The Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum was designed to accelerate collaboration for the development of game-changing innovations addressing global food and nutrition security challenges. 250 high-level industry experts came together at Rothamsted Research in January 2017 to work collaboratively on cutting-edge solutions to issues spanning the entire agricultural ecosystem, from pre-farm gate to consumers’ plates.
We are living in a golden era of advances in science and technology, and Adrian Percy, Global Head of Research and Development at Bayer Crop Science, believes the importance of cross-industry collaboration will continue to grow.
“Industry and academic collaborations are often instrumental in putting new inventions and technologies into the hands of those who need and use them,” he says. Enabled by digitalisation, many technological areas are currently colliding which will allow the development of completely new types of applications and solutions, including the integrated use of drones, precision farming and self-driving tractors, for example.
These types of advances in agriculture technology are essential, adds Dr Percy. “There is a clear need to both increase and improve food production in a sustainable manner if we are to ensure the availability of healthy and nutritious food for all.”
“To meet this grand challenge, we need effective collaboration both across industries and with universities and research institutions, as it is clear no one entity can do this important work on its own in this fast-paced and complex environment,” he explains. “The ability of academia to pave the way for critical scientific breakthroughs and the capabilities of small, medium and large companies to deliver impactful products to end users will be the winning combination that we need.”
This innovation ‘ecosystem’ was in full evidence at ROIF 2017, says Dr Percy. “The atmosphere was electric and reflective of similar efforts that we are seeing in all corners of the planet. Innovation isn’t just one person in a lab creating a solution for one particular challenge. Open Innovation, partnerships, peer reviews and collaborations are just some of the ways new innovations will come to our fast-paced world.”
Unlike conventional conferences, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum was aimed at helping to take the key challenges identified forward into multi partner collaborations that really deliver in practice, says Bianca Forte, Alliance Manager at Rothamsted Research. “We are offering our conferencing facilities free of charge to those teams, and hope to nurture any resulting business start-ups or research ventures on-site under our Agritech Research Innovation Accelerator Programme (AgRIA).”
Saskia Heijnen, portfolio lead on Our Planet, Our Health at the Wellcome Trust, which partnered the event, says it is vital to find a sustainable balance between global food systems and environmental health. “Natural systems that we rely on – from clean air to fresh water, biodiversity to a stable climate – are under threat,” she says. “As researchers discover more links between our health and the environment, we become better equipped to come up with ways to reduce these threats. There are already opportunities for change, but more research and action is needed.”
Angela Karp, Director of Science Innovation, Engagement and Partnerships at Rothamsted Research adds: “Open Innovation is all about partnerships. There is a real need for us to pull together to tackle some of these big issues. We need a strategy and an action plan, and we are delighted that ROIF has helped to facilitate this.”
“Did we achieve what we set out to do?” reflected Chris Dunkley CEO of ROCRE and the ROIF Programme Director. ”By all accounts, yes, we sought to define what Open Innovation really meant for the Agri-Food sector and demonstrated this immediately by helping form a number of collaborative communities around key challenges. There is overwhelming support for a repeat event next year so it looks like our delegates saw value in an ongoing programme.”
Rothamsted is working to enable further innovation through investment into an innovation campus; delivering events that change the way in which research scientists work together including ROIF, and the development of a unique innovation programme for development of pre-competitive ideas, the AgriTech Research Innovation Accelerator, AgRIA.