The promising potential of agri-tech

As the three Agri-Tech Centres come together, Phil Bicknell, their new CEO, describes what the term means and how it can help accelerate growth in UK agriculture.

The importance of soil health for holistic, regenerative and sustainable farming practices is increasingly well recognised; healthy soils promote good carbon sequestration and biodiversity outcomes, and there are brilliant agri-tech innovations that can boost sustainable production.  

Agri-tech is revolutionising production and productivity and offers opportunities in every type of agri-business across the entire supply chain. From finding solutions to climate change challenges and issues around disease prevention and labour availability to boosting productivity and profitability. The term ‘agri-tech’ now covers an extensive range of innovations that span far further than farm-focused machinery drones and spreadsheets.

From robots picking produce in nurseries to overcome labour issues, to biotechnology improving our crops’ health and alternative proteins, the transformational impact of technology – agri-tech – on agriculture and the wider agro-industrial is vast.

A huge area of agri-tech is the ability to provide farmers accurate real-time insight on their business. From soil health and quality monitoring, to affording the opportunity to forecast and predict yields. The Agri-Tech Centres are looking at technologies that enable this under our strategic theme of ‘Intelligent Agriculture’, an area that utilises data, remote sensing robotics and AI, to enhance and transform current agriculture practice. In a recent project with AgriSound and a Dorset farmer we were able to use a combination of artificial intelligence and bioacoustics sensors to collect data 24/7 to establish a biodiversity baseline of birds and pollinators across the farm. Another great example is working with new novel chemical-free weeding robotic developers Earth Rover in developing and trialling their concentrated light autonomous weed and scouting robot that uses AI and satellite-enabled technology to identify and eliminate weeds. Both are examples of intelligent agriculture being used to support sustainable farming.

The Agri-Tech Centres are creating greater cross-sector working opportunities and systems-wide approaches to agri-industry challenges, with thriving soils being fundamental to the overall health of the agri-system and food production.

The role of livestock and soil in the global carbon cycle is also well recognised in agri-tech innovation and came to the fore in CIEL’s Net Zero & Livestock report, Bridging the Gap, a guide to informing and accelerating innovation which will enable progress on the road to net zero. The report highlighted innovative approaches to optimise soil carbon sequestration and remove carbon dioxide, such as multi-species swards, forage crops and the potential for biochar application, as well as the research needed to support the development of some of these technologies.

Finally, adoption is a key part of the merging Agri-Tech Centres’ vision and future work areas: in becoming the UK’s largest dedicated agri-tech organisation we shall accelerate adoption rates by supporting co-developed solutions, de-risking technology, demonstrating benefits and collating and disseminating evidence to inform adoption investments across the sector.

The opportunities for agri-tech innovation across the agri-industry’s supply chain are limitless. Scientific research and the development and deployment of technology-driven innovations are having a significant impact on the productivity, profitability and sustainability of businesses across every area of the agri-industries.

To capitalise on this opportunity, we need a unifying force to generate greater cross-sector working across agri-tech’s wide-ranging ecosystem of agri-tech start-ups and scale-ups, established agri-tech businesses, academics and scientists, investors and end users.

This is why I’m delighted to be leading the newly merged Agri-Tech Centres at this critical juncture. We will create the largest dedicated agri-tech organisation in the UK, one that the entire agri-systems supply chain can trust for leadership and guidance on progressing transformational change that benefits humanity and the planet. By taking a systems-wide approach to the many challenges in the agri-industries sector and nurturing cross-sector collaboration, we can provide a major boost to agri-tech innovation. We can connect agri-tech innovators and businesses to world-class knowledge, funding, expertise and facilities that will save them time and accelerate the progress.

We plan to drive responsible agri-innovation at unprecedented levels, securing society’s supply of food, fuel and fibres and stimulating economic growth for the UK and beyond. If any of this has grabbed your attention, get in touch at