Translating agri-tech innovation from lab to field

Research supported by Cambridge Enterprise and Ceres Agri-Tech published in Nature

Research supported by Cambridge Enterprise and Ceres Agri-Tech published in Nature

New grafting technique could combat the disease threatening Cavendish bananas Scientists have found a novel way to combine two species of grass-like plant including banana, rice and wheat, using embryonic tissue from their seeds. The technique allows beneficial characteristics, such as disease resistance or stress tolerance, to be added to the plants. Grafting is the […]

Ceres Agri-Tech launches first three spin-outs

Ceres Agri-Tech launches first three spin-outs

The first three spin-out companies have been launched from Ceres, the knowledge exchange partnership designed to revolutionise the creation and uptake of early-stage agri-tech opportunities.

What is Ceres Agri-Tech?

Ceres is a collaborative agri-tech partnership between five leading UK universities and three renowned agricultural research institutes. Funded by Research England, it provides translational funding and commercialisation expertise to drive agri-tech innovation by accelerating high quality research to market.

Our Partners

The University of Cambridge (UoC) is ranked in the UK’s top two universities and in the top three worldwide by the Times Higher Education 2020 Rankings. It draws on a long tradition of research excellence, spanning over 11 departments from Plant Sciences to Engineering, with key strengths in big data, biotechnology, and computing.

UoC supports interdisciplinary agricultural research through strategic research initiatives, such as Global Food Security and the CamBridgeSens network for sensor research, and forges close links with the UK’s leading institutes for agri-tech R&D. These include NIAB (via the Crop Science Centre) and the John Innes Centre and Earlham Institute (via the OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre). It has also collaborated with partner universities across England to help set up AgriFoRwArdS, the world’s first doctoral training centre in agri-food robotics, established at the University of Lincoln in conjunction with the University of East Anglia.

UoC is supported by the extensive commercialisation expertise and industrial networks of Cambridge Enterprise, its technology transfer arm, to connect Ceres academic partners with commercial opportunities in the East of England and beyond.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is ranked by The Times in 2020 as one of the top 200 universities in the world and top 25 in the UK, as well as 10th in the country for the quality of its research.

UEA’s agri-food expertise spans multiple schools within the University, including Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Computing and Environmental Science, and is supported by the outstanding commercial know-how of Norwich Business School. This has helped to build the University’s track record of successful industry collaboration with large multi-national companies, start-ups, and SMEs.

UEA also has strong collaborative links with internationally renowned research institutes in the region. The John Innes Centre and Sainsbury Laboratory lead the world in plant and microbial sciences, while the Quadram Institute has complementary strengths in food science and technology.

Interdisciplinary research programmes across UEA underpin the University’s innovation in agri-food. The Internet of Food Things Network Plus project brings together data scientists, chemists, and economists, ultimately to help shape digitisation of the future UK food supply chain. The Food for Thought Network connects over 200 companies, providing expert advice to agri-food businesses in the East of England, while the AgriFoRwArdS Agri-Food Robotics centre for doctoral training brings together the resources of the University of Cambridge, UEA and the University of Lincoln to teach the next generation of experts in this field.

Image © UEA 2020. External view of the Enterprise Centre.

The University of Hertfordshire (UoH) is one of the UK’s top business-facing universities, leading in academia-small business collaboration across the country.

Its research impact has been influential in steering European agricultural and environmental policy, through the work of the Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU) on the UoH Pesticides Properties Database. UoH takes an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems in agri-tech, advancing the state of the art in a wide range of areas from climate change modelling to detecting crop risk.

UoH is an integral part of multiple initiatives to enhance agricultural innovation. With Rothamsted Research, Cranfield University and UCL, UoH is a delivery partner of the £3.5m Société Generale UK Foundation-backed SHAKE Climate Change programme to support start-ups. UoH has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College, Rothamsted Research, and Oaklands College to set up the Centre for Agriculture, Food and Environmental Management (CAFEM), which delivers collaborative research and education in agricultural, agritech, and agri-environmental sciences.

UoH also runs the pioneering Hertfordshire Knowledge Exchange Partnership (HKEP) scheme, which has been commended by HEFCE as outstanding.

The University of Lincoln (UoL) is ranked in the Top 200 globally for Agriculture and Forestry in the QS World University Rankings 2019. It is home to the outstanding Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT), which supports and enhances productivity, efficiency and sustainability in food and farming through research, education and technology.

LIAT’s researchers are engaged in the development of technologies which solve challenges across the food chain, ‘from farm to fork’, collaborating with partners in industry, academia and their colleagues at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing in Holbeach, South Lincolnshire. Their work will deliver the world-class research and higher-level skills the UK’s agri-food industries need today and in the future.

UoL was recently awarded EPSRC funding to lead on the establishment of AgriFoRwArdS, in collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia. This is the world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training for Agri-Food Robotics, and is creating the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors.

The University of Reading (UoR) is one of the UK’s top 40 universities. It has world-class expertise along the entire agri-food value chain, from sustainable land management and crops through to food science.

UoR oversees key agricultural resources, including international initiatives such as the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre, and national facilities and resources and facilities. The latter include the Brogdale National Fruit Collection, a UK-wide horticultural resource, and the Field Crop Research Unit at Sonning Farm, which spans 12 ha and has capacity for arable crop research from plot to field scale.

