2008 Agri-Food Report
For the Agri-Food Report, the Panel took direction from ‘Vision 20/20’, the industry’s Foresight exercise, identified and built on our capacity and capability for world class science, knowledge, technology, innovation and business exploitation, to forge a collaborative framework, tools and
environment, that will be crucial for delivering future opportunities.
Challenges, as well as a spectrum of opportunities, were identified in the SMART and integrated application of knowledge, science and technology in Health, Production and Waste, and Energy.
The substance of the report drew on extensive input from retailers, local and international food processors, exporters, primary producers, researchers, government and many, many others. In particular, the industry panel appreciated the contribution of representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Invest NI, Queen’s University, the University of Ulster and the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute.
The Agri-food Horizon Panel report provides the basis for Northern Ireland to achieve specialised global leadership in its quest to secure a safe, clean and healthy future for the industry and our society as a whole.
Agri-food is important to Northern Ireland and the areas of focus and leadership are well within the grasp of Northern Ireland Agri-food. The recommendations in this report seek to create an ‘eco-system’ for agri-food whereby Northern Ireland can look to collaborate in the focus and leadership areas to create an evolving knowledge based specialist sector, which can be a reference point for the global sector.
A multidisciplinary opportunity
The key message from an analysis of the range of opportunities in the sector is that there are a broad range of scientific and technology capabilities necessary to achieve success and these capabilities are spread across different sectors. Clearly, it is the ability of this sector to develop and exploit the overlap of these capabilities that creates the environment for Northern Ireland to further develop the Agrifood sector.
The focus areas for Northern Ireland Agri-foods
In adopting a multidisciplinary approach to Agri-food opportunities, the panel developed the 20/20 Vision through to eight focus areas:
Creating leadership positions for Northern Ireland
The panel concluded that the key to success for a region the size of Northern Ireland is to focus on areas where there is the potential for international leadership in research that feeds into global food markets.
The focus areas described above are too broad to create sufficient focus for leadership positions. Therefore, these focus areas have been further refined into five leadership areas for Northern Ireland to be underpinned by framework conditions to achieve long term success within the sector. These leadership areas have been selected because they allow Northern Ireland create market growth in a developing aspect of the global agri-food sector and can also be used to spearhead the development of the sector.
The analysis of capabilities across the sectors reviewed within the capabilities study for Northern Ireland resulted in the identification of key capabilities required to deliver real benefits to the agri-food sector. The mechanisms that need to be taken for Northern Ireland in a set of specific actions that based on the identified capabilities, will address the focus areas and develop the leadership positions thereby achieving the economic benefits. The actions to be taken are:
- A regional initiative to establish a R&D hub of international standing which will specialise in the cradle-to-grave development of foods, using Life Science techniques to produce nutritional solutions10 functional foods that can be customised to individual needs and produce vitality protein products that are focussed on premiumisation, beyond Health and the Convenience markets. the proposal formed must included two industrial partners resident in northern ireland and two industrial partners that are not resident in northern ireland;
- The establishment of an R&D centre of international standing (involving at least two international partners) specialising in the development of traditional processing and materials skills to produce innovative processes and packaging mechanisms to meet the requirements of enhanced shelf life, consumer convenience and safety;
- The development of knowledge-based toolsets for the agri-food industry;
- The exploitation of Northern Ireland Computational Science capability for the agri-food industry;
- The development of the exploitation of the multifunctional feature of the agri-food industry to improve farming productivity. this theme should focus on how multiple products can be created from land in the same year and look to items such as alternative Energy Sources, water management, the reduction of the farming carbon footprint and an increase in biodiversity.
Based on the research conducted in the region, it is apparent that the culture and capability of UU or QUB should be more broadly used to replicate the capability (at an appropriate scale) and their culture at a number of industry (SME) focused centres. These centres would be tasked with focussing on developing particular expertise in functional foods, advanced materials and packaging, the use of ICT toolsets to advance the supply chain, food markets and energy utilisation.
While developing expertise in specific areas, these centres should seek to develop a close relationship with companies in their locality and if necessary refer them to another centre more suited to meeting their needs. Their activities in this last respect will be supported by business development specialists from Invest NI with a background in the respective areas.
The focus here is on creating collaborative networks between various companies that have complementary knowledge, skills and technologies.
Focus within the framework conditions should address:
- Improved Regional Collaboration mechanisms
- Skills Development to meet Future Sector needs
- Stimulation and Support of University Spin-offs
- Effective Intellectual Property infrastructure.