Philip Gane: Planting the seed of inner-city farming
Our agricultural sector is under pressure like never before. Charged with meeting ever-growing demand, agriculture has had to diversify and adapt at an astonishing rate.
To achieve this, research and innovation must play a significant role in supporting the world’s most important industry. Countries successful in translating science excellence through to industrial application will not only secure food supply chains against climate change but also attract inward investment opportunities.
There is a prime example of this in Tayside in the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC) being developed at the James Hutton Institute at Invergowrie, near Dundee. The investment required is £28 million and it is currently under consideration as part of the Tay Cities Deal – a partnership between local, Scottish and UK governments and the private, academic and voluntary sectors which seek to create a smarter, fairer and more prosperous Angus, Dundee, Fife and Perth & Kinross.
With a return on investment of £11.70 for every £1 invested and £463 million in economic added value, APGC will have a significant economic impact and an estimated 800 full-time equivalent jobs to the entire UK food and drink supply chain.
With cutting-edge research facilities, the centre will also boost Tayside’s already world-leading reputation in plant and crop science.
One of the main reasons for hosting this highly specialised and unique development is the Institute’s partnership with Intelligent Growth Solutions, a Scottish-based company developing vertical farming technology. Intelligent Growth Solutions’ almost-complete demonstration facility at our site will showcase the benefits of vertical farming. With a fully-controlled environment using highly-efficient LED lighting it will have the ability for automated control and harvesting.
The technology will be taken one step further by the APGC, providing even more opportunities for UK growers to produce out of season crops, enable novel research, and deliver new plant varieties quickly and economically. It will have the ability to develop crops to cope with climate change, resist pests and diseases and reduce the need for agro-chemicals and energy-wasting heated glasshouses, bring down post-harvest crop losses, and improve the quality and range of food and drink available.
Investing in these innovative solutions presents a huge opportunity to address some of the major challenges that we face.
Today’s reality is that we live in a world with a growing population (estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050) increased demands on land use, climate change and, as a result, extreme weather conditions. The APGC, working with a range of industry stakeholders, national and international governments, as well as other academic research organisations, can begin to tackle some of these issues related to food security. The APGC will take advantage of new and emerging technologies to turn the most unlikely facility into an urban farm where fruit and veg can be grown without natural sunlight, very little water and be protected from extreme weather. Three-quarters of the world’s extremely poor populations base their livelihoods on agriculture. Improved crops developed at the APGC will make it possible for these people to move on from subsistence farming, creating jobs for young rural farmers, reducing conflict over natural resources and developing more resilient livelihoods.
The APGC will bring greater sustainability not only to Tayside but Scotland’s food and drink industry; its largest manufacturing sector with 47,000 people, equating to 19 per cent of all manufacturing jobs.
By combining its strengths in crops, soils and land use and environmental research, the James Hutton Institute makes a major contribution to the understanding of key global issues and developing effective technological and management solutions. APGC potentially offers a silver bullet against some of the increasing challenges facing agriculture and food production. For more information visit www.hutton.ac.uk.
Philip Gane is capital projects manager at the James Hutton Institute.