From Academia to Agriculture Part 2: The Innovation Process, a snapshot of farming’s future?

The first article of this series set out to explain the importance of research and innovation in the agriculture sector. In her concluding article, Dr Ruth Bastow explores the long and arduous journey of innovation alongside the future of agriculture.

As seen previously, innovation can be a slow process. But surely now in the modern scientific age, it is quicker? At CHAP I certainly think it can be, and the organization is highly passionate and ready to help identify, accelerate the discovery and adoption of innovation. However, it can still be a numbers game to find the right innovation, requiring the input of many different specialisms and people to bring it to market. Perhaps a pertinent example within agriculture is the lengthy and strenuous process of developing crop protection products.

Lengthy process

Overall, it takes more than 10 years for a crop protection product to reach the market. Starting with more than 100,000 molecules that show promise, but ultimately only one will reach the market. Throughout the process, each molecule is carefully examined by a range of specialists to evaluate safety, stability, efficacy, and agronomic usage. It is then assessed by independent sources such as government agencies, who evaluate risks to the environment or public health, alongside product claims and efficacy using data gathered over many different years of field trials at different sites or even countries. And reaching this stage is no certainty, with many applications being rejected. Together, this discovery-to-delivery journey takes a huge amount of time, labour, and funds – in many cases over $250m (£181m) – to produce a single commercial product.

During the ‘Green Revolution’, arguably the peak of crop protection discovery, we had tremendous success with using this process. A large number of new products per year were brought to market, which performed exceptionally well against a variety of problems, over a wide range of geographic locations and cropping systems.

Increasing challenges

However, since then innovation has become harder to come by due to a range of challenges including a reduction in the discovery of new molecules, tighter safety and environmental regulations, and increasing resistance to existing products. All of which occur against a back-drop of a dwindling crop protection toolbox due to the increasing removal of older products from use.

Here ‘Science and innovation will be key to ensure the crop protection toolbox remains full in the future’ argues Dr Bastow in her talk. CHAP is operating in a number of areas to help foster innovation and new product discovery, including in the biologicals sector.

Technology Readiness Levels

Tightly linked to scientific advancements and innovation is a type of measurement routinely used to assess the readiness level of a given technology, Technology Readiness Level (TRL). In total there are nine TRLs. The first and second level refer to the research level which often takes place in universities, but can also involve farmers, growers, and entrepreneurs. The third and fourth levels shift towards a more elevated stage, the proof-of-concept, where the technology is examined whether it has practical potential, as seen in CHAP’s SprayBot project, in collaboration with Newcastle University, Small Robot Company and Fotenix.

Next, in the fifth and sixth levels the technology is tested to investigate if it can perform in the relevant environment. CHAP’s work at this level can be seen in SlugBot in partnership with the Small Robot Company and AV&N Lee, the BBSRC root traits study at the Soil Health Facility with Cranfield University, and in the work being carried out to develop a biopesticide for cabbage stem flea beetle with  CABIRussell Bio Solutions Ltd and H&T Bioseed.

In the remaining three stages, the robustness and resilience of the technology are tested to ensure the technology can perform in a real world scenario, as seen in CHAP’s work on CropMonitor Pro, developed by Fera.

Transforming innovation

At CHAP, innovation and scientific research are at the heart of what we do. CHAP helps many innovators and researchers take early TRL ideas and innovations and accelerate them through the TRLs to reach a commercial product or service.

CHAP’s aim is to transform agri-tech innovation through accelerating its development and adoption as real-world products and services. It is key for CHAP to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges through collaboration with academia, industry and the public sector.

To read the first article on this topic, go to Green Revolution.

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Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.