Busy year ahead for Satellite Farm Network

A programme of regional workshops for the Agri-EPI Satellite Farmers has resulted in great feedback and lots of ideas for the future activities of the network, according to Agri-EPI Farms and Commercial Manager Gavin Dick. Gavin has hosted five of six planned workshops since the beginning of the 2019. Such events provide an important opportunity for farmers in the network to share their experiences and provide Agri-EPI with feedback that helps to shape the network’s future programme.

Precision farming solutions

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network logoIn addition, the meetings offer the chance for the farmers to undertake training in some of the technology Agri-EPI has supplied for use on their farms. This time, the training covered drones and SoilEssentials’ new precision farming software platform KORE. This platform analyses images of farmland captured by drone, allowing the farmers to make decisions around inputs such as seed or fertiliser, with the ultimate aim of evening out crop growth.

Gavin said: “The feedback provided by the farmers at the workshops has been excellent and we’re very grateful to them for taking part. We have discussed a number of ideas for the future, such as plans to build on the success of the CropScan grain quality monitor trials at Overbury and Shimpling Park farms. We hope to bring this innovative technology to Scotland for trials malting barley production. We also plan to extend the application of the Near Infrared Technology used by Cropscan to other crop quality measures. We are beginning to build momentum with the Satellite Farm Network and, with the ongoing support and enthusiasm of the farmers, we are looking forward to a busy and productive 2019.”

17 January 2019 Satellite Farm Workshop Shimpling Park Farm

New scanner could offer barley growers better returns on their crops

Scotland may soon host trials of high-tech crop scanning equipment which allows barley growers to maximise the proportion of their crop suitable for the premium malting market.

The high-tech grain quality monitor, called CropScan 3000h, is a portable scanner that is clamped on to the clean grain elevator of a combine harvester to take samples of grain every eight seconds during harvest. The scanner can measure precisely the protein, moisture and oil content of the crop being harvested.

CropScan trials have already shown extremely promising results at Agri-EPI satellite farms in Suffolk and Gloucester during the 2018 harvest. There, the scanner was used to measure the protein content of milling wheat crops. Knowing the protein content of their crop at the point of harvest can allow growers to segregate or blend batches of grain to the desired protein levels. The farmers, John Pawsey (Shimpling Park Farm) and Jake Freestone (Overbury Farms), have been so impressed that they intend to continue to use CropScan during this year’s harvest.

Crop scanning potential

Gavin Dick, Agri-EPI Centre Farms and Commercial Manager, said the next step is to maximise CropScan’s potential, with a key target being the Scottish malting barley market. To be suitable for the malting market, and therefore attract a premium price, barley nitrogen content must be 1.65% or lower:

“The technology offers live information in the field about a grain crop compared to the traditional method of postharvest testing in a lab, allowing the grower to make field level management decisions.  As we already know there is a correlation between protein and nitrogen, our role now is to see where this technology can go, beginning with testing CropScan on malting barley crops to determine if the concept can be transferred to measuring grain nitrogen levels.”

Agri-EPI has begun actively seeking partners with whom to plan Scottish trials. Gavin said:

“The early reaction to the potential of this technology from those involved in the Scottish malting barley industry has so far been enthusiastic and we’re looking to firm up partnerships in the near future to get a trial off the ground. I believe this technology offers great potential as it may allow barley growers to segregate high and low nitrogen barley, as well as to blend grains with differing nitrogen levels, to bring a batch to the correct level for the malting market. This just isn’t possible with the traditional means of testing grain from the store once is has been harvested.”

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Supporting world’s first advanced training centre in agri-food robotics

Agri-EPI Centre is supporting the world’s first advanced training centre in agri-food robotics launched by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.

The new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million pound funding award.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry.

The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.

Agri-EPI Centre’s role will be to facilitate students’ access to its industry and academic partners.

Agri-food robotics

Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said:

“Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade. Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.

“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies. Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering those expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“This exciting project has strong synergies with our existing academic partners and will help greatly in the development of advanced robotic and engineering technologies for the agri-food sector. Our consultation with industry continuously indicates that there is a critical shortage of highly trained robotics and autonomous system engineers to meet future anticipated demand. The PhDs resulting from this project will have a significant impact. We look forward to connecting the students with our wider industry and academic partners for mutual benefit.”

Read the full press release from the University of Lincoln.

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Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.