tip their own winner with money from the ‘Bank of Agri-Tech East’. The audience choice was SoilSense , an aerial soil sensor that can provide a detailed map of moisture content of the soil – even through vegetation – for a whole farm, in minutes. The proprietary technology was first developed for detecting breast cancer tumours.
Smallholders grow 50 per cent of the world’s food and 40 per cent of global food production relies on irrigation – so the two organisations are providing solutions for a large unmet need.
Howard Partridge from Innovate UK , sponsor of the 2016/17 challenge, said: “There was a strong line-up of finalists who presented very innovative business concepts, we will look forward to following their progress.”
Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, thanked the participants and the judges.
“Thank you also to Innovate UK for its support, to the organisations that have provided support prizes and to Agrii who hosted the event at its Throws Farm Technology Centre.”