East Anglia’s world-class plant science expertise ‘could help drive new agricultural revolution’

Speaker Adam Quinney, National Farmers Union vice president at last year's Norfolk Farming Conferenc

Speaker Adam Quinney, National Farmers Union vice president at last year's Norfolk Farming Conference - Credit: Archant 2013

East Anglia’s world-class plant science expertise could help to drive a new agricultural revolution, Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman will tell delegates at tomorrow’s Norfolk Farming Conference.

The launch of the government’s Agri-Tech strategy in July last year was a clear signal that food and farming was now recognised as a strategic sector of the UK economy.

Mr Freeman, who is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, will highlight the importance of this primary industry. He will emphasise that agriculture employs a total of 3.8m people in the farming, food and processing industries that the sector contributed about £9bn to the economy.

He will tell about 400 farmers, land owners and leaders of the farming community at the John Innes Conference Centre that the five-year Agri-Tech programme, which involves £160m investment over five years in agricultural science and technology could help generate much needed growth, jobs, export earnings and inward investment.

Mr Freeman, who addressed the Oxford Farming Conference in January, will outline the opportunities in his paper: “Global Agri-Tech Innovation: Our region’s opportunity to pioneer the next agricultural revolution.”

The strategy also recognised that the challenges of population growth, climate change and sustainable development present opportunities for the UK to exploit its strengths in farming, food production and

agricultural research.

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In the second session of the conference, organised by agricultural buying group, Anglia Farmers, speakers on precision farming will offer a vision of how the next generation of new technologies will transform the potential on the land. While there has been a big uptake of systems using satellite technology for precision planting of crops including potatoes, spraying and cultivations, speakers including Prof Simon Blackmore, of Harper Adams University, will talk about “Farming with robots in 2050.”

The opportunities, which are becoming commercially available, include “master and slave” tractor systems, which would potentially enable two, three or even four “machines” to carry out precision planting of high-value vegetable crops – controlled by a single

operator, who might not even need to be in the field.

In dairying, robot milking machines, which were introduced more than 20 years ago, have made even further strides.

The prospects for the home-grown sugar industry post 2017, when quotas are scrapped, will be considered by three speakers. Fenland farmer, William Martin, who is chairman of the National Farmers’ Union’s sugar board, will present the growers’ view after Colm McKay, agricultural director for British Sugar, has spoken on behalf of the processor, ABF.

The experience across the

North Sea will be presented by

Dick de Lugt, chairman of the largest sugar producer in the Netherlands, before Charles Whitaker, of land agents Brown & Co, summarises the

afternoon’s concluding papers.