The State of Agritech in the UK

 

The total population of UK is 65.1million, and its capital city is the global financial city of London, that has an urban population of 10.3 million by itself. Agriculture in the United Kingdom is a big employer, contributor to the GDP and also utilizes almost 69% of the country’s total land. In this article we discuss the potential of Agritech in the UK Agriculture.

Interestingly, the UK produces less than 60% of the food that it consumes, and although agricultural activity is spread across most of the rural areas, crops are mostly grown in East Anglia, and livestock is reared mainly in the South West. Though the farming here is heavily reliant on machines and very technology intensive, it still doesn’t sustain food needs for its population. This is a very interesting set up for AgriTech in the UK as it is known that the UK is home to a flourishing tech startup ecosystem. Agritech has the opportunity here to solve the prevalent problems of today, supported by technology and government initiatives.

 

The Agriculture Scenario of UK

The agriculture setting in the UK is coming of age but has some serious pros and cons. On the one hand, UK is home to skilled farmers, fertile soil, availability of subsidies, access to high technology as well as a supportive environment for farming. On the other hand, the farm earnings are relatively low due to the low prices at farm gate. Combine this with high land prices and a shortage of let farmland, the agriculture scenario of here becomes less lucrative. That’s why it is not surprising that the youth of today is not taking up farming as a primary option, and the average age of the British farm holder has now reached 59 years.

To combat this problem, the government as well as some startups, are intervening in the farming space and making Agritech in the UK a reality. Very recently, there have been shifts towards organic farming in the UK as an attempt to produce healthy food and sustained profits.

As the concerns and fears over fossil fuel prices, climate change and energy security are on the rise; the farmers also have new opportunities in front of them in the form of Biofuels. There is increasing awareness that farmers have an important role to play as custodians of the British countryside and wildlife. This means increased focus on agritech in the UK, and how it can change lives here.

 

Agritech in the UK

It is interesting to note that the UK agri-food supply chain, which is agriculture and fishing from final retailing to catering, employs more than 3.8 million and is worth GBP 96 billion. There are also three main strengths that the UK boasts of, ones that strengthen their AgTech space, and they are the food and farming supply chain, the science base and research centers as well as the access to global markets. The Government’s strategy for Agricultural Technologies is put in place to ensure that these elements work together and enhance the UK’s global position in Agritech and innovation. The UK also hosts some of the world’s leading agri-tech companies like Velcourt, Syngenta, JCB, New Holland Agriculture, Genus, and Aviagen.

There are increased opportunities in the UK for Hydroponics, Robotics, or just generally in intelligent technology for better agriculture. AgriTech in the UK is made of three key sectors: Agri Science, Animal Health, and Plant Science.

Agri Science

Food & Drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK with an annual turnover of GBP 76 billion. The Food and Drink Federation aims to increase the UK food manufacturing output by 20% by 2020. Strong UK Government-funded research are aiming at using modern technologies to improve agriculture management practices, management of animal disease within farming systems and developing effective management of crop weeds, pests, and diseases.

Animal Health

13% of the UK workforce is involved in getting food from ‘farm to fork,’ and the UK boasts of the largest concentration of animal health researchers in Europe. The UK ranks highly in sheep/lamb production as well as other poultry production, in Europe and worldwide.

Plant Science

Wheat is the UK’s largest export crop with over 3million tonnes exported every year. The world-leading research facilities here replicate climatic and culture conditions from all over the world to research and find better solutions. Other than reducing environmental impacts from chemicals, researchers are also studying plant genetics and genomics, plant nutrition and plant health.

 

Startups in Agritech in the UK

The different tools being used by the variety of startups here are Remote imaging, drones, robots, and smart machines for agriculture, Farm management software, satellites & intelligent crop monitoring, Low-cost sensors, Precision irrigation & water-saving technologies, wireless networks, Portable rapid testing of food & next-generation sequencing and Biotech: gene editing and synthetic biology, Bio-based crop protection hydroponics, aquaponics & LED technology.

Some of the interesting startups of here are:

Azotic – To enable crops to fix nitrogen directly from the air, Azotic developed a new technology based on a food grade bacteria, ‘Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus’. Claimed to be less harmful for the environment, it is the Nitrogen fix (N-fix) for plants.

Agrivi – There is an easy way to integrate information about fields, employees, equipment, documentation, weather forecasts, to intelligently make use of this information for business. Agrivi is an intelligent farm management software for this purpose.

TLBioLabs – TLBioLabs offer economical genomic tests for beef and dairy cattle, with free software to deliver actionable results that can be used for the business.

EntoCycle – Interestingly, EntoCycle transforms food waste into high-protein insect feed for the aquaculture and livestock industries.

FieldMargin – A farm always needs mapping tools that allows you to improve the efficiency of the farm by integrating all information in one place like drawing maps, make notes, leave messages for your team, and FieldMargin is a unique tool for this purpose.

SaturnBioponics – SaturnBioponics use hydroponic methods to increase the productivity of crops, via extending growth vertically. They claim to have developed the worlds first commercially viable 3D growing system for this process.

SkyLab Analytics – By combining artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to Earth observation datasets SkyLab uncovers high-level abstractions that provide insights that can be used on the farm.

 

Increase in investments in Agritech in the UK

Globally, the Agritech startup market, like much of the startup scene, has seen explosive growth in investments in recent years, with total investments increasing more than eightfold since 2010.

The UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies was developed by the government in partnership with industry and academia to identify and develop the opportunities and strengths of the agri-tech sector. It aims to aid the transfer of world-leading research into commercial applications. There is a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst fund to help new agricultural technologies get to market quicker with £10 million of this supporting the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries. There is also a £90 million investment in Centres for Agricultural Innovation with additional investment from industry which will help translate the world-leading agricultural innovation into commercial opportunities for UK businesses.

 

Way forward for Agritech in the UK

All the above statistics and trends show that a lot needs to be done before the UK can claim a stake in being a world leader in agritech. With a conducive entrepreneurship and research ecosystem, UK is surely making a clear advance into new technology and innovation. But there is an increased need to bring these technologies to the farm, and provide a better ecosystem for farmers. As the government moves its focus towards making farming lucrative, we are sure that the UK will continue to move forward and Agritech startups will flourish in the UK.

 

Abhishek Singh

COO & Founder, YoStartups

YoStartups is a Pre Accelerator and it empowers entrepreneurs to propel their business ideas into successful ventures. Yostartups’ core mission is to take the message of entrepreneurship to 1 billion people globally by 2020, as on date Yostartups reaches out to over 100 million people globally through its direct and indirect channels.

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