Angus Council, Agrico UK, Arbikie Distilling, James Hutton Institute and SoilEssentials Ltd have signed a letter of intent, committing to work together to develop a Centre for Agricultural Sustainable Innovation (CASI) with the headquarters being established in Forfar, Angus.
The CASI will drive forward the development of four agricultural technology enterprises focusing on innovation, crop quality, precision agriculture and the development of a neutral spirit still.
Receiving funding from the UK Government’s £26.5 million Angus Fund, as part of the Tay Cities Region Deal, the CASI will be managed cooperatively by the private sector in partnership with Angus Council and the James Hutton Institute.
Through the demonstration of innovation, commercialisation, iconic new food and drink products and world-leading quality control, the CASI will facilitate collaboration between businesses in the agriculture industry and will promote farm-based sustainable innovation, supporting an inclusive and green economy.
Angus Council leader, Councilor David Fairweather, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the clean growth transition of the Tay Cities’ agricultural sector by leading sustainable innovation and inspiring collaboration.
“The agriculture industry plays a vital role in international, national and regional strategic priorities for economic development, food security and environmental sustainability. COP26 shined a light on its role in climate change and the opportunities that agri tech holds to mitigate the impact of agriculture on the climate and create opportunities for sustainable economic growth.
“The CASI provides the knowledge, practices, technology and opportunities where farmers can play an important role in tackling climate change and protect the environment for the future, as new and innovative approaches to food and drink are developed and financial resources become available to support this growth.”
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: "This is an exciting project which combines many of Angus' strengths and priorities to bring jobs and investment to the area.
"Agricultural innovation is important not just to Angus but the future of the whole planet. The UK Government is also investing £45m through the Tay Cities Deal in projects at the James Hutton Institute which will complement our support for CASI.
"Across Scotland we are providing more than £1.7 billion for regional projects to level up communities and build back better from the pandemic."
SoilEssentials Managing Director, Jim Wilson, said: “Angus has a long tradition of agricultural innovation leading to excellence in food production. Precision agriculture has changed the way we work and allowed us to steer our tractors and target our crop inputs with incredible accuracy. The Mercury program will help us take the next step in precision agriculture by pulling new innovations into Angus from around the world and help us market tools and knowledge, developed in Angus, to a worldwide audience.
“Precision agriculture can help meet the challenges of labour availability, technical skill development, soil health, carbon sequestration and the environmental needs of the 21st century.
“Global leaders in agri-tech who produce novel technologies including autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and machine vision are eager to trial and develop their products in Angus. This will further strengthen Angus’s position in agricultural innovation. These new technologies and investments will create new high value jobs and bring exciting opportunities to Angus and Scotland.”
Agrico Executive Director, Archie Gibson, said: “The prospect of developing an industry owned and run quality Centre, the first of its kind in the UK is really exciting. The quality centre will aim to assess multiples of 300 tuber samples from the field or store using state of the art optical sorters capable of reporting size bands, skin finish, while also checking for internal defects. In addition to field inspections, these quality assessments will reinforce the reputation of the Scottish seed industry promoting our high grade to seed to Export and domestic customers alike. Data gathered is being confidentially returned to the grower by the CASI to help them validate varietal economic performance and integrate pest management strategies. The centre will be open to all potato growers whether growing table potatoes, or certified seed for export or the home market.”
Arbikie Director, John Stirling, said: “We are delighted to be a collaboration partner in the CASI to help drive sustainable innovation and economic growth as part of Angus Council’s Mercury Programme.
“In developing the world's first ever Circular Economy Distillery this will not only help reduce farm waste, promote cleaner farms, and reduce their environmental footprints but also help the Scottish Gin industry make their spirits from Scottish grown crops. As farmers we understand that all crops take the same effort and inputs to grow regardless of whether they meet certain supplier specifications. The Distillery will accept all grades and encourage farms to diversify into alternative, more environmentally sustainable crops such as peas and beans. We’ll then turn them into neutral spirit which is used in the production of gin and vodka and nutritious protein rich feed/food.
“Sustainable products are undoubtedly the future, and they will be a major economic driving force in the years to come across the world.”
Soil Ecologist, Dr Roy Neilson at The James Hutton Institute, said: "In agricultural systems, future supply and demand will need to support sustainable, healthy, and diverse diets. This will also require increased agricultural productivity based on production systems that minimise environmental impact and are resilient to the impacts of climate change. The CASI will place Angus at the forefront of agricultural innovation to deliver sustainable, high-quality nutritious food supporting local communities."
Building on Angus’s historical reputation in agricultural innovation, the CASI HQ will be located at The Mart in Forfar, a location synonymous with Farming in the North East. These offices will become the hub of the Centre with Angus Council having already secured ownership of the building to support the project. A place to bring international inspectors to showcase the very best of produce that Angus and the wider Tay Cities Region has to offer, the CASI HQ will create a place for learning and sharing of innovations amongst the farming community in a way that, until now, has not been facilitated.