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NEWS: New crop research centre to reduce food waste in veg and fresh produce sectors

13 November 2015

A new research centre dedicated to reducing crop and food waste and improving resource use efficiency in the horticultural and fresh produce supply chains has been opened in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

The first of its kind in the UK, the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub, based at Hasse Fen near Soham and managed by NIAB, is a well-equipped field station, carrying out commercial scale research to increase productivity and reduce crop wastage before produce reaches the processor and retailer.

Located at the centre of East Anglia’s farming activity the Hub will improve the research capabilities of the region’s agri-businesses, by allowing access to suitable infrastructure, technical expertise and skills, including training and knowledge transfer opportunities. The new facility has been built with £600,000 of growth initiative funding from the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, through the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.

Mark Reeve, Chairman of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough EP and the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, said: “The Eastern AgriGate Research Hub is an important development for agribusinesses in our local area. There are at least 69 other farming-based enterprises just within a 20 mile radius of the site; 46 businesses of those are directly allied to primary production and 20 are linked through the business supply chain.

“By accessing this field station, businesses can carry out commercial scale research to find practical solutions to the crop wastage issues that are challenging the industry. We are therefore pleased to have been able to provide funding to develop this new facility and look forward to seeing the results of work carried out here in the future.”

NIAB Project Leader Dr Effie Mutasa-Göttgens said: “Reducing wastage in UK agriculture is a key step in addressing the challenge of producing food in a more sustainable and efficient way. WRAP UK estimates that 16% of all food waste occurs before it arrives on retailers’ shelves.

“Led by NIAB, working with this fantastic network of farming businesses, the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub enables producers, researchers and waste users to collaborate in developing commercial approaches to waste reduction and management; linking small-scale research to business operations. They will be able to test novel solutions on a viable scale prior to significant investment in a final commercial system.”

The centre was officially opened by George Freeman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences and Lucy Frazer, MP for South East Cambridgeshire. Speaking at the event Mr Freeman said:

"Building connections between the UK's world-class science base and agri-businesses is a central pillar to our Agri-Tech Strategy to help farmers produce more food with less land and less environmental impact. Drawing on the East of England's strengths in food and farming, the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub will give businesses access to the facilities, skills and expertise needed to develop pioneering new technologies that will reduce crop wastage and boost productivity for food producers across the country."

Partners in the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub are already developing remote sensing and web-based predictive modelling tools to manage crop planting and harvest schedules. Others are scoping research to work on safeguarding water resources and devising a simple and reliable soil health index system, accounting for soil microbes and able to assist with the management of plant health.