N8 Industry Innovation Forum Tackles Challenge Of Food Security

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Leading businesses and academic experts were brought together at a unique event designed to foster collaboration and innovation around food security and technology.

The N8 Industry Innovation Forum, held in York on October 7 and 8, saw delegates from industry, universities and other organisations and networks address topics including smart farming methods, achieving resilient supply chains and health nutrition, with the aim of generating new, step changing innovations in the field of global food security, and helping businesses commercialise their ideas.

The N8 Research Partnership has strong collective research strengths in the field of food security and was represented at the forum by Pro-Vice Chancellors and leading academic experts from member institutions. They were joined by industry representatives, lead technologists from Innovate UK, the new name for the Technology Strategy Board, and research councils.

The Industry Innovation Forum is an initiative between the N8 Research Partnership, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Innovate UK, to connect leading businesses with research intensive universities and other key organisations and networks involved in innovation.

The Forum event, which included a dinner on October 7 at the York Hilton and a workshop with facilitated group sessions at the Food and Environment Research Agency in York, on October 8, matched practical and technical industry challenges in the field of food security with the best expertise and research capabilities of the N8 and other universities. Several new projects were identified at the Forum for the N8 to follow up with and support.

October’s event followed three highly successful previous N8 Industry Innovation Forums, which have taken place since 2012; to date, these have focused on Advanced Materials, Active and Healthy Ageing and Industrial Biotechnology, and have generated a significant pipeline of collaborative research ideas, often involving partners from very different disciplines. Projects springing from these partnerships are now underway across the N8 universities.

Together, the N8 Universities have an impressive track record in food science and technology, with more than 370 researchers working on projects in this area and a portfolio of £269 million of research funding over the last six years. The N8 harnesses the strengths of the greatest concentration of bioscientists engaged in agri-food research in the UK and boasts five experimental research farms across the N8 universities.

Colin Reid, director of the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, said: “The latest Industry Innovation Forum was a huge success: there was a real ‘buzz’ during the workshops, discussions and networking sessions, with academic experts and industry representatives joining together to address the challenge of food security, and intensive discussions and debate taking place on a wide range of topics concerning the theme of ‘towards a sustainable food system’.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the collaborations formed during the Forum flourish into new partnerships, and create step-changing innovations which utilise the N8’s depth of expertise in the food security sector.”

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, the new name for the Technology Strategy Board, commented: “October’s N8 Industry Innovation Forum generated huge excitement among the participants and it was heartening to see the seeds sown of future collaborations between industry and academics. We’re proud to support the N8 Industry Innovation Forum initiatives. Like previous Forum events, the York event proved once again that the N8 IIF is an exemplar model for driving innovation and growth in the economy.

“Innovate UK has an extensive programme of activity to support innovation in the UK’s agriculture and food sector. This is designed to help businesses devise solutions to address the global challenges of sustainable food production caused by the rapid development of emerging economies, impacts of rising population and shortages of land, water and energy.”

Andy Cureton, Head of Business and Innovation at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said: “It’s really good to see the N8 universities come together in partnership with companies to address the significant global challenge of food security. BBSRC is committed to supporting food security research to help sustainably feed a growing population and the range of projects that have been proposed by the N8 show the breadth of expertise they have to address this challenge.”

Paul Temple, former Vic President of the National Farmers Union, farmer and partner at H.S. Temple & Son, and guest speaker at the Forum event (pictured), said: “It proved a fantastic opportunity to meet so many different people all with a common objective of making sense and finding solutions to sustainable farming. I gained a real sense of a desire to collaborate, make best use of R&D resources and find solutions to practical problems in a more direct way.”

Among the industry delegates was Tim Finnigan, technical and innovation director of Quorn Foods. Commenting on the Industry Innovation Forum, he said: “I was delighted to take part in the recent N8 Industry Innovation Forum focused on a sustainable food future. The breadth and depth of knowledge was inspiring and at the close we had all made substantial progress towards our ultimate goal of delivering impactful innovation for our industry and the global challenges we face within food security.”