We were delighted to be hear from Henry Dimbleby, a key figure in DEFRA and the national food strategy plan alongside Vee Gururajan, MD of B-hive, Shelagh Hancock, CEO, First Milk and Matt Truman, Co-Founder and Executive Chair of True. The diverse panel, representing agriculture, agritech, government, private equity and innovation and was expertly moderated by David Macaulay, MD of Eden Search, who specialises in recruiting senior leaders across agtech, fresh produce and food manufacturing.

The critical need to transform our food system was something both the panel and our guests were aligned on. Dimbleby stated that “food accounts for 12.5 trillion dollars of revenue and employees 35% of the workforce, but it also causes  12.7 trillion dollars worth of damage both to our health and the environment”. Key areas of concern included the destruction of biodiversity, soil health, water pollution, climate change, and deforestation, along with the impact on human health. By 2035, the health service is projected to spend more on type 2 diabetes than on all cancers combined. There is a need for systemic change, with many viewing agtech as part of the solution with Matt Truman commenting that “corporations must embrace innovation and change”.

Although the agtech sector is exciting and innovative, with many emerging technologies, the panel agreed that its main struggle is the adoption of these technologies. Vee Gururajan raised the critical question, “Who is going to pay for it?” Shelagh Hancock echoed this concern, noting that the country lacks a strategic vision. She believes farmers can be adaptable and agile but need clarity on “what do you want us to do and who will pay for it?” The panel emphasised that we lack the kind of collective movement not seen since WWII, something they felt the government has failed to achieve in the sector.

On a more positive note, there was a general consensus that access to grant funding has become more viable. The government has established specific grants for R&D and innovation, which have been effectively utilised in areas such as vertical farming and alternative proteins. However, there is a concern that any strategy or plan is still rooted in short-term thinking. Given our political cycle and the potential of a new Government to come in, there will never be long term view, which does not align with the longer-term nature of the farming sector.

Interestingly, all our panelists thought that food in the UK was too cheap with Dimbleby stating that “the cost of food doesn’t reflect the cost of production”. Agtech innovation and adoption of technologies can help reduce cost, increase yield and deliver more nutritious food to the nation. However, for this potential to be realised, these technologies need to be fully utilised by both corporations and farmers, and the question of who will pay for it remains crucial.

We would like to thank everyone who attended our event and shared their views, creativity, and challenges, particularly our panel and our keynote speaker Henry Dimbleby. If you would like to discuss any of the topics further or if you would like to talk to Eden about how your business can invest in their senior leadership team, please contact dani.walker@edensearch.co.uk.

To find out more, please call 0113 834 6634 or request a call back