Ian Meikle, head of agriculture and food, Innovate UK, told FoodProductionDaily it works with UK-based firms through funding, knowledge transfer partnerships or putting businesses in contact with the right people.
Supply & demand of coffee
“Our goal is to help UK firms grow, stimulating the economy in a sustainable way, ensuring UK firms compete on a global stage,” he said.
“We are different because we work with businesses to help them achieve their goals. Be it a start-up or established brand, we have competitions and opportunities for businesses to develop ground-breaking innovations to drive economic growth.
“But within the industry, we need more food scientists, and agricultural engineers. There is a general problem with skilled people at all levels (A-level, degree, PhD) entering science and engineering fields, and even more so in the food supply chain.”
Meikle added the current topic for debate right now is food waste and it is estimated around a third of all food is lost, from pest and diseases, to harvesting losses, processing losses, retail losses and consumer waste.
“We need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to cope with a growing population – reducing this waste could significantly assist in this challenge,” he said.
“We are working with companies to address these challenges to help solve the problems we currently have.
“One major issue the world faces moving forward is the supply and demand of natural resources. This is particularly relevant to coffee, which is vital for keeping employees going up and down the country and the world’s second most traded commodity.
“However, the supply of coffee is being outstripped by demand, with yield currently being adversely affected by disease to the crops.”
Innovate UK is working with satellite technology firm, Weathersafe to address this issue to identify how different weather conditions can drive up disease among coffee plants, and has created an application which provides recommendations to coffee farmers as an early warning system.
Other funding has gone to Exosect and its project partners which received a £250,000 grant from Innovate UK to develop a safe and effective treatment to protect grain in storage against infestation.
“Exosect came up with a wax micro powder called Entostat, which acts as a delivery system for anti-insect fungi found naturally in UK farm grain stores,” added Meikle.
“Entostat uses a micro powder technology that mimics the fine wax particles on the surface of carnivorous plants. The result is a naturally occurring biological pest control agent derived from a fungus found in grain stores.
The project was worth £500k, with Innovate UK contributing £250k and six project participants headed by Exosect providing the remaining £250k.
“Exosect is the first firm to apply to the EU for this sort of biological control,” said Meikle.
“Reducing grain losses in storage will reduce costs further down the value chain, and eventually result in lower prices for consumers, as there will be fewer supply issues.
“Suppliers will also lose less money in transit, making the price of crops less volatile.”