New Open Innovation event will shape the agri-food industry

Open discussion and innovative thinking are the key to shaping a viable food and farming industry, and a new annual event aims to facilitate just that.

Drawing on successful approaches in other industries, the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum will bring together leading scientists, farmers, manufacturers and others in the food supply chain to identify pioneering ways to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. But in a step change away from conventional conferences, it will bring those ideas forward into practice to make a real difference on the ground.

“Open innovation is all about bringing the brightest and best in the industry together, to capture and exchange ideas on the big challenges in the agri-food sector,” says Chris Dunkley, part of the organising team and chief executive of Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise. “Using online forums, conferences and workshops we can foster a collaborative approach to develop game-changing solutions to the benefit of everyone in the industry.”

The first conference will be held on 18-20 January 2017 at Rothamsted, the longest running agricultural research station in the world, which has provided cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. It will be followed up with focussed workshops to develop the ideas generated into concrete opportunities for multi-partner collaboration.

“It is this practical implementation of ideas that marks the Open Innovation Forum out from other conferences,” says Mr Dunkley. “This isn’t just a talking shop; it’s designed to have real and lasting results.”

Some of the challenges that are likely to be raised include climate change, antibiotic and chemical resistance, changing consumer requirements, finance, and food security. “But the agenda will be set by everyone who gets involved with the forum,” says Mr Dunkley. “We have no fixed outcomes: The aim of this annual event is to bring the industry together to find practical answers to the big questions.”

After the conference a White Paper will record existing best practice and highlight specific areas of innovation where collaboration would accelerate progress for the industry as a whole. It will also identify measures to facilitate a more collaborative culture in the agri-food sector.

Rothamsted, with its background in agricultural research and knowledge transfer, is well placed to host the Open Innovation Forum, and has already secured the support and sponsorship of a number of leading organisations including Syngenta, Bayer, the BBSRC, the Wellcome Trust and the International Fertiliser Association.

The first phase of the project is to encourage discussion on The Online Blackboard, with industry experts leading individual topic areas, from pests and weeds to agri-technology and livestock nutrition. The conference will then take forward the challenges identified, with a mixture of keynote speakers, practical case studies and problem-solving group discussions. This will be followed up with the White Paper, collaboration workshops and ongoing research projects, all of which will feed into the 2018 annual event.

“The global agri-food industry faces considerable demands and opportunities in the years and decades ahead,” says Achim Dobermann, CEO and director of Rothamsted Research. “Collaboration between research, industry and farming communities is critical to finding workable solutions to these challenges. The Open Innovation Forum will help us to find where the gaps in our research lie, how different stakeholders can work together to the benefit of all, and how to put practical solutions into place. Drawing on the best thinking from around the world, this is an event not to be missed.”

For more information, visit and login to The Online Blackboard to make your contribution and help shape the future of your sector.