With the agricultural technology (agri-tech) sector ready to deliver growth rates to rival those Cambridge has seen in high-tech and life sciences over recent years, the first Agri-Tech Cluster Director for the East of England has been appointed.
Dr Belinda Clarke has been selected from a strong field of candidates who applied for the new post. She will focus on linking the hugely successful organisations clustered in the Norwich-Cambridge region, aiming to create new opportunities that increase innovation, employment and economic growth in the UK. It is hoped that the region will attract new investment, to build on existing activities and help fund new start-up companies in this important sector.
Originally trained as a plant scientist, Dr Clarke has worked for the Norwich Research Park, UKTI, One Nucleus, ideaSpace and is currently Lead Technologist for biosciences at the Technology Strategy Board; she brings tremendous experience of organisations that are the initial building blocks of the new cluster.
Dr Tina Barsby, CEO and Director of NIAB said: “We welcome Belinda’s appointment as Director of the East of England Agri-Tech Cluster. She brings to the role a wealth of relevant industry experience and skills and will be best placed to develop closer collaborations between the science base and industry within the region.
“The East of England Cluster is ideally positioned to take advantage of this 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. This is also reflected in the strategic changes NIAB has implemented within its own business over the past five years; developing world-class applied and translational capabilities extending along the length of the crop improvement pipeline, from plant genetics and pre-breeding to applied agronomy research and knowledge transfer onto farm. We look forward to working with Belinda and her team on driving forward an exciting new phase of agricultural innovation across the region.”
Start-up funding for the cluster has been granted by Lord David Sainsbury’s Gatsby Foundation, which has asked Cambridge Network to host the role at the outset to bring lessons from the other sectors that have accelerated so well around Cambridge. Cambridgeshire and Norfolk County Councils and the Local Enterprise Partnerships have worked closely together to focus on the social and economic impact that agri-tech will have in the East of England, which has unparalleled expertise in relevant research and agricultural technology. It boasts internationally recognised organisations such as NIAB, the John Innes Centre and the Universities of East Anglia and Cambridge, while large-scale growers, such as those brought together in the G’s Group, have built up tremendously successful businesses here, and export both produce and innovative ideas.
The new Agri-Tech Cluster aims to provide knowledge for UK agriculture to increase productivity while reducing inputs, leading to greater self-sufficiency and export of food and know-how to help sustain the growing populations throughout the world. There is also great potential here to build new relationships with other sectors, such as computing, where East Anglia is world-renowned.
Dr Clarke commented “We will work to build on the strengths we have, through collaboration and sharing ideas and best practice. We will establish a strong, sustainable cluster, creating synergies between the players and delivering real economic value. The national agricultural strategy gives big opportunities for the UK to grow and I am delighted to be taking on the Director role.”
Dr Clarke takes up her post next month and a launch event will be held on Monday 17th Marchto coincide with Cambridge’s 2014 Business Awards Week.
See ‘A UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies’ at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/227259/9643-BIS-UK_Agri_Tech_Strategy_Accessible.pdf