25th January 2017 - Industry joins forces to tackle global food challenges

International agri-businesses, scientists and researchers have committed to working together to answer some of the biggest challenges facing global food security. From boosting sustainable food production in Africa to using data to drive efficiencies in UK farming, each new collaboration to be developed hopes to deliver real benefits on the ground.

The new partnerships were fostered by the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum, held in Hertfordshire from 18-20 January. Attended by around 250 delegates from leading European markets and as far afield as Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, Singapore and America, the forum included a series of workshops to help solve some of the key problems identified by industry leaders.

“Unlike conventional conferences, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum was aimed at helping to take those ideas forward into multi partner collaborations that really deliver in practice,” says Bianca Forte, Alliance Manager at Rothamsted Research. “We are offering our conferencing facilities free of charge to those teams, and hope to nurture any resulting business start-ups or research ventures on-site under our Agritech Research Innovation Accelerator Programme.”

Leading the project to boost sustainable food production in Africa will be Prof Steve McGrath, Head of Sustainable Soil and Grassland Systems at Rothamsted Research. Partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who will work to identify suitable areas on which to intensify agriculture and support local farmers in raising productivity.

Jon Timmis; Professor of Intelligent and Adaptive Systems at York University, and Sarah Targett; Data Workflow Support Manager at Syngenta, will head up a project on sharing agricultural data to boost global biodiversity. “Every second we lose a soccer field of farmland to desertification, urbanisation and degradation,” warns Dr Targett. By sharing data and computer modelling, they hope to better co-ordinate activities to connect biodiverse areas and generate cumulative benefits.

Syngenta is also involved in a second opportunity, looking at how to improve data sharing between farmers and related industries, and manage security across different platforms. “Boosting farmer confidence in security and data management will be critical to unlocking the potential that technology holds,” says Syngenta’s Science and Technology Fellow Derek Scuffell, who is leading the project.

A key challenge for many farmers and scientists is securing social acceptance for crop protection technologies. Headed by Bernard Leroux, Head of the Portfolio Management at Bayer, this team will consider how to improve consumer understanding of new technological improvements and the benefits it can bring to wider society. “There is a public recognition of the link between science and medicine but not between science and agriculture,” he says. “We need to address that, as agricultural science will be needed more in the future.”

Science may also be the key to unlocking improved yields with lower inputs, says Matthew Ryan, Curator of the Genetic Resource Collection at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI). He is bringing together an international team to develop understanding of the plant microbiome, leading to enhanced crop health and productivity.

“Open Innovation is all about partnerships,” says Angela Karp, Director of Science Innovation, Engagement and Partnership at Rothamsted Research. “There is a real need for us to pull together to tackle some of these big issues. We need a strategy and an action plan, and we are delighted that ROIF has helped to facilitate this.”

ROIF 2018 will examine the success of each project, explore lessons learned, and consider new challenges to address going forward. Provisional dates are 17-19 January 2018.

13th January 2017 - Global innovators join forces to answer agri-food challenges

Boosting agricultural production in Africa, using data to drive efficiencies in UK farming, and improving understanding of the plant microbiome are three key issues being addressed at a major conference next week. The Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum (ROIF), which will be held from 18-20 January, is attracting industry leaders from around the world to try and provide solutions to global food challenges. “It’s clear from the range of pre-competitive pitches we’ve received that the breadth of topics the forum will cover will be extremely broad,” says Chris Dunkley, chief executive of Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise. “Day three of the event will bring industry champions together to discuss everything from crop science to agronomy and data - giving everyone from farmers to scientists the chance to get involved with the big opportunities in global food security.” Five key challenges will shape the day, kicking off with social acceptance of crop protection technologies; a key issue here in the UK. It will then move on to improving knowledge about African soils and landscapes to help focus agronomic advice on the most productive areas. A group of potential collaborators will work through each of the challenges.

“By bringing together international representatives from across the agri-food supply chain, ROIF 2017 is a game-changing way of fast-tracking answers to some of the biggest global questions,” explains Mr Dunkley. “With technology ever evolving, this unique event will be crucial for sharing knowledge and expertise across the entire agricultural community.”

