Hackathon inspires solutions for tackling impact of COVID-19

Concepts for a solar powered, zero emission orchard robot and a remote, digital veterinary diagnosis tools which requires no apps or software installation have been announced as the winners of the Agri-EPI Centre agri-tech hackathon. A total of 11 teams took part on the hackathon, which was held to support the development of technological solutions to problems posed by COVID-19. The winning teams receive a year of product launch support from experts at Agri-EPI Centre.

Hackathon team winners

The Hackathon focused on the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors:

Horticulture hackathon

The winning team in the horticulture sector is Orcharbot with their concept for a solar powered, zero-emission crop scouting and weeding robot featuring six technology innovations for weed identification and organic removal, fruit surveying and picking. The team members came from University of the West of England, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Antobot.

Judging this section of the hackathon were Rob Wilkinson of Grimme; Ali Capper of the NFU; David Telford of Knowledge Transfer Network and Adam Spate of Bardsley England. They were highly impressed with the ambitious, zero emissions concept.

Veterinary hackathon

The winner of the veterinary hackathon is a team from technology provider FarmVet Systems. Their concept – ‘VetAccess’ – builds on their existing VetIMPRESS secure data management platform. Their idea focuses on enabling farm teams to benefit fully from the technology in the face of challenges created by vets working remotely due to Covid restrictions.

The judges in this category were Jan Van Dijke of Zoetis; Tim Potter of WestPoint Farm Vets (VetPartners); George Paterson of Landmark Systems; and Lucy Mather of the Knowledge Transfer Network. They particularly liked the farmer-focused vision behind the concept.

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Director, Lisa Williams, said:

“The level of interest and enthusiasm from all the entrants to our hackathon exceeded all of our expectations and we thank all the competitors and the judges for taking part. The Agri-EPI team is very excited about the coming year, as we work with both winning teams to support the feasibility testing and development of their concepts.

“There were many other strong ideas put forward during the hackathon which show great promise, so we have decided to work with all teams to provide support as they build on their ideas.”

Partners

We thank our challenge partners for their support: Vet Partners, ZoetisKnowledge Transfer Network, Landmark Systems, Bardsley England, Grimme, NFU and Knowledge Transfer Network. 

 


This Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, through an Open Call issued and executed under the project SmartAgriHubs (Grant Agreement No. 818 182)

This Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, through an Open Call issued and executed under the project SmartAgriHubs (Grant Agreement No. 818 182)

Head of Farm Network Gavin Dick Reflects on Harvest

As harvest nears completion across the country and minds begin to focus on autumn drilling, it’s time to begin to reflect on the harvest and current growing season and start to assimilate areas to focus on at the in-depth review which should be taking place later in the year.

It has been another challenging growing season resulting in a lot of variation in yields across the country, between farms and within fields – this pattern has repeated itself over a few years now and you have to wonder if this is the new normal? If it is, how sustainable is it? How long can we sit back and accept that it’s just the weather and we can’t do anything about it?

Adopting harvest technology

Not much longer, I suspect. We have to take a pro-active approach and start measuring that variation early in the production cycle and trying to understand why that area in the field is yielding less than other areas – the technology is there to help, from satellite imagery to soil probes measuring compaction, moisture and a range of other factors.

Improving yield

It may be that there is no solution to improving the yield in a particular area and if so, then it is important to have an idea what the yield will actually be, giving a more accurate production figure for the farm. This makes marketing more effective in that you can sell more forward if the price is high without the risk of over committing and being penalised. You can accept the lower average yield but mitigate with a higher average price – the BioSense app is a good example of emerging technology which will deliver the detailed information to allow this.

By the same measure you should also know your Costs of Production applied to that lower yielding area to judge whether you should have drilled it at all!

Crop quality

The other variation is crop quality – we currently look at the average protein across the whole wheat field (or even the crop!) and that contributes to whether we get a milling premium or not. Technology now measures protein on the combine so that each trailer load will have a specific protein content which can then be stored separately and/or blended to increase the proportion of the crop receiving the milling premium.

The days of managing farm businesses by measuring averages are limited and farm business managers will have to adopt technology which allows management by measuring absolutes, facilitating better informed decision making through the growing season.

So as the drills are made ready, take a pause to look at satellite images, drone footage, yield maps, ground sensors, mobile apps or whatever measures you have, identify the variations and go have a look to see what’s going on.

Best thing you can do is still to get out your Soil Porosity & Aeration Determination Equipment!

 


Gavin Dick

Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.

Grain ‘swimming’ robot offers solution to global food loss

New Innovate UK-funded project tackling the global problem of post-harvest grain losses

Poor Autumn planting conditions, a Spring drought and the recent heavy rains have led to a very difficult UK harvest. And the challenges don’t end once grain is in store – uncontrolled temperature and moisture levels can lead to pests and mould which, due to the notoriously difficult task of monitoring the condition of stored grain, contribute to global post-harvest grain losses of more than 20%.

