This future-facing cluster looks to connect knowledge across the urban & controlled environment agriculture sector, interfacing between academic researchers and UK businesses working across a diverse selection of subject areas including: advanced sensing, photobiology, crop genetics, system component and substrate design, life cycle analysis, integration into local, urban supply chains, and consumer perception, nutrition and health.

Consumer demands within the agri-food sector are changing, with traceability of the perishable supply chain, localism, rising consumption of plant-based products and both healthy and personalised products driving much of this change. The horticultural production environment equally is shifting, towards larger systems with more sensing, control and automation, in response to market forces, the falling price and increasing utility of electronic components (e.g. LED lights), and the rising cost or legislative prohibition of synthetic inputs and protection products. Further, a drive for circularity and waste reduction in our growing cities is peaking interest in urban agriculture, short supply chains and ‘last mile’ solutions, and the incorporation of waste materials, energy and heat within controlled environment systems. Self-organising action across communities, and by social enterprise, is driving a resurgence in urban growing, both for the health benefits of outdoor exercise and for the sustainable production of affordable, healthy food. As such, given that the scope of controlled environment agriculture extends to the entire food system, it makes an excellent innovation focus for N8 AgriFood.

The cluster aims to explore interdisciplinary and translational challenge-based research across four key innovation themes: 1) efficiency and cost, 2) yield, resilience and trait optimisation, 3) artificial intelligence and data analytics, and d) integration within urban society and supply chains.

Activities

Workshops

  • N8 Exploratory Workshop – The future of agri-environmental sensing – 5th July 2017: this workshop in Sheffield explored key trends and technologies across low-cost sensing, high-resolution monitoring and precision and closed-loop technologies
  • N8 Innovation Workshop – Indoor food production: challenges and opportunities – 22nd January 2018: this workshop, co-hosted with Stockbridge Technology Centre, explored the new and novel farming systems that have capitalised on recent developments in precision technologies and automated control; SMEs and large businesses from across the sector attended
  • N8 Innovation Workshop – Photobiology within controlled environments – 6th February 2019: this workshop in Lancaster explored manipulating light environments for enhanced crop growth and specific crop traits

Funded Projects

The cluster has secured 4 N8 AgriFood pump priming awards and a Global Food Security award:

  • Developing sustainable hydroponic growth media for use under reduced irrigation conditions: This project is a collaboration between Durham and Newcastle universities.
  • Digital learning environments for urban growing and their effects on attitudes towards farming and food: This project is a collaboration between FarmUrban and the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool, and focuses on education around food production and hydroponics within Liverpool Primary Schools.
  • Exploiting photobiology in urban plant factories for resource-use-efficiency and customer appeal: This project is a collaboration between Lancaster and Liverpool universities.
  • Capturing allelic diversity in the vegetable brassicas for sustainable breeding: This project is a collaboration between Stockbridge Technology Centre and the Universities of Liverpool and York, and focuses on using the advanced LED4CROPS hydroponic facility to explore crop responses to light quality.
  • Global Food Security Award – Rurban Revolution: Can ruralising urban areas through greening and growing create a healthy, sustainable and resilient food system? This 2-year project, involving Lancaster, Liverpool and Cranfield universities, focuses on the transformative potential of urban greening and food growing and aims to build an interdisciplinary evidence base on how such urban change influences healthy and sustainable diets, food production and ecosystem service delivery. Read more….
Upcoming activities

N8 AgriFood 4th Annual Conference, 22-23 October 2019, York: We are hosting an inter-disciplinary session at the Annual Conference that aims to join up urban agriculture and food system research and practice, covering controlled environment agriculture, urban growing, supply chains and circularity, inequality within urban food systems and health.

Outputs

If you would like further information on how you can get involved with this cluster please contact us