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5th December 2016, 12:52pm
Countryfile's Tom Heap explores the future of farming
Launch of LIAT BBC Countryfile presenter Tom Heap was the special guest at a showcase event to officially launch Lincolnshire’s research institute dedicated to supporting the future of British food and farming through research, education and training.

The Lincoln Institute-for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), part of the University of Lincoln, brings together expertise across a range of subjects to tackle current and future challenges facing the agricultural and food manufacturing industries. With expertise spanning agri-robotics to zoology, LIAT is working to support and enhance productivity, efficiency and sustainability in food and farming ‘from farm to fork’.

Tom Heap joined guests representing major stakeholders in the region’s agri-food sectors, who were offered a showcase of some of the technological innovations and scientific studies LIAT’s staff and students are pursuing now in fields, factories and laboratories across Lincolnshire.

Tom is the investigations reporter for Countryfile, appearing most weeks covering topics from soil science to rural homelessness. He is also the principal presenter of the BBC Radio 4’s science and environment documentary series Costing the Earth, alongside reporting for Panorama on food, farming and energy. He started his career as a sound man for Sky News and worked for many years as a journalist for BBC News.

Tom said: “Over the years covering rural affairs I became more convinced that human ingenuity, applied both in the lab and the field, holds the key to solving many of the problems facing food and farming.

“Being within a fine University in the heart of farming country gives the new Institute for Agri-Food Technology a head start in delivering state-of-the-art research to help farmers and consumers. It's always great to meet passionate scientists."

The event came a day after the University’s pioneering agri-tech research – which aims to integrate advanced 3D imaging and robotic automation with industrial harvesting and weeding technologies – was featured in a special Lincolnshire edition of BBC Countryfile (first broadcast Sunday 4th December 2016).

Other event highlights included a demonstration of LIAT's Thorvald agricultural robot which will support a wide variety of field trials and experiments, with the University of Lincoln’s computer scientists working alongside its Norwegian creators to develop new techniques for autonomous navigation and sensing.

In the past year LIAT has secured more than £10million in national and international research funding to deliver R&D in collaboration with partners across the food and farming sectors. Its researchers have featured at many of the biggest agri-tech industry events of 2016, including the World Agri-Tech Investment Summit in London, and joined a UK Government trade delegation to India to promote the UK’s agri-tech expertise in November.

As well as developing state-of-the-art agri-robotics research, LIAT’s staff and students are also pursuing a major new study into the economic threat posed to UK farmland by coastal flooding. This project includes finding potential new ways for industry to adapt to these risks, and a world-first investigation into the genetic code of foodborne pathogens which cause food poisoning.

The official launch of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology took place on Monday 5th December at its headquarters at the University's Riseholme Campus. The Estate, with its woodland, grassland and watercourses, working farm and agricultural field station, supports the testing of farm innovations, training, crop trials and experimentation, including in agri-robotics, water management and agronomy, alongside the University’s facilities at the Brayford Pool Campus in Lincoln and National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Holbeach.

Professor Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, said: "The food and farming industries are always under pressure to innovate and technology in agriculture is nothing new. Rising labour costs, changing consumer habits and the Brexit vote have, however, added extra urgency to the need for universities to deliver the higher-level skills, technologies and knowledge base our agri-food industries require to adapt to a rapidly changing economic landscape.

"It is fitting that Lincolnshire should be at the forefront of the UK's agri-tech and agri-food specialisms through the work of our Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, which is supporting innovation and developing workforce skills alongside partners across our food and farming sectors facing up to these challenges every day.”

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