Now, a new Innovate UK-funded project is tackling the problem. Technology start-up Crover Ltd, Agri-EPI Centre and East of Scotland Farmers have teamed up to develop the first robotic robot able to safely sample grain bulks at various depths and while still in storage, where existing methods cannot. Each one of the robotic devices, called the “Crover”, is expected to be able to save a total of 380 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) every year.

Grain robot

Over the next 18 months, the grain robot Crover will be trialled at the East of Scotland Farmers co-operative in Perth & Kinross, at a farm in Northumberland and within Agri-EPI’s network of partner farms. The project is being supported with £250,000 of Innovate UK funding.

Lorenzo Conti, Crover’s Managing Director, explained:

“Post-harvest losses have serious financial impacts for cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers and breweries. But they also have significant social and environmental consequences, which are becoming ever more even more pressing due to threats such as increasing global food demand, intense price volatility, and harvest unpredictability due to climate change. Four and a half billion people per year are exposed to dangerous mycotoxins from grain moulds which contaminate 25% of the world’s food supply. The carbon footprint from cereal storage losses equates to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

“Like a plane’s wings in air, or a boat’s rotor in water, the patented technology behind our Crover robot allows it to fluently “swim” through bulk solids, like cereals and grains, monitoring their condition while they are still in storage and without leaving any grain unchecked. Our aim is to improve grain storage systems, helping to build the resilience of the grain supply chain and the wider global food system.”

Unlike current grain solutions that can only reach near the surface pose a safety hazard to operators collecting the samples, Crover’s remote probing device will be able to autonomously collect samples throughout the whole silo/shed. This gives early detection of potential spoilage allowing steps to be taken to reduce losses and maintain quality.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are significant and high. Through this new and very exciting collaboration, the partners will blend their technological and industry expertise to investigate how grain robot Crover can respond to that challenge by working effectively in commercial grain storage sites, with potentially huge benefits to the agri-food industry and wider society.”

Robin Barron, General Manager of East of Scotland Farmers said:

“We have a special interest in obtaining representative samples from silos and stores full of malting barley, so that we can accurately assess their recovery from dormancy before being dispatched to maltster customers.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centre Policy Lead said:

“Innovate UK is pleased to have been able to support this innovative and exciting project. It has the potential to deliver significant impact in terms of improving food safety and security as well as helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. “

In this video, the project partners explain the technology and project impact:

More information

For further information or interviews, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

Stay informed

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.

Agri-EPI CTO becomes food network champion

Agri-EPI’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr Shamal Mohammed, has been appointed Champion for Collaborative Projects for the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Food Network+ (SFN).

STFC Food Network logo

In this newly created role, Shamal will foster collaboration between members of the SFN to increase its success in winning grants for large projects. This will involve identifying potential projects, helping to bring together partners from academia, government and industry to support them and advising on funding applications.

Shamal Mohammed CTO Agri-EPI Centre

Shamal said:

“I’m very proud to have been appointed as an SFN Champion. Agri-EPI Centre firmly believes that collaboration is the key to successful innovation, and I am looking forward to helping create new partnerships that contribute to the network’s important role in sustainable food.”

 

Gareth Crockett, SFN Network Co-ordinator said:

“We are delighted to welcome Shamal as Champion for Collaborative Projects. At the SFN, we share Shamal’s passion for transforming the agri-food industry with novel and practical solutions. His experience of partnership and consortia building will be an important asset for the network, helping us to upscale our innovative scoping projects, and develop new links with partners in government and industry.”

Shamal has become one of 23 SFN Champions covering the themes including data science, innovative technology, food & supply chains, and innovation & knowledge exchange.

Enquiries

For further information, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 0131 239 7030, 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com or stfcfoodnetwork@sheffield.ac.uk.

Stay informed

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.

NFU Vice President to join agri-tech conversation at innovation conference

NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw will deliver a keynote address on the value of agri-tech to profitable and sustainable farming at Agri-EPI Centre’s annual conference on October 6.

Tom, who farms in partnership with his wife, Emily, and his parents in North Essex, is one of a group of expert speakers to be taking part in the conference, titled:

Agri-tech: Connecting Farmers with Technology

 

Held virtually due to COVID19 restrictions, the panellists include farmers and other experts from across the agri-food sector.

Agri-EPI’s aim is that the day will provide valuable insight and build collaboration as agri-tech is discussed candidly in the context of policy, investment, on-farm uptake, processor and retailer perspectives – and much more.

Together with National Farmers Union, and event partners Landmark Systems and Lloyds Bank, we warmly invite you to attend this Annual Conference. The event runs from between 9am and 3pm on October 6, is free-of-charge and open to all. For more information about the programme and panel line-up, visit the event website or register here.

This event is supported by

Landmark Systems
Lloyds Bank

Stay informed

