Urban Agriculture experts from across the North come together for N8 AgriFood’s first Cluster Innovation Visit

N8 AgriFood’s Urban Agriculture Cluster hosted industry representatives and researchers from across the North of England for its first Innovation Visit.

The Cluster initiative was set up earlier this year to pull together expertise from across N8 AgriFood in specific areas to drive innovation and collaboration with industry.

The Urban Agriculture Cluster was the first to be launched, and this month it held its inaugural Innovation Visit to Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC).

More than 20 people toured the horticultural research facility near Selby, in North Yorkshire, to see first hand how the centre conducts growing trials for industry. By bringing together researchers and businesses the event also included discussions around collaboration opportunities going forward.

N8 AgriFood’s Urban Agriculture Cluster Lead, Jacob Nickles, said: “Today’s event has been the first of the N8 Urban Agriculture Innovation Visits to Stockbridge Technology Centre. The idea of today was basically to get people from the N8 region in the North, from industry and academia, under the remit of the N8 where we build collaborations and like to develop and foster new relationships.”

During the tour, the group was shown around STC’s Advanced Glasshouse  and LED4Crops facilities, and was given an introduction to the centre’s work in Agronomy and Substrates, and Sustainability, as well as a tour of the STC Plant Clinic and the Vertical Farming Development Centre.

Lauren Branfield, STC’s Project Manager, said: “There is world wide interest in urban agriculture. Stockbridge Technology Centre recognised the importance of this sustainable food practice and opened the LED4Crops facility in 2012 in response to UK grower interest, and more recently the CHAP funded Vertical Farming Development Centre opened its doors as a complimentary facility to provide growing space on a larger scale.

“Utlising these facilities, growers food producers and researchers alike can trial plant growth and economic and agronomic practices under LED lighting to discover how this type of farming affects both the agronomy and economics of growing their crops. This information is then directly fed back to them through a clear and concise knowledge exchange.

“Using such research facilities we can improve such farming practices and sustainable farming systems as a whole, which is an exciting prospect for the agricultural and horticultural industry of today.”

Businesses represented on the day included Grobotic, a Sheffield-based firm specialising in plant growth chambers, and Pocklington-based Vertical Farming innovators Growstack.

Chris Nelson, director at Growstack, said: “There is a distinct marry up between research, technology transfer and into commercialisation.

“The research done in the universities now has been very detailed particularly on lighting and LEDs,  but more importantly there’s a whole raft of work on nutrition, the way we use the water, whether we recycle it, how we are going to balance the nutrients on a recirculated system, and how we are managing bacterial contamination.

“The importance is to get that understanding, turn it into something that is viable for the commercial sector to use. 

“Vertical farming is still in its infancy, while there are some big ones out there, there’s still a lot of learning to be done around temperature control, but more importantly we need to understand how bacteria is able to live and thrive, and how we are able to control them.”

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 further site visits to related organisations and business as well as the production of quarterly newsletters. To sign up to the N8 AgriFood Urban Agriculture Newsletter email caroline.wilcock@n8agrifood.ac.uk

Watch the video from N8 AgriFood’s Urban Agriculture Cluster Innovation Visit to Stockbridge Technology Centre here: