15th October 2022 marked our first IPO anniversary. But it begs the question: where has the year gone since the team descended on the capital for the flotation of Light Science Technologies Holdings (LSTH)?
What has played out since then wasn’t in the script. It’s been a period that even the most reliable crystal ball couldn’t have foreseen. 12 months ago, we caught a chink of light at the end of the tunnel in pandemic terms (or lockdown, at least) and raised our glasses to the future. AgTech was beginning to boom as Covid and climate change highlighted the need for a more resilient, sustainable food system and the world looked to reset itself in 2022. We’re grateful of the opportunities the IPO has brought; more investment has led to further business growth and new innovative partnerships. We’ve become involved in some really exciting projects and trials to highlight the many benefits of indoor farming to growers. We’ve also expanded as a team and we’re lucky to have some truly passionate, talented people on board to carry us through to the next phase of our development as a brand and as a business, as we roll out our plans to dominate the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) market over the coming years.
Yet this has been tempered by the challenges our economy and industry are weathering. It’s been an ‘annus horribilis’ to coin a phrase which was uttered by a much-missed Monarch almost 30 years ago to the day. Brexit, Covid, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, droughts and record heatwave temperatures due to climate change, and not least of all, chaos in Westminster have all played their part in a series of economic woes which have bumped up the cost of living to unmaintainable levels – from a disrupted supply chain and labour shortages, to soaring inflation and interest rates, to rising fuel and energy costs. Domestic uncertainty combined with international instability has piled on the pain.
The impact on the industry
The agricultural industry has inevitably suffered. Businesses in the UK agriculture sector are facing inflation of over 30% and price hikes in the region of 200% for fertiliser, gas and fuel, and a raft of other cost pressures on feed, electricity and seeds, as a result of the combined impacts.
Farmers have seen the costs of running their businesses soar over the past 12 months, with recent research finding that 99% have seen at least one routine expense rise above the general UK CPI inflation rate of 9%, which has since risen to 10.1%. The survey also revealed that farmers want to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to an energy supplier with stronger environmental credentials (49%), improving the energy efficiency of their premises (54%) or increasing renewable energy usage (57%).
According to Ian Burrow, Head of Agriculture at NatWest Group, climate change “is a global challenge, but the farming industry can play a critical part in helping the UK reach Net Zero.” This is supported by his colleague Dr Maria Carvalho, Head of Climate Economics and Data who commented that this was “an opportunity for a new and sustainable revolution of the food system in balance with the planet and the wellbeing of society.”
The AgTech revolution
Amid such volatility, more change is perhaps the last thing on anyone’s mind right now. Yet perhaps there is no time like the present for the wider industry to look to AgTech to re-shape its trajectory by embracing a change that is for the good on all fronts. Part of that will be down to more funding, but also educating the industry about how both agriculture and horticulture can be made smarter through the incorporation of technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics and automation, along with the development of new growing systems and practices, all designed to promote long-term sustainability.