Uniting expertise in Urban Agriculture with new cluster initiative

N8 AgriFood is this year launching it’s Cluster initiative, pulling together expertise from across its eight member universities in specific areas of agri-food to drive innovation and collaboration with industry.

The first cluster to be launched is the N8 AgriFood Urban Agriculture Cluster, lead by the programme’s Knowledge Exchance Fellow at the University of Sheffield, Dr Jacob Nickles.

The future-face of the N8 Agrifood Urban Agriculture cluster will seek to reflect the changing landscape of agricultural practices and policies in the UK. Urban agriculture has the potential to play an increasingly important role for urban food security and sustainability offering alternative practices, business and social models for food production, supply and consumption.

N8 AgriFood Business Development Officer Caroline Wilcock, who is co-ordinating the Cluster initiative, said: “As we look ahead to the challenges recently posed by climate change and the related policy motivations such as those suggested by the Committee on Climate Change (e.g. Net Zero Carbon by 2050) the N8 Agrifood Urban Agriculture Cluster will look to develop, share and integrate knowledge across the North of England in particular linking urban & controlled environment agriculture sectors by interfacing between academic researchers and UK businesses.

“Partnerships will be built on, across a diverse selection of subject areas including: advanced sensing, photobiology, crop genetics, system component and substrate design, life cycle analysis, integration of local and regional food chains, consumer perception, nutrition and health and government policy.”

The Urban Agriculture Cluster aims to explore interdisciplinary and translational challenge-based research across four key innovation themes:

1) emerging technology and innovation,

2) current farming practises including demand and delivery,

3) society and health,

4) agricultural technology business and economics

Cluster activities will involve the production of quarterly newsletters and site visits to related organisations and businesses.

Later this month N8 AgriFood will also launch its Sustainable Food Cities Cluster.

To sign up to receive emails from the N8 AgriFood Urban Agriculture Cluster please email caroline.wilcock@n8agrifood.ac.uk

More about Urban Agriculture Cluster Lead Dr Jacob Nickles:

Jacob Nickles, an N8 Agrifood Knowledge Exchange Fellow at The University of Sheffield  (TUoS) has stepped into the role of Cluster Lead for Urban Agriculture.

His research broadly covers a number of intensive agricultural systems including
hydroponics and aquaponics in the urban environment. He has built two aquaponic  systems at TUoS to study in greater detail the biological and chemical mechanisms within these environments.

Jacob has designed and overseen the construction of a demonstrator Greenhouse at Sohar University in Oman that maintains productivity on reduced water, electricity and nutrient inputs. This facility operates counter to most greenhouses, by cooling rather than heating it’s interior. The facility incorporates pad and fan cooling systems with hydroponics and aquaponics coupled with photovoltaic electricity production and reverse osmosis water desalination, runs off-grid, produces more fresh water than it consumes, and uses a very low carbon intensive substrate developed at The University of Sheffield. [Read more here ]

Jacob also works alongside TUoS ‘Green Beds’ team, a group currently working on the dissemination of hydroponic technology within the Za’Atari Refugee Camp in Jordan using upcycled components. Refugees within the camp are not permitted to ‘put roots in the ground’, with over 60% of the population coming from agricultural backgrounds and suffering the financial burden of theirsituation, this provides a great opportunity to grow and sell product. [Read more here]

In Sheffield, Jacob has built three demonstrator hydroponic systems in an abandoned primary school in the suburb of Tinsley. This Urban Farm has been developed with three intentions; conduct ‘in-the-field’ trials and research, share knowledge of alternative
growing systems with the local community and become part of the Sustainable Food City map. operating as a base for debate, conversation and education in and around city and region-wide food systems. [Read more here]

Jacob’s interest in these intensive systems is multifaceted, he also is passionate about the commercial application and potential of these systems, particularly in the urban and peri-urban environment. In his role as the Urban Agriculture Cluster Lead, he intends to build on previous work with industry, linking the N8 Agrifood program with UK business and other research groups. He intends to streamline collaboration so that industry can compete positively and productively with the support of academic institutions to answer upcoming challenges in the UK food system.