NIAB is to build an agri-tech hub at its Cambridge base to link start-up agricultural technology businesses with its wider research network.

The crop research organisation has been awarded £2.5 million from The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to construct a 375m2 business incubator at its Park Farm site in Histon north of the city.

Branded Barn4, the facility will be open to tenants from spring 2021, offering start-ups and SMEs laboratory, workshop and office space, meeting rooms and video-conferencing facilities. Tenants will also have access to NIAB’s high performance computing capability, specialist laboratory facilities and both indoor and outdoor growing spaces.

Director of NIAB Ventures Dr Juno McKee says Barn4 will provide facilities for up to 15 companies with 45 staff. “NIAB will work with a network of commercial and academic partners to provide a complete ecosystem within which technology driven start-ups and spinouts can thrive. Links to the Cambridge technology cluster and the wider agricultural sector will be ideal for early stage companies to grow and flourish.”

Director of commercialisation Dr Michael Gifford adds that the UK agrifood industry is under enormous pressure to redefine its farming and food supply chains, faced with challenges such as Brexit and the new Agriculture Bill; climate change and food security; and the Covid-19 pandemic. “One way is to accelerate the pace at which it commercialises and adopts new agritech innovations to deliver sustainable change.

“We are thinking about agritech in its widest sense and expect to have companies specialising in plant genetics, pest management, soil health, and AI to support sustainable farming decisions, farm robotics and much more,” Dr Gifford concludes.