New Agri-Tech Cluster launched to bring the lab to the land

10 Oct 2013

On Friday, October 11, a new Norwich - Cambridge Agri-Tech Cluster will be formally launched, helping to unlock millions of pounds and revolutionise agriculture.

The cluster is aimed at linking the world-class research capability within the two cities with the world class growing land and food and farming sectors in the adjacent rural areas.

Alongside the launch of the cluster organisation, more details of the successful £3.2m Regional Growth Fund bid, made jointly by the two Local Enterprise Partnerships, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk County Councils will be revealed. The Regional Growth Fund award will give businesses across the eastern region the opportunity to benefit from millions of pounds of investment.

The fund will help support small and medium businesses as well as provide investment for prototyping to turn ideas into reality. The money will also go to build a new translation centre where scientists and farmers can work together on new projects.

The unique attributes of the region leave it well placed to be at the forefront of developments in crop science which could in time help to solve the global problems of food security, as well as providing new jobs and skills for people across the region.

Lord David Sainsbury (Chancellor of Cambridge University), and Norfolk MP George Freeman (Life Sciences Advisor to the Government who co-ordinated the development of the UK Agri-tech Strategy) will give keynote speeches at the launch. The cluster is designed to bring the lab to the land and mirror the success of existing cluster organisations like the Cambridge Network and One Nucleus.

The UK’s National Agri-tech Strategy, published in July, focuses on closing the gap between research and commercialisation to enhance productivity. The East of England, and in particular the broad corridor between Cambridge and Norwich contains many of the most important UK organisations that can help to turn this aspiration into reality. This event will formally launch the Nor-Cam Agri-tech Cluster, and give the opportunity to learn more about how the strategy will be implemented in the East of England. The initial idea to establish the cluster and bring together the key organisations came from Cambridgeshire and Norfolk County Councils, working in partnership.

The event will be held on Friday 11 October, at the NIAB Innovation Farm, Cambridge from 10.30am. The event will include information on a range of funding opportunities for business, including:

  • The successful £3.2m Regional Growth Fund by the Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Local Authorities;
  • The UK Agri-tech Strategy’s £160m investment;
  • The £20m Agri-investment Fund being launched by the Adapt Group at UEA, and;
  • The EU Horizon 2020 programme which includes €4.2billlion for Sustainable Agriculture projects.

The launch will also include Dr Tina Barsby, Chief Executive of NIAB and member of the UK Agri-tech Strategy Leadership Council and representatives of funding bodies supporting agri-tech investment. A panel of business leaders will also give their views on the priorities for investment in technology.

Cambridgeshire County Council Leader, Martin Curtis, said: "Our area is uniquely placed to harness this opportunity to take the lab to the land and translate our excellence in research into productivity on the ground. We are fortunate to have some of the most fertile growing land in the country, side-by-side with world-class universities, and multiple science and research centres specialising in crop science and agronomy. The importance of developing the agri-tech cluster to be the next wave of development both for our region, for the UK as a whole, and to address wider international problems around food security cannot be overstated. More effective working between businesses and scientists within this area can increase innovation, improve yields, increase resistance to disease and help to develop new products, new jobs, and a new future for our agricultural and food industries.

Steve Morphew, Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Corporate, said: "For a long time, Norfolk has been at the forefront of developments in agri-tech. Many engineering innovations have been developed here, our farmers are the most efficient and profitable in the whole of the UK and we are home to world leading research in plant, food, environmental and bio science.

“Exploiting the proximity and complementary nature of the science base in Cambridge is an exciting prospect. Between us we form the basis of a world class cluster of excellence across science and agriculture and by working together we can ensure we remain as the front runners as we look for solutions to the world's major challenges. If we also create new employment, especially in rural communities we can expect this project to have a very significant impact."

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said, "By 2050 the world needs to double global food production using roughly half as much water, energy and land. This is a huge challenge which is driving huge new markets for agricultural innovation - from SatNav guided tractors to disease resistant seeds. East Anglia was the original home of the Agricultural Revolution, and with our world class research at NRP and Cambridge and world class food and farming sector, we can lead the world again. Integrating Norwich and Cambridge will help us unlock this opportunity to create the jobs and businesses of tomorrow."

Nor-Cam AgriTech Cluster launched

From left to right: Prof Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs of the University of Cambridge, Alex Plant, Executive Director of Economy, Transport and Environment for Cambridgeshire County Council, Richard Horsnell, NIAB Research Scientist, Professor Mike Bevan of John Innes Centre, Dr Tina Barsby, Chief Executive of NIAB and member of the UK Agri-tech Strategy Leadership Council, MP George Freeman, Life Sciences Advisor to the Government, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Councillor Steve Morphew, Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Corporate.


Lord David Sainsbury (Chancellor of Cambridge University), said: “The UK strategy for agricultural technologies provides the food and farming industries with a great opportunity to increase their productivity, profitability and contribution to the UK economy. A technology revolution is taking place in agriculture and there can be no better place to bring it together with the food and farming industry than a Norwich-Cambridge Agri-tech cluster. The two cities have world-class research capabilities and are surrounded by world-class growing land and food and farming sectors.”

Dr Tina Barsby, Chief Executive of NIAB, said: “NIAB is delighted to host the launch of the Norwich-Cambridge Agri-Tech Cluster at our NIAB Innovation Farm facility. The challenge of 'sustainable intensification' in agriculture is driving a renewed emphasis on research and innovation at the farm-level, from improvements in crop genetics and agronomy to the latest advances in precision engineering and agricultural informatics. As a strategic response to the need for more productive, resilient and sustainable farming systems, the Norwich-Cambridge Agri-Tech Cluster opens up exciting opportunities for  closer collaboration between the science base and industry. This is a key opportunity for the East of England to drive an exciting new phase of innovation and global leadership in agricultural science and technology.”


Notes for editors

Last year, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire County Councils, together with representatives from a number of world class institutions in and around the two cities formed the Nor-Cam Agri-Tech Cluster Partnership. Its aim is to collaborate and share expertise and research capability. It has already proven to be a highly valuable partnership by leading on the successful delivery of a £3.2m Regional Growth Fund bid, and has a direct line to Government through local MPs as well as Lord Sainsbury. The Fund is available for relevant organisations based in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Rutland, Uttlesford and North Hertfordshire.

The money will be used to kick start local small and medium businesses in the area to develop new agri-technology that could revolutionise farming and give a massive boost to the eastern region.

The principle objectives for the Nor-Cam Agri-Tech Cluster Partnership are:

  • To co-ordinate the eastern region’s response to the Strategy
  • To co-ordinate an eastern region Agri-Tech Cluster and Network
  • To co-ordinate promotion of the Norwich-Cambridge Corridor on the global stage with a Research and Co-investment Partnership Conference highlighting the excellence of the science in Cambridge and Norwich in this field, and the world class businesses along the corridor

The launch is being held at NIAB which is a leader in bringing developments in agri-science to the field. They have a strategic alliance in wheat pre-breeding, drawing on the deep science expertise in Norwich and the industrial scale in-field capabilities at NIAB as well as linking specific genetics expertise in both places. This partnership works together with the commercial wheat breeding industry, most of which are located in the Cambridge region, and are the UK arm of international organisations.