George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment and George Freeman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences, have officially launched Agrimetrics, the world’s first Big Data Centre of Excellence for the whole food system.
Agrimetrics’ founding partners, Rothamsted Research, the University of Reading, NIAB and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), hosted the launch of the first Centre for Agricultural Innovation created by the UK government through Innovate UK under the UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies.
Caption: Professor Mario Caccamo, Professor John Crawford, George Freeman MP, George Eustice MP, Professor Richard Tiffin and Professor Alistair Stott
Agrimetrics will support a revolution in the use of big data science in the agri-food industry and contribute to a highly intelligent, productive, efficient, resilient and sustainable system.
Professor John Crawford, interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agrimetrics, commented: “We are delighted to have been awarded £11.8m from UK Government, through Innovate UK and the Agri-tech Strategy, for the establishment of the Centre, which has been designed in consultation with more than 50 organisations from industry and academia and now has in excess of 190 companies engaged."
The Centre, which will work with all business and universities, will engage with partners throughout the food system to enable detailed and collective understanding of the needs of farmers, food manufacturers, food retailers, consumers and the environment through the use of big data and analytical tools. This high-value collective information, will allow the identification of opportunities for innovation projects among the partners.
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said: “We are investing in the use of data in agriculture to transform the way crops and livestock are grown and bred. Using data we can identify new genetic traits, spray only crops with disease, and use less water and energy for modern lower input farming. The expertise we’re supporting at Agrimetrics will position the UK a world leader in this fast emerging field and improve agricultural sustainability and productivity.”
At the core of Agrimetrics is a big data science platform. The platform will include all of the necessary software tools that make possible the integration of data according to users’ needs. Datasets from around the world will be used for this purpose. By working with and up-skilling the industry on data and data analyses, Agrimetrics will be helping to de-risk the investment required by the supply-chain.
Farming Minister George Eustice said: "British farmers are increasingly making use of data to help them manage and grow their business, from predicting weather trends, to assessing soil qualities and using the very best feed types. This new technology has contributed to efficiency gains and will help us drive up the value of our food and farming industry, already worth £100 billion to our economy.This new centre, funded as part of the government's Agri-Tech Strategy, provides even greater opportunities to utilise this valuable resource. Taking ideas from the laboratory to the farm and improving productivity of farming is all part of our ambitious long-term vision for the future of farming."
Professor Richard Tiffin, Chief Scientific Officer of Agrimetrics, said: “The food and farming industries face unprecedented challenges. For example, farmers throughout the world have to make decisions for effective management of costs, ensuring returns and safeguarding the sustainable use of land. These decisions are taken in an uncertain economic environment whilst dealing with inherently difficult to predict conditions e.g. weather due to climate change. Agrimetrics will enable the gathering, processing and availability of big data in a way that will support decision making processes for the realisation of new opportunities and better use of scarce resources."
Ian Meikle, Head of Agriculture and Food, at Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, said: “Using Big Data will give the agricultural sector the evidence-based edge. The insights from this can drive productivity and growth in the sector, benefitting the economy and consumers."
“Modern technology is flooding the food and farming world with data. The key challenge is to fairly share and efficiently process it into information farmers can use to improve the quality and quantity of their outputs in sustainable ways that benefit both themselves and society. SRUC is delighted to support Agrimetrics in this endeavour, which is in line with SRUC’s reputation as a knowledge exchange organisation,” added Professor Alistair Stott, Head of Future Farming Systems Group at SRUC and member of the Agrimetrics executive team.
“The development of Agrimetrics will support innovation in agricultural research and its translation to improve the productivity, efficiency and sustainability of UK agri-food production systems. The integration of large datasets at this unprecedented scale will bring together resources from a diversity of areas including crop and animal breeding, agronomy and farming systems. This will enable opportunities for the UK food sector to lead in and benefit from the new revolution in agriculture informatics,” said Professor Mario Caccamo, Head of Crop Bioinformatics at NIAB and member of the Agrimetrics’ executive team.
Agrimetrics is a joint venture between Rothamsted Research, the University of Reading, SRUC and NIAB. The Grant Funding Agreement was signed in the summer 2015 and the centre is now established as an independent company with a UK government investment of £11.8 million. The headquarters of the Centre are at the Lawes Open Innovation Hub, at the Rothamsted Research site in Harpenden. Reading University will host the data science infrastructure, and NIAB and SRUC provide knowledge exchange and outreach services to the farming community at the national level. The centre will become self-sustaining so that it can continue its mission beyond the lifetime of the government grant. Its officers are currently engaged in business development and have identified a number of opportunities for its initial portfolio.