James Hutton Institute: Future Proofing The Food and Drink Industry
Agritech: the use of technology in agriculture and horticulture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency, and profitability. Undoubtedly one of the world’s fastest growing industries, innovations in agritech are being driven forward by changes at a global level.
From a rising population to the challenges of climate change, in the next ten to fifteen years there is expected to be a 50% increase in demand on agriculture. Couple this with the demands of modern-day consumers who rightly expect us to deliver quality food produced to increasingly high social, environmental and ethical standards, and the need for a pioneering approach towards how we farm, produce and consume food becomes urgently clear.
At the heart of these developments in Perth and the wider region is the James Hutton Institute. This world-class research centre was established at Invergowrie in Perthshire in April 2011 as a legacy of both the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (MLURI) and SCRI (Scottish Crop Research Institute), both of which had been significant players in the development of agri-tech and food production.
Today, James Hutton Institute’s research has driven them to take a leading role on the global stage in addressing the need to enhance agricultural technology. At the forefront of these plans are two ambitious projects, the International Barley Hub (IBH) and the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC) that have the potential to drive the innovation that will support the Scottish and UK agri-food sector, and subsequently, agriculture production worldwide.
Project 1 – Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC)
The APGC aims to provide innovative research and development around both crops grown under cover, and post-harvest storage facilities. The ambition is to reduce the cycle for crop development by up to 50% and to deliver the plant varieties required to protect the UK food & drink sector from the impact of climate change and the risks posed to the global food supply chain. Additionally, it will improve product quality and provide market diversification opportunities
By bringing together the skills and knowledge already available within the region, and by attracting inward investment and innovation, the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC) will become a global centre for the development of the next generation of precision agriculture.
The APGC infrastructure is modelled around the key pillars of:
- The Vertical Growth Towers
- Next generation, high quality-controlled environments
- A high-throughput phenotyping platform
- A Post-harvest research facility
Project 2 – The International Barley Hub
Barley is indispensable to the UK economy, being vital to the distilling, brewing and food industries and having potential for a host of emerging uses in the health, chemicals and energy sectors. Future barley supply is increasingly uncertain due to the implications of climate change, developing worldwide demand, evolving pest and disease risks and agronomic pressures.
It is also a critical crop for populations most exposed to failures in global food security, anticipated population growth and urbanisation shifts, meaning pressures worldwide will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities.
Barley is generally more tolerant to marginal environments than its close relative wheat and has been labelled the ‘last crop before the desert’. Thus, while barley production in developed economies has declined, many developing countries have increased barley production.
The James Hutton Institute, alongside other key research organisations and industry has commenced plans for the International Barley Hub. This global centre of excellence will link industry-focussed research with innovation to deliver immediate impact and ensure the long term sustainability of the UK’s leading agriculture, brewing and distilling sectors.
By supporting these fiscally significant industries such as whisky (£5bn), brewing (£1.2bn) and barley farming (£1.2bn), JHI will also produce economic growth and increased exports.
Opportunities for Business
The APGC and International Barley Hub will create highly innovative new industries requiring combinations of skills and knowledge not previously applied to the agri-food sector. The opportunity to develop new systems and processes are abundant, and alongside this skills and talent development will be essential.
To realise the ambitious and multi-sectorial aims of these projects, a broad range of skills and knowledge is required. It is recognised that many skill gaps exist and see this as an opportunity to develop important synergistic relationships with academic and industry partners throughout Tayside.