A recap of the sessions relating to Urban Agriculture held during N8 AgriFood’s 2019 Annual Conference (October 22-23)


Smart agriculture, supply chain resilience and new technologies: Industry 4.0

Given the intrinsic link between technology and agricultural practise within the global North, a key subject of interest during the N8 Agrifood Conference was ‘Smart Agriculture’.

Not only is technology enabling faster, more efficient cultivation than ever before but it is also allowing researchers to understand supply chains in detail never before seen. Advances in life cycle analysis and the deployment of ‘Just in Time’ programs are opening the door to a new form of farming, operationally achieved from behind a keyboard. The information afforded by developments in this space not only facilitate the innovation of new and emerging technologies, but also reshape how farming practises look in terms on anticipating demand and efficiently delivering higher quality goods whilst also reducing financial and ecological costs. Agriculture is in the midst of a revolution, food economics can be explored through modelling, policy can react to data and technology can be incorporated that might not have conventionally been linked to the farm.

Lisa Collins, Professor of Animal Science, University of Leeds led a session at the N8 Conference 2019 focusing on the applications of novel technologies across agri-food systems – from field to fork and role they play in decision-making. The industry panel gave talks on their experience of the integration of new technologies within traditional farming practice before debating the question- what makes a technology successful and how can we bridge the barriers to uptake?

David Speller, CEO, Applied Group/OPTIFarm gave an overview of the expansion of his business over the last 15 years, by adopting new thinking to existing challenges from the start with one farm of 160,000 broilers he now contracts farming multiple sites with 1.6M birds at any one time. David and his company Applied continues to be involved in extensive research and innovation projects both in the UK and internationally, ensuring that innovation and new thinking remains at the core of his business.

Steve Caan, Director, Future Food Solution gave an overview of working with Global brands, Utilities, farmers, food manufacturers and other partners to support the uptake of new technologies within traditional supply chain models with a focus on the close connection between soil health, water quality and long-term supply chain resilience.

Phil Pearson FCIHort, Group Development Director, APS Group is a driving force for innovation in protected horticulture who discussed technological developments embraced in APS’ horticultural production including CHP with CO2 extraction, Waste heat recovery, Vertical Farming, Robotics, applying AI and machine learning and a Novel Anaerobic Digestion technology developed to turn waste leaves and tomatoes into other products.

Linking urban agriculture with food system research and practice

Urban areas present growing challenges and opportunities for our food system. Urban expansion globally is reducing our agricultural land resource, increasing pressures to produce more from less, and cities can be hotspots for food inequality and poor dietary health. Research, innovation and entrepreneurship, drawing upon social, technological and market knowledge streams, are underpinning a marked expansion in urban agriculture.

At the recent N8 Agrifood conference in York speakers helped to join up the research base across urban food systems: from urban agriculture, vertical growing and urban agro-ecology, to localising and securing supply chains and transforming urban food business models, to urban food deserts, social prescribing and health. Speakers included Dr Lingxuan Liu (Chair)- Lecturer in Sustainability, Lancaster University, Dr Megan Blake- Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Sheffield, Leon Ballin-Network Manager, Sustainable Food Cities and Jack Farmer, Co-founder & Director, LettUs Grow. Read here for more information on the speakers and conference.