Agricultural science is open for innovation

21st Jul 2015

One of the UK’s most renowned research institutions is starting a small revolution in how scientific discovery helps grow the plants that feed the world.

Based in Hertfordshire, Rothamsted Research has been at the forefront of crop science for more than 170 years and is the longest running agricultural research station in the world. Whereas previous transformations in agriculture have been sparked by the discovery of a new compound or by building a new machine, this new venture is about changing how people and organisations work together.

The Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise (RoCRE) has been made possible thanks to funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional investment from Rothamsted Research, the Lawes Agricultural Trust and regional growth funding accessed through the Herts Local Enterprise Partnership. So far, it has received £14M of investment, including the newly opened Lawes Open Innovation Hub.

George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences, welcomes the new development: “This pioneering new hub represents an exciting new stage in Rothamsted’s 170 year history, meaning more innovative ideas from the laboratory are to be spring-boarded into industry and at greater speed. It will very much support our Agri-tech Strategy, developing new approaches to food and farming and will strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in 21st Century agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability.”

Chris Dunkley, RoCRE chief executive shares the minister’s point of view: “It’s a superb new resource for UK agriculture and will further strengthen Rothamsted Research’s global place at the forefront of developments in agricultural science – one of the government’s eight ‘Great Technologies’.

“But it’s a real departure from what some might see as the traditional academic approach,” explains Chris. With its bright colours, open-plan spaces and even an internal ‘street’, the Hub is designed to marry Rothamsted’s research capabilities with the vigour of commercial activity – the concept known as ‘open innovation’.

“Academia and commerce have common goals: finding new agricultural techniques and developing technologies in a bid to grow more food, more efficiently, to feed a rising population. It’s our intention that the Hub will allow us to work together more effectively in achieving those goals,” says Chris.

Built with the support of the BBSRC, the Hub boasts extensive laboratory facilities where industry research teams can carry out experimental work. Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Executive Director, Innovation and Skills, says: “By investing in RoCRE BBSRC is ensuring that discoveries in plant science can be translated into benefit for society, such as new products and services that increase sustainability, reduce environmental impact and boost economic growth, as well as helping us meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population sustainably.”

Plant science companies have already started to make the Centre their new headquarters, a recent tenant being Plant Impact, which produces crop enhancement technology – products that support a plant’s natural responses for dealing with stress and disease.

“The Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise is the ideal environment for agricultural science, whether it be academic or commercial,” says John Brubaker, chief executive of Plant Impact. “Our decision to relocate our global head office and research effort to the Harpenden site has been transformational for our business, thanks to new research facilities, office and laboratory space, and – of course – access to Rothamsted Research’s network of the world’s leading scientists in soil science and plant nutrition.”

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