Speaking at the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum on Thursday (19 January), Mr Freeman said the UK now had a chance to create a legislatory framework which could pave the way for a new Victorian age of applied science with global impact. "We need global inward investment to our science base to drive out exports of food and technology," he explained.
The rise of radical lobbyists in Europe threatened to legislate the EU back into the dark ages, warned Mr Freeman. But by opening its doors to global innovators, the UK could once more nurture beneficial technologies and roll them out across the world to help developed and developing countries alike. "We won't build a 21st Century economy unless we're open to the science that we need, and we can't build a global Britain on a narrow, isolationist platform."
Mr Freeman said the government had invested heavily in the new Agri-tech strategy, and would be unveiling its Industrial strategy shortly. In addition to sponsoring key sectors it was committed to a broader programme, opening up new models of innovation, finance and infrastructure, he added. "It is my passionate belief that this country needs to produce more for less: Globally we need to double food production on the same land area using half as much water. That's a big challenge, but it's perfectly do-able. This (forum) has exactly the expertise and cluster of talent we need to be convening."
Delegates at the conference also heard from Dr Christian Witt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who explored how technology could be used to help farmers in developing nations to produce more food more sustainably. Smart phones, the internet and open access to data could all be used to speed up technological development and help nations move from subsistence farming to more productive, profitable systems, he said. "We want farmers to be empowered with the knowledge, tools and technologies to improve their livelihoods and lift themselves out of poverty."
By drawing on experience in other sectors and applying Open Innovation principles to the agri-food industry, scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs and big businesses could all work together for mutual benefit, said Chris Dunkley, chief executive of the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise. "And, unlike many other conferences, the ROIF will follow projects through to their implementation, ensuring real changes on the ground."
Mr Freeman also took the time to talk to David Flanders of Agrimetrics; the world's first Big Data Centre of Excellence for the whole agri-food industry, which is hosted at the Lawes Open Innovation Hub at Rothamsted, as well as a number of SMEs exhibiting at the event, including Ceravasion; a plasma lighting company entering the Agrifood Company, and Aponic with its vertical aeroponic growing system.