Food for thought at N8 AgriFood Conference

CHAP’s Innovation Network Lead Dr Harry Langford attended the N8 AgriFood Conference in York on October 22nd and 23rd.

The event, the final international conference of the N8 funded five-year programme, focused on food systems resilience and drew upon work undertaken by the eight participating universities.

The conference began with a plenary session focused on global food systems thinking and the need to better understand the benefits, trade-offs and unintended consequences of modifications to this system. The other plenary sessions looked at engendering a collective ambition for food policy in the UK and at corporate food strategy in a dynamic consumer environment, particularly around sustainable sourcing and climate change mitigation. Around these plenary sessions, breakout sessions considered specific themes important to N8 AgriFood and food systems resilience. As a joint organiser of the session on Urban Agriculture, Harry attended this session, along with the sessions on Smart Agriculture and on Soil Stewardship in Agri-food Systems.

Across the conference, some excellent concepts were introduced. Professor Tim Hess, from Cranfield University, spoke about importing food and exporting drought, telling delegates that growing fresh fruit and vegetables for the UK consumes 500 million cubic metres per year of freshwater across the world. Most of those sourcing countries, e.g.  Spain, Israel and South Africa, are water stressed and becoming increasingly climate-stressed.

Eric Anderson, from Scottish Agronomy, covered development of the SoilBio dataset and tool for assessing the biological health of soils through genetic profiling of their nematode communities.

The urban agriculture panel discussion identified some critical challenges for the sector: overcoming last-mile logistics, supporting the increased complexity of multiple producers in urban areas, and measuring the impact and value of making modifications to the urban food system.

Within the smart agriculture session, it was interesting to hear from David Spellor, of Applied Group, that “a lot of novel sensors are cost prohibitive”. He said he was focusing his attention on “training standard IP cameras” to deliver innovative solutions within his broiler hen barns.

Steve Cann, of Future Food Solutions, spoke about the scale of agricultural sediment build-up within waste-water treatment works, with just two of Yorkshire Water’s containing 23,000 tonnes of sediment.

Finally, Phil Pearson, of APS Group, outlined the work that the company is doing to create a circular economy and promote resource re-use within controlled environment agriculture, with a focus on tomato production. Their work on carbon capture and use and around biodegradable packaging are both very timely, and their work on anaerobic digestion is particularly novel, drawing upon the science of the bovine gut to enable the effective digestion of tomato waste.

Further funding was announced at the conference, which will enable this excellent and focused interdisciplinary science to continue.

If you have any questions about working together with CHAP on a specific project, then please send us an email at enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk