The agri-tech sector is undergoing an exciting transformation, developing new technologies to expand food production whilst reducing the impact on the environment; pushing the UK towards the forefront of global agricultural innovation.
The Office for National Statistics collects data on key economic indicators, such as gross value added (a measure of economic output), employment and trade. Often this can be broken down at a detailed sector level. However, the data is not as well suited to capturing the economic contribution of emerging sectors, or of companies that span multiple sectors of the economy. Therefore, we commissioned a comprehensive study to assess the economic contribution of the agri-tech sector and how it is expected to perform in the future. This report also provides a solid foundation and evidence base which will be incredibly valuable in evaluating the success of the Agri-tech Strategy in the future.
Here are the key points:
1. In 2013 the agri-tech sector contributed £14 billion to the UK economy
In 2013 (the latest year for which data was available), the agri-tech sector contributed £14.3 billion to UK Gross Value Added and employed over half a million people. Agri-tech output grew by 16% between 2008 and 2013, however, this masks the rapid growth of some sub-sectors over the period. The animal sub-sector, environment and physical sub-sector, and ICT and decision support sector have all grown at more than 20%.
2. Traditional agriculture still dominates but high-tech agriculture industries set to grow over next 15 years
Traditional agriculture dominates the sector, but emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial systems, diagnostic tools to identify endemic diseases in livestock, and big data to help farmers work out what to plant, where and when; already accounts for a third of agri-tech output. Given increased interest in the sector, growing private and public sector investment in agricultural technologies, and improved infrastructure to support collaboration, the report forecasts that the technology component will account for a growing share of agri-tech output between now and 2030.
3. Precision farming is already worth £1 billion to the UK economy
One of the fastest growing agri-tech subsectors is expected to be precision farming and engineering. It’s already worth over £1 billion to the UK economy and employs 21,000 people. Agricultural robotics are now being developed to drive tractors, kill weeds with lasers to avoid using chemicals, pick and grade strawberries , mow grass, scout for pests, weeds and diseases and plant seeds. This new wave of smart machines will revolutionise the way in which crops are grown in the future by using intelligently targeted inputs. Hi-tech areas like this are expected to expand as the core agriculture sector continues to seek efficiency improvements and adopts new technologies. The UK’s limited land supply and growing environmental and climate change challenges highlight a continuous need to improve efficiency in agriculture, driving the implementation of innovative farming practices, and investment in cutting-edge technologies.
Monitoring the implementation of the Agri-tech Strategy and evaluating its success
The new report goes further than just assessing the size of the sector and its growth prospects. It also sets out a robust monitoring and evaluation plan to help Government monitor the implementation of the Agri-tech Strategy and measure its success in the future. The plan is wide-ranging, cutting across all the actions set out in the Strategy, including: the Agri-tech Catalyst, Centres for Agricultural Innovation, trade, inward investment, collaboration, skills and also the role of the Leadership Council in raising the profile of UK agri-tech both here and overseas. The monitoring and evaluation activity will enable us to find out how successful the Strategy has been and answer questions such as “by how much the sector has grown?” and “what’s driven this growth?” Not only is this information interesting, it will enable future government policies and strategies to be even better.