Published: 11:38, 26 June 2020
| Updated: 11:40, 26 June 2020
An initiative to boost the horticulture, food and drink industries has been boosted after receiving £18million in government funding.
The Growing Kent & Medway initiative is one of seven national projects to benefit from a total cash pot of £186m, announced today.
It is hoped the investment will drive innovation-led growth and support areas of research and development (R&D).
The money comes through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund.
The Growing Kent & Medway project brings together a consortium of businesses and academic institutions, including APS Produce, Berry Gardens Growers, Chapel Down, Gusbourne Estate, Richard Hochfeld Group, Thanet Earth, Worldwide Fruit, Geku Automation, Smurfit Kappa, the Natural Resources Institute (NRI)/University of Greenwich, University of Kent, and led by the team at the pioneering NIAB EMR in East Malling.
It aims to stimulate research, innovation and enterprise to boost growth in the sector. It promotes the adoption of the latest horticultural technologies, plant growing techniques and the development of new crops to boost food production and economic growth, including the construction of new science facilities.
It is hoped it will establish the county as a world-leading region for the climate-smart production and processing of "high-value, nutrient-rich foods and plant-based products".
Announcing the funding, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive.
“Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.”
Professor Mario Caccamo, managing director of NIAB EMR, added: “Growing Kent & Medway can now get to work to consolidate this part of the UK as the leading region for the production and processing of high-value foods. The timing of this support is particularly significant as we look to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, and address some of the most pressing challenges faced by the agriculture sector.
“It would not have been possible to successfully reach the final stage of this very competitive scheme without our partners, the support of the Kent and Medway Councils and our local MPs, who have collectively recognised the significance of what the excellent scientific and research programmes can do for the regional economy.
“We will drive inclusive wealth creation so that untapped human capital can contribute to, and share in the region's prosperity.”
Christian Brodie, chairman of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which backed the bid to government, said: “Our area already delivers 40% of high-value horticulture in the UK. Growing Kent & Medway will drive innovation and productivity, meaning we can now expand the sector, strengthen supply chains and existing businesses, and create sustainable new ones.”