1) “Big Data” is a widely-used term. In the context of the food and agriculture sectors, where do you believe the greatest opportunity lies to harness the power of data to achieve real change?
In linking data from multiple sources to achieve much greater integration of the supply chain. This will allow a huge range of insights ranging from improved breeding through the linking of consumer and genetic data to improved food safety by identifying risks and optimal points for intervention.
2) What are the challenges to achieving this? What is preventing faster development and uptake?
The main challenge is to build confidence and trust in the agency that is responsible for enabling data sharing.
3) What initiatives has the UK government put in place to improve access to data for the food and agriculture sectors?
The UK government has invested £90M in the creation of 4 centres for agricultural innovation. These aim to build a link between industry and the excellent science base that the UK possesses. They will accelerate the translation of science into business solutions. The first of these centres is Agrimetrics.
4) Tell us more about the Agrimetrics Centre: What service will it provide to the industry and what are your ambitions for the Centre?
However BIG or SMALL, agri-food data sets are often fragmented, complex and variable, creating issues in: acquisition, curation, interrogation, integration; distribution, connectivity, structures; and computing speed, architecture and storage. We aim to support industry in addressing these issues by creating a linked data platform which will deliver value added streams of data through APIs.
Our ambition is to deliver unparalleled access to the world’s largest repository of linked agri-food data and world-leading data analysts, to deliver unimaginable solutions for your business.
5) What opportunities could the Centre create for new products and solutions in this market? What kinds of solutions do you think are most in demand from a) farmers and b) food manufacturers and retailers?
I think farmers are going to become increasingly interested in using precision farming approaches to reduce their costs and improve efficiency. We will see these approaches moving on very rapidly I think. For example, I think we will see the development of near real time risk management tools which will give farmers early warning of pests and disease and allow them to move away from prophylactic spraying. The opportunities which excite me most however are those which allow us to reconnect the food system. 100 years ago the food consumer either bought direct from the producer or from a trader who knew the producer. This meant that farmers could sense market opportunities and respond to them to everyone’s benefit. The complexity of the food system means that this is now much harder. By pooling data however, we now have an opportunity to make the connections again. For example, retailers will be able to understand much more effectively where they can source products from and the impacts of their sourcing, for good and bad, on a particular community. We can also increase food safety by determining the optimal places for intervention to remove pathogens.
6) Are there any UK companies that you are particularly excited by? Could you name “one to watch” during 2016?
We have a vibrant SME community in the UK and one of Agrimetrics’ primary functions is to support these businesses in getting improved access to data and to the skills in the primary research base that are necessary to analyse this data. We hope that this will put UK plc at the frontier of a new data based agricultural revolution.
7) And finally, who are you looking to meet at the World Agri-Tech Investment Summit? What would you like to achieve during your time at the summit?
I am excited about the opportunity that it will bring to learn more about what is happening in this space in the US.
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