Collaborative working in farming: How to avoid the potential pitfalls

The benefits of working together are multiple, but there are also risks...
The benefits of working together are multiple, but there are also risks...

Collaborative working is booming in the global agri-food industry – but how can partners avoid potential pitfalls?

According to speakers at the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum, collaboration has become a key way to foster innovative thinking and drive commercial success.

From bee-keeping co-operatives in Ghana to multi-national businesses investing in new start-ups, the benefits of working together are multiple.

But there are also risks: The danger of sharing sensitive data, patenting of intellectual property, and dilution of ultimate profits.

So how can interested parties overcome these challenges to take advantage of the benefits? According to Wim van Haverbeke, professor of strategy and innovation management at Hasselt University, Belgium, a founding principle should be to have complementary partners, rather than competitive ones. “And separate commercial activities from theme development.”

Embracing open innovation

Perhaps surprisingly, agri-tech giants like Bayer are embracing open innovation, both within their own businesses and throughout the wider industry.

“It is a big mindset change,” admits Adrian Percy, head of research and development at Bayer Crop Science.

“But it is such an exciting time to be in agri-tech: Open innovation is being driven by an explosion in science. And we’re moving from delivering products to delivering systems and solutions to growers, so there is more need to work with other businesses.”

GlaxoSmithKline is also using open innovation to tackle the big challenges in the medical industry, like malaria and TB in African countries.

“These are hard questions, and we have to do to it in partnership,” says Malcolm Skingle, director of academic liaison at GSK. “It is also the right thing to do.”

Speeding up scientific development

When it comes to data, the potential to drive efficiencies and speed up scientific development is tremendous, says Jeni Tennison from the Open Data Institute.

“Our economy is becoming driven by data: Information is the founding point on which all other things can be built.”

Setting the framework of how data can be used and shared is vital though, to protect sensitive information while still sharing as openly as possible to benefit the wider industry.

It is also important to agree a policy on treatment of Intellectual Property, warns Simon O’Brien, patent attorney at D Young & Co. Working with mutual trust and benefit is the key to successful joint innovation, backed up with ultimate commercial success for both parties.

But what about securing funding for potential new start-ups? According to Louisa Burwood-Taylor from AgFunder USA, there are three main options: Crowdfunding, equity investment, and debt.

Each has pros and cons, so it’s important to find the right solution for you and the investor, explains Katrin Burt, managing director of Syngenta Ventures.

“You need to get connected with the right people; it’s a marriage rather than a date and you need to have trust and respect among the people you’re working with.”