The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) is hoping to bring together an alliance of researchers at the event to boost understanding of the plant microbiome, leading to enhanced crop health and productivity.

And from Syngenta’s perspective, improving the use and security of agricultural data is a fundamental challenge which could, if overcome, enable more effective decision-making at farm level while also driving organisational and sector change across the globe. “Farm data is very topical with so much being generated, but turning it into something usable is critical,” says Mr. Dunkley. “The internet is becoming an increasingly powerful tool for agriculture. Now more than ever it’s crucial for the best minds in the industry to share their knowledge and expertise to promote a data revolution.”

With a background in cutting-edge research, Rothamsted is the perfect host for such an event, which will feed into real change on the ground and an industry white paper to record best practice and ongoing projects for the year ahead. “Open Innovation has undoubtedly speeded up the development of new products and services in other sectors, and now we are excited to be using it to benefit British and global agriculture, which is so vital to all of humanity,” says Mr Dunkley.

With a background in cutting-edge research, Rothamsted is the perfect host for such an event, which will feed into real change on the ground and an industry white paper to record best practice and ongoing projects for the year ahead. “Open Innovation has undoubtedly speeded up the development of new products and services in other sectors, and now we are excited to be using it to benefit British and global agriculture, which is so vital to all of humanity,” says Mr Dunkley.

Chairing the first day of the event will be BBC Farming Today’s Charlotte Smith, with day two featuring keynote speaker Christian Witt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a ministerial address from George Freeman MP.

12th January 2017

The Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum organising committee are pleased to announce that George Freeman MP, Member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk and Chair of the Prime Minister's Policy Board, will be delivering the opening address on Thursday 19th January.

They are further delighted to announce that Charlotte Smith from BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today will be moderating the afternoon of Wednesday 18th January. Please see the agenda for more details.

6th December 2016 - Wanted: Bright ideas to shape the future of farming

Farmers: Do you have a bright idea which needs some help to develop? Or a project that’s already under way which could be rolled out across the industry? If so, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum wants to hear from you. It is seeking to bring together innovators, researchers and investors to turn bright ideas into reality to help the agricultural industry meet the challenges of the future.

“Whether it’s an animal health initiative which is working on a local basis, a new development in breeding or nutrition, or the next step in cutting edge technology, if it can help the agri-food sector move forward then we want to hear about it,” says Chris Dunkley, chief executive of the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise.

The inaugural ROIF is a brand new concept in the agricultural industry, adopting a cross-sector collaborative approach to answering the big questions. “It isn’t about one company or research institute knowing better than another, it’s about all of us working together to effect real change,” says Mr Dunkley.

The forum, which will be held from 18 to 20 January 2017, will include a two-day conference to identify specific areas on which to focus, followed by practical workshops with key stakeholders to work out how to turn those ideas into reality.

Those projects will then be taken forward and reviewed in the next forum. “Open Innovation has delivered real benefits across other industries and it has real potential to drive the British agri-food sector into the 22nd Century,” says Mr Dunkley. “But it’s not about us setting the agenda, which is why we need to hear from those in the industry who have seen the challenges and have potential answers to them, but who need a little help to take things forward.”

The ROIF will also be focusing on knowledge transfer, to ensure that every farmer can benefit from the developments. “In a recent twitter forum with @AgriChatUK, this was a common theme that emerged throughout the discussion,” says Mr Dunkley. “There is so much valuable information already out there, the key is to make sure it’s accessible.”

The team is now matching up relevant stakeholders for each workshop, so needs all proposals to be submitted by 15 December. “Whether you are a small enterprise looking for investors, a larger business seeking research assistance, or a single farmer with entrepreneurial flair, please get in touch and help us to shape a vibrant, profitable future for all.”

31st October 2016 - Communication and collaboration: Essential for successful innovation

Developing the channels for transferring knowledge between all levels of the agricultural industry is the key to helping farmers meet the challenges of the future, according to a recent Twitter forum.

