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Agri-tech Sector

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2018

The £160 million agri-tech strategy, which was launched five years ago, has proved a success. We are building on that strong track record through our industrial strategy, including a further £90 million of funding announced in February to bring the UK’s world-class agri-food sector together with expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence and data science. This will make it easier for farmers and agricultural supply chains to embrace new technology, enhancing their competitiveness and improving productivity.

My hon. Friend will know the importance of the agri-tech sector to the county of Shropshire. Can he give more details of how the transforming food production challenge will support our agri-tech sector in Shropshire?

The transforming food production investment combines UK academic and industrial strengths, taking a whole system approach, to integrate world-leading research, advanced technologies and farming practices. It will support the development and deployment of precision agricultural technologies and solutions.

The campus of Scotland’s Rural College in Gordon and local agri-food business Harbro are playing a key role in agri-tech. Does the Minister agree that continued funding for agri-tech, and the resulting big data, is essential to developing opportunities for global Britain?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We recognise the excellent contribution that Scotland’s Rural College and Harbro have made to developing agri-tech through partnering with the centres for agricultural innovation, where they are aiding the adoption of data-driven products. As I have said, we are investing £90 million in the transforming food production challenge, which will really help the UK to capture significant global challenge.

The agri-tech sector has tremendous potential in this country, but if we are to get all the manufacturing jobs out of it, as well as the innovation, we need to do something about the most expensive corporate property tax in the entire EU. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government are still sticking to their manifesto commitment to have a wholesale review of the business rates system, so we can have a competitive system for the agri-tech sector?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in the Budget, the Chancellor announced that he will be bringing forward proposals on that manifesto commitment in due course.

What proportion of all biomass used to produce energy in the last year came from wood, and what proportion of that came from domestic wood? Will he follow Scotland’s example of good practice?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and one that we will follow up with detailed statistics.