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Leading experts to drive forward UK and global agri-tech strategies

Posted 18 May 2018

This is an area that can service many disciplines and add value to the excellent scientific research happening at Harper Adams.”

Two agri-tech experts have been appointed to unique roles at Harper Adams.

Professors James Lowenberg-DeBoer and Karl Berhendt have joined the university’s growing team of specialists developing and using technology to improve yield, efficiency and profit in the agricultural industries in the UK and beyond. They will be spearheading the evaluation and communication of the economic, environmental and social benefits of precision farming.

As the first Chair of Agri-Tech Economics, Professor Lowenberg-DeBoer specialises in the economics of agricultural technology. Professor Behrendt, as Chair in Agri-Tech Economic Modelling, will develop approaches that link economics and science to provide greater insights into how agricultural systems work and can be used more beneficially.

Both posts, unique in the UK, have been funded by the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust, supporting the university in developing ways for farmers to minimise inputs while maximising sustainability, animal welfare, crop health and food production.

James, from the Midwestern US state of Iowa, was previously Professor of Agricultural Economics at the Purdue University College of Agriculture. He has more than 30 years of worldwide experience in agricultural research, teaching, outreach and leadership; and he has published extensively in refereed journals. His pioneering work has taken him around the world, including engaging in Africa for more than 25 years, he has worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he was made a Chevalier of the National Order by the government of Burkina Faso for his activities to improve food security in the country.

He said: “I was attracted to the position at Harper Adams because it is one of the few institutions in the world that has recognised the importance of the economic and business side of technology.

“This is a great opportunity to focus on something I’m passionately interested in. I want to see the technology being used in the hands of people.”

His aim, he adds, is to make technology accessible to small scale farmers, understanding the barriers preventing them from adopting the technology, what changes can be made to increase usability, and showing investors that there is a global market need, justifying greater investment in R&D.

Karl Behrendt joins Harper Adams from Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia, with a multidisciplinary systems approach to economic analysis and modelling to inform decision making at different levels. This includes analysing the impact of technology, climate change and management on economic, environmental and social outcomes. Having run an agricultural consultancy, Karl also brings a wealth of industry experience, and is keen that his work at Harper Adams should enable SMEs and larger businesses to improve efficiency and systems.

Karl maintains a global perspective, in keeping with Harper Adams’ agri-tech activities. He has important links in Australia, and is carrying out research in Mongolia and China to help identify better policies for increasing herder livelihoods, grassland productivity and to reduce the impact of dust storms.

He says: “The skills base in the UK is very strong and from a professional point of view I’m looking forward to working with as many people as possible, not least at Harper Adams, which has excellent staff, from animal scientists and engineers to agronomists and social scientists. This is an area that can service many disciplines and add value to the excellent scientific research happening at Harper Adams.”

Vice-Chancellor David Llewelyn welcomed the appointments, saying: “Harper Adams will be ideally placed to develop this emerging academic field, given our well-established expertise in Precision Farming and the practical application of agricultural technology. Our new professors will add a very important new dimension to our research and education in this discipline.”

James and Karl will be able to work with data from the University’s researchers and from industry connections involved in the National Centre for Precision Farming and the Government-backed national agri-technology strategy projects located at the University, including the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI) and the Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).

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