Hosted by @AgriChatUK, the debate was set up by the team behind Rothamsted’s Open Innovation Forum which is taking place in January. Entitled ‘Open innovation and why it matters to agriculture’, the discussion aimed to draw out key themes on the challenges facing the industry and how open innovation and collaboration could help provide the solutions.

Working together was a prominent theme throughout the discussion, with much focus directed at improving communication links to make this happen. According to @FarmStokehill, the best communication required a multi-stream approach, including stands at agricultural shows, articles in the farming press, social media and information provided through agri-suppliers.

Bridging the perceived gap between farmers and researchers was a strong focal point for many. “It has to be a two-way process,” said @HMetcalfe1. “As an ag researcher, I need input from farmers just as much as they can learn from my work.”

Trials also had to work in the real world, not just in the lab, with innovation being farmer-led, added @IFarmers. “It is not only about developing and testing, it needs to be implemented too, so engagement with end users is vital,” said @SIRN_tweets.

“This was what will set the Open Innovation event aside from other conferences, as it will not only discuss the challenges and solutions facing the industry, but facilitate collaborative working to put the results into practice on the ground”, said Chris Dunkley, Programme Director for ROIF and CEO at RoCRE, the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise.

Using a mix of research institute driven channels and open paths such as competitions was suggested by @FarmStokehill, as a way of getting farmers to feed their innovations into science and research. But open innovation was also about taking ideas from outside one’s own organisation, said @AgriTechEast. Farmers could also learn from other industrial sectors, making an outward-looking approach essential to finding pioneering answers.

Whatever the challenges facing agriculture, it was clear that overcoming shortfalls in communication within the industry was an essential aspect of the solutions identified, added Mr Dunkley. “We face this challenge with increasing food demand, constraints on natural resources and emerging issues of climate change. It is absolutely critical to get working solutions as we are all part of the same agri-ecosystem.”

#AgrichatUK was set up to help farmers keep in touch wherever they farm and live, sharing ideas and aspirations across counties, sectors and different interest groups.

“Helping to spread the word about the Open Innovation Forum is something which we were really keen and pleased to be involved in,” said Charles Tassell, co-founder of @AgriChat. “The number of users taking part in our discussion on the night was a tribute to position Rothamsted holds within the industry.”

The Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum will be held from 18-20th January 2017, bringing together thought leaders and industry experts. Using a collaborative approach, it aims to develop game-changing innovations to address global food security challenges.

12th October 2016 - Open Innovation: The Answer to Global Farming Challenges?

Global and British farmers face significant challenges in the years ahead, but a new approach to providing innovative solutions could be just the answer the industry needs.

By bringing together key players from across the supply chain; from muddy boots farmers to cutting-edge scientists and manufacturers, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum aims to speed up practical answers to the big questions. And unlike other conferences, it will follow the ideas through, working with a range of research partners to put the solutions in place to the benefit of the whole industry.

“Open Innovation has many proven successes in other sectors, and we want to bring this approach to the field of food and farming,” says Chris Dunkley, chief executive of the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise. “Rather than innovation within a single organisation, it allows us to bring in collaborative partners at an early stage, accelerating the progression we’re able to bring about.”

Mr Dunkley is encouraging everyone in the industry to join the ROIF’s Online Blackboard, to share their most pressing concerns ahead of the three-day conference. Held from 18-20 January 2017, the conference will discuss the challenges identified, and partners will then form workshops to take potential solutions forward on the ground. There will also be a White Paper to record existing best practice and areas of collaboration, with ongoing research projects feeding into the 2018 annual event.

So what kind of challenges is the forum likely to address? “While we have no set agenda, themes will include soil health, new techniques and connected technology,” says Professor Achim Dobermann, CEO and director of Rothamsted Research. “Soil health is a major issue globally, and something that one of our partners – the BM Gates Foundation – is taking forward in Africa.”

