LEP Column: Our ‘bioeconomy’ is diverse, big, varied and important

The ‘bioeconomy’ is a term, when said out loud, that usually makes people scratch their heads. However, even though you might not have heard of the ‘bioeconomy’ you will undoubtedly know someone who works in it and we all consume goods from it every day.

Food for thought: Wensleydale Dairies managing director David Hartley. The business is part of the LEPs burgeoning bioeconomy.Picture: daniel oxtoby

And it’s essential to our area, with over ten per cent of our economy coming through it. So, I thought I’d explain the bioeconomy and what we’re doing at the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, (the LEP), to meet our ambitious plans.

The bioeconomy is a catch-all term for industries that are involved in producing food, energy and other useful materials from biological resources. For example, we have over 8,000 farms producing crops, livestock and milk, and on top of that, many successful businesses manufacturing these materials into food, such as Nestlé in York and Wensleydale Dairies.

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We also generate electricity from biomass fuel at power stations like Drax. As well as this, the bioeconomy includes the technology and science that innovates in this area, through business, academic research and government agencies. We are world-leading in these innovations.

So, like our patch, it’s big and varied. From working with food manufacturers on how they can produce energy from their waste, to the laboratories at the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), near York, who look at research and developments in crop health, to the innovations in carbon capture and storage and much more.

Our work at the LEP is to both support these innovations as well as enable the distinct sectors to collaborate and make the most of the opportunities they have. We have been working on both of these and have had a number of successes so far, and, as ever, we have plans to do much more.

One success, back in March, was the creation of Yorkshire’s first Food Enterprise Zone in the market town of Malton, building on Malton’s reputation for great food in our area. Over the coming 12 months, an agri-food park will be created, which is expected to employ over 500 people.

Having the Food Enterprise Zone status means that there’ll be a simpler planning process, which in turn makes it easier and cheaper for local food and farming businesses to open there and expand.

One of the reasons for our success with the Food Enterprise Zone is down to the investments we’ve already made in Malton’s agri-food park, with £2.1m of local growth funding being awarded to fund highway works needed to open up the park.

Plans are being developed to strengthen links to FERA, Stockbridge Technology Centre and York’s Biorenewables Development Centre, who are all world-leading in their areas of research.

The aim is to bring a wider network of sites around York together, so that bioeconomy businesses can gain access to the innovation and research facilities in and around the city, supporting them to grow.

We want to maintain and build on the world-class work at FERA, so we have supported their recent bids for almost £50m in funding for both a Centre for Innovation Excellence in livestock and one for crop and plant health.

This funding will enable FERA to expand their work, which already includes over 600 research projects and provides services to customers based in more than 100 countries across the world. As well as this, we work closely with the energy sector on biorenewable fuels. This is led by the Biorenewables Development Centre in York, who translates the academic research on greener processes and products to be used on an industrial scale.

We’re working with the Biorenewables Development Centre and our local agricultural colleges to deliver training to those in the agriculture sector on how they can make the most out of the technologies out there, such as how to make waste into a bi-product and profitable.

At the moment, we are also working with the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership on expanding the bioeconomy through £8m of European funding, which is currently available and applications can be made until May 27. This is part of over £93m we have been allocated between now and 2020.

So with the bioeconomy accounting for over 10 per cent of our economy and with 1 in 12 of our local people employed in its industries – compared to 1 in 30 nationally – we know that the bioeconomy is big, diverse and important.

And with our local scientific expertise, it puts us in a unique position, with a lot of potential to grow. And it impacts on all of us, when we are charging our phones, adding milk in our tea or getting the Sunday lunch ready.

Thousands employed in sector

We estimate that around 45,000 people are employed in the bioeconomy in York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding.

This includes over 2,800 people who work in scientific research and development, that’s 50 per cent higher than the average rate of employment across England.

There are more than 14,000 people employed in food and drinks manufacturing.

We have 28,000 people employed in agriculture, (which includes forestry and fishing) across our area, and this alone accounts for 4 per cent of all employment.

Our agricultural industry has almost 9,000 farms.