Delegates at the 2018 Agrifood Training Partnership Conference were rewarded with a series of fascinating speakers addressing up-to-the minute issues, from smart data-driven start-ups to the development of new food products for the frail elderly. The AgriFood Training Partnership (AFTP) is the leading high-level training provider for the agrifood sector.
All the talks were set against the four ‘Grand Challenges’ in the Government’s Industrial Strategy and 25 Year Environment Plan: AI and the Data Economy, Clean Growth, the Future of Mobility, and the Ageing Society.
Colin Dennis CBE, Chair of the AgriFood Training Partnership, was delighted by the quality of the conference sessions and the contribution made by the distinguished speakers.
He said: “I hope that all the conference delegates came away sharing my optimism about the future of the Agrifood Industry.
“Yes, there are uncertainties, but technological innovation is opening up so many new opportunities for growth across the sector, it’s difficult not to feel excited about the future. “
The conference highlighted three strong emerging themes:
- The growth of personalised food products and services
- New ways members of supply chains are working together as partners
- The ways new technologies and innovation will lead to increased productivity.
The AFTP and the Industrial Strategy
Carol Wagstaff, AFTP Director and Professor of Crop Quality for Health at Reading University, described the UK’s ongoing skills shortage - and skills underutilisation - within the agrifood industry.
She said: “We all need to invest in developing knowledge and skills to deliver the innovation that companies will need to demonstrate in the current business environment. Companies that are short of skills lose business to competitors. The AFTP facilitates training at all levels, including postgraduate qualifications and apprenticeships. Our short courses are designed to be relevant to each participant’s business requirements.”
As an enthusiastic student Lina Zabaliunaite provided an excellent example of how training through the AFTP can be used to introduce innovation into a business. A participant in the ABF’s Technical Graduate Scheme Lina is currently completing her Professional Doctorate through the AFTP. Lina has been using her studies to help ensure that the company’s poppadum product is consistent in quality and entirely gluten free by securing the supply chain for the lentils from which the poppadums are made.
She said: “The programme is enabling me to turn academic research into applied industry expertise. The AFTP is the connecting bridge between academia and industry.”
Food and Drink Sector Council will become a powerful unified voice
Keynote speaker Iain Ferguson CBE, Joint Chair of the new Food and Drink Sector Council, reported back from the group’s third meeting.
He discussed how the Grand Challenges of the government’s Industrial Strategy can be addressed by the Agrifood Industry if groups work together and 'behave like a sector.' so that sector deals can be struck, as they are for other UK industries. The aim of the council is to help the sector create a resilient, productive and sustainable UK food system.
He said: “The council is not there to duplicate the excellent work already being done by all the different sector groups. We need a unified industry voice to reflect that work, so we can identify and articulate where we need help or incentivisation from Government.”
AI and the Data Economy
The CEOs of two new start-ups gave a fascinating insight into the very near future. Cronan McNamara, CEO of Crème Global, demonstrated how new technologies for gathering, structuring and analysing data to create predictive models will lead to personalised nutrition based on an individual’s genotype and phenotype.
He said: “The cost of genome sequencing is reducing very quickly. This has transformed the potential to understand the interactions of people and ingredients.”
Will Wells, CEO of Hummingbird Technologies, showed how Artificial Intelligence is already having an impact on arable farming. Advanced crop data collection and analysis technologies are already enabling early plant disease and weed detection.
Will said: “Getting quality data is the biggest challenge, but this is the next step in precision agriculture. We obsess about plants and improving productivity.”
There are a number of factors that can help or hinder clean growth. Jim Mosely, CEO of Red Tractor, highlighted the tensions between what the market requires and what producers can achieve, particularly for the export market.
Jim focused on UK farmers’ impressive results in term of food safety, sustainability and animal welfare. He said: “All of these factors are growing in significance to consumers in the UK and in export markets. Many will pay a premium for British foods.”
Helen Munday, Chief Scientific Officer for the Food and Drink Federation, spoke about the organisation’s Ambition 2025, which is to enhance productivity and to deliver environmental and social benefits.
She said: “The Grand Challenges are already being addressed by the federation. All members are working to bring their performance up.“
Helen added that it was not always easy for food and drink manufacturers to access the knowledge, tools and best practices to improve performance.
Business benefits of good quality training and CPD
As Head of Science in the Allied Technical Centre at Associated British Foods (ABF), Neil Bird is well placed to describe the benefits of staff training and CPD for business. ABF was an early supporter of the AgriFood Training Partnership.
Neil said: “We recognised that we had an ageing workforce that was not developing new skills, so we created our Technical Graduate Scheme to develop future leaders. The AFTP is an important part of that process.”
The Future of Mobility
Profound changes in how we move people, goods and services are coming, driven by innovation in engineering, technology and business models.
Tim Smith, Former Group Quality Director at Tesco describes the organisation’s changing relationship with suppliers and partners and the development of a more sustainable business model.
He said: “Tesco is working to bring together individual farmers and helping them align their businesses to what matters to customers. The farmers will be rewarded with long-term contracts.”
Bob Yelland, Head of Blockchain Marketing at IBM, discussed how blockchains are already creating new business models in the agrifood industry.
He said: “Supply chains continue to get longer and more complex. This increases the risk of fraud and contamination. Using blockchains puts partners closer together in the supply chain and increases transparency and traceability.”
The Ageing Society
An ageing society puts new and different pressures on the UK’s economic performance. John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Newcastle, gave an overview of the biological basis of ageing and the emergency of the ‘super old’.
He said: “There is no magic bullet for ageing. Behaviour change is key to lowering the risk of premature death. The opportunities for industry are in creating food-based products and services that encourage life-long healthy eating.”
Dr Lisa Methven, Associate Professor in Food and Sensory Science at the University of Reading, discussed the need to develop new food products for an older population.
She said: “Both under- and over-nutrition can have consequences for health including diet-related diseases such as cancer, cardio-pulmonary disease and diabetes, or malnutrition due to nutrient deficiencies. There will be an increasing demand for food products created specifically for older people.”
We will upload videos of the session highlights and the speakers’ presentations as soon as we can. Keep checking back for more details.
For more details about the benefits of the AFTP’s training courses and qualifications, see the overview here.
The AFTP is helping the industry’s best talent to deepen their knowledge and advance their skills. Through courses focused on professionals, The AFTP offers flexible training opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD). In an era of climate change, food insecurity and an ever-growing population, we are equipping the agrifood industry to become more efficient, more profitable and more sustainable – to prepare us all for the challenges ahead.