U.K. govt sends US$31M message for ag innovation, but pledges 'buy local'

July 23 , 2014

British agri-tech projects will receive a share of an £18 million (US$30.7 million) government and industry funding package designed to accelerate agricultural innovation in the U.K. and test commercial viability. Strawberries 4 sq

Among them are fresh produce and horticultural initiatives, including projects such as the cultivation of strawberries without soil, anti-microbial technology to control disease in potato production, and using light to extend the shelf life of fresh produce.

Other initiatives involve developing technology for an organic natural pesticide, improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental harm of fertilizer production and optimizing big data to drive improvements in crop production, according to a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) release.

There are a host of ‘winners’ including several universities and research institutions around the country as well as private sector companies including Berry Gardens, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Syngenta Seeds Ltd and Waitrose Ltd.

Several overseas institutions will also benefit including the University of Sydney and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

The 15 projects will receive £12.1 million (US$21 million) from the British government with a £5.7 million (US$ 9.7 million) co-investment from industry. All the initiatives are led by U.K. companies and span three key areas of the agriculture sector; crops, livestock and aquaculture.

“This funding will help to support the growth of agricultural science and technology sectors in the UK, which already employs nearly four million people and is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets,” the release said.

Meanwhile, on July 21 the U.K. government announced that from 2017 it will be committed to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food, through a new simplified food and drink buying standard.

Prime Minister David Cameron and the newly-appointed Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who took over from Owen Paterson as part of a Cabinet re-shuffle last week, announced the government’s long-term economic plan to back British businesses.

From 2017, the PM says his government will be dedicated to ‘buying local’. This will be done through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard, The Plan for Public Procurement, a project aimed to benefit thousands of British farmers, small businesses, rural economies and consumers.

The plan sets out what standards the public sector and suppliers are encouraged to follow when buying food and catering services, and will be a new but voluntary approach ‘to improve food procurement in the public sector’.

England spends £1.2 billion (US$2 billion) every year on food and drink, with up to £600 million (US$1 billion) of that spent on imported produce, £400 million (US$682 million) of which could be sourced from the U.K.

“The commitment from central government to use this new buying standard means that just over half of the £400 million will be up for grabs by British farmers,” the release added.

“In addition, the wider public sector will be encouraged and supported in using the new framework with the expectation that all schools and hospitals will, in future, serve more locally reared meats and freshly picked fruit and vegetables.”

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