UoR’s strengths in food technology are supported by the University’s Centres for Food Processing, Sensory Science, and Flavour. The Food Processing Centre is one of the largest facilities of its kind across Europe, with a fully functional pilot processing line and £4 million worth of plant equipment, and can oversee projects all the way from concept to pilot-scale manufacturing.

Agri-tech research across the University has a strong multidisciplinary focus, ranging from precision agriculture and the use of on-farm sensors in crop management to the use of big data to improve efficiency in the food value chain. On a larger scale, UoR also has leading experts on agri-tech adoption, knowledge exchange, and the ethics of new agricultural technologies.

The NIAB Group is the UK’s fastest growing crop science organisation, having trebled in size over the past decade through a strategic programme of investment, merger and acquisition. Founded in 1919, and with a longstanding international reputation for expertise in plant varieties and seeds, today NIAB’s scientific capabilities span the crop improvement pipeline.  NIAB is at the forefront of the application of genetics, physiology, soil science, precision agronomy and data science to improve the yield, efficiency and resilience of crop production across  the arable and horticulture sectors.

NIAB has recently undergone a major programme of building and refurbishment at its Cambridge site with new offices and laboratories that provide cutting edge facilities.  As a part of this building programme NIAB has joined with Cambridge University to build the Crop Science Centre.  NIAB collaborates with a wide range of academic institutions, research organisations and commercial partners.

NIAB has an active programme of working with agritech start-ups and SMEs.  NIAB aims to support companies with innovative technologies in their development through collaborative projects and trials.  In early 2021 NIAB will be opening “Barn 4” a brand new agritech incubator which will add additional routes for NIAB to develop these relationships.

Rothamsted Research is a world-leading research institute that focuses on strategic agricultural science to the benefit of farmers and society worldwide. Its research is funded primarily by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, but through a range of funding sources the institute collaborates with industry and academic organisations in over 50 countries delivering impact in the UK as well as internationally.

Rothamsted Research has a portfolio of innovation programmes and accelerators available to UK businesses and growers. It is also a founding member of Agrimetrics, the Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock and the Centre for Crop Health and Protection.

Through Rothamsted Enterprises, a joint venture between Rothamsted Research, BBSRC and the Lawes Agricultural Trust, the institute provides incubation services to start-ups and small and medium-sized companies which require access to cutting-edge scientific facilities and services.

The John Innes Centre (JIC) is a world leading research centre specializing in plant and microbial science, with established partnerships with regional plant breeders, agronomists and the agrochemical industry. It has an established knowledge exchange (KE) infrastructure that was recognised with the BBSRC Excellence with Impact Award in 2016 for its innovative approach to knowledge exchange, translation and commercialisation. JIC has established six agri-tech spinout companies since 2014.

The Ceres Agri-Tech Knowledge Exchange Partnership is funded as part of an investment through Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund in new collaborative projects to drive forward world-class university commercialisation across the country. The Connecting Capability Fund supports universities in working together, and with businesses and other partners, to commercialise research and share good practice and capacity. The Fund is highlighted in the Government’s Industrial Strategy and will help achieve its aims of enhancing UK industrial competitiveness and productivity. 

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Cutting-edge agri-tech innovation

A snapshot of the work we support

“The support from Ceres has been transformational – shaping 12 years of R&D and helping us to develop a ground-breaking new sensor technology for potato stores”


Dr. Edmond Nurellari

Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering/ Robotics and Programme Leader, School of Engineering, University of Lincoln

“The Ceres team provides invaluable support and advice to turn agri-tech concepts and ideas into commercially valuable outputs”

Dr. Amir Ghalamzan Esfahani

Associate Professor in Robotics at the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology

“The Ceres Fund has helped UEA bridge the gap between research projects and commercial applications through the provision of both funding and access to industry insights and contacts.”

Dr. Jon Carter

Head of Innovation, Research and Innovation Services at the University of East Anglia

“Funding and support from Ceres has enabled us to develop our chemistry from lab-scale to industrial scale; essential for the commercialisation of our technology.”

Professor Richard Stephenson

Professor of Synthetic and Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of East Anglia

“The Ceres grant enabled me to realise a 15 year vision and bring the ‘Strawberry Powdery Mildew Prediction system’ from research through licencing to market.”

Dr Avice Hall MBE

Crop and Environment Research Group, University of Hertfordshire

“Ceres positions the UK’s world-leading innovators to establish the global agri-tech businesses of the future.”

Professor Andrew Hunter

Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of Lincoln

“Ceres creates a one-stop shop for agri-technology innovators and has been transformative for our University.”

Professor Darragh Murnane

Professor of Pharmaceutics and Associate Dean for Business and Enterprise at the University of Hertfordshire

“This partnership will provide a useful platform to help some of the best and brightest innovations in the sector be accessible to those that need it most.”

Professor Julian Park

Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education at the University of Reading

“The Ceres network offers opportunities for new collaborations and puts together the expertise needed to tackle key challenges that will underpin future food security.”

Professor Simon Pearson

Director of the Lincoln Institute of Agri-food Technology at the University of Lincoln

“The grand challenges in agri-tech require a multi-disciplinary approach and the establishment of Ceres will facilitate this.”

Dr Belinda Clarke

Director of Agri-TechE

“The time is ripe for catalysing early stage technology transfer in the globally critical agri-tech sector.”

Iain Thomas

Head of Life Sciences at Cambridge Enterprise, University of Cambridge