Saskia Heijnen, portfolio lead on Our Planet, Our Health at the Wellcome Trust, which is partnering the event, says the key is finding a sustainable balance between global food systems and environmental health. “Natural systems that we rely on – from clean air to fresh water, biodiversity to a stable climate – are under threat,” she says. “As researchers discover more links between our health and the environment, we become better equipped to come up with ways to reduce these threats. There are already opportunities for change, but more research and action is needed.”

New techniques and technologies are emerging all the time; many from farmers themselves. “It is paramount to stimulate the uptake of new approaches in the agricultural world,” says Dr Adrian Percy, head of R&D at Bayer. “The Open Innovation Forum involves all the aspects of the food chain and will lead to concrete multi-partner projects aimed at speeding up the innovation uptake by the entire agricultural community.”

Improved wireless broadband and phone connectivity also offers tremendous opportunities, says Prof Dobermann. “Farmers are generating so much data now, but getting it off the farm and compiling it in an accessible format to influence decision-making is the vital next step.”

With only three months left to go before this cutting edge conference, farmers and others throughout the industry should get online and help to shape the future of their sector, he adds. “We already have some extremely strong partners working towards a sustainable and healthy agri-food sector; now we want to hear from those on the ground so we can put some practical resolutions in place.”

25th August 2016 - New Open Innovation event will shape the agri-food industry

Open discussion and innovative thinking are the key to shaping a viable food and farming industry, and a new annual event aims to facilitate just that.

Drawing on successful approaches in other industries, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum will bring together leading scientists, farmers, manufacturers and others in the food supply chain to identify pioneering ways to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. But in a step change away from conventional conferences, it will bring those ideas forward into practice to make a real difference on the ground.

“Open innovation is all about bringing the brightest and best in the industry together, to capture and exchange ideas on the big challenges in the agri-food sector,” says Chris Dunkley, part of the organising team and chief executive of Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise. “Using online forums, conferences and workshops we can foster a collaborative approach to develop game-changing solutions to the benefit of everyone in the industry.”

The first conference will be held on 18-20 January 2017 at Rothamsted, the longest running agricultural research station in the world, which has provided cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. It will be followed up with focused workshops to develop the ideas generated into concrete opportunities for multi-partner collaboration.

“It is this practical implementation of ideas that marks the Open Innovation Forum out from other conferences,” says Mr Dunkley. “This isn’t just a talking shop; it’s designed to have real and lasting results.”

Some of the challenges that are likely to be raised include climate change, antibiotic and chemical resistance, changing consumer requirements, finance, and food security. “But the agenda will be set by everyone who gets involved with the forum,” says Mr Dunkley. “We have no fixed outcomes: The aim of this annual event is to bring the industry together to find practical answers to the big questions.”

After the conference a White Paper will record existing best practice and highlight specific areas of innovation where collaboration would accelerate progress for the industry as a whole. It will also identify measures to facilitate a more collaborative culture in the agri-food sector.

Rothamsted, with its background in agricultural research and knowledge transfer, is well placed to host the Open Innovation Forum, and has already secured the support and sponsorship of a number of leading organisations including Syngenta, Bayer, the BBSRC, the Wellcome Trust and the International Fertiliser Association.

The first phase of the project is to encourage discussion on The Online Blackboard, with industry experts leading individual topic areas, from pests and weeds to agri-technology and livestock nutrition. The conference will then take forward the challenges identified, with a mixture of keynote speakers, practical case studies and problem-solving group discussions. This will be followed up with the White Paper, collaboration workshops and ongoing research projects, all of which will feed into the 2018 annual event.

“The global agri-food industry faces considerable demands and opportunities in the years and decades ahead,” says Achim Dobermann, CEO and director of Rothamsted Research. “Collaboration between research, industry and farming communities is critical to finding workable solutions to these challenges. The Open Innovation Forum will help us to find where the gaps in our research lie, how different stakeholders can work together to the benefit of all, and how to put practical solutions into place. Drawing on the best thinking from around the world, this is an event not to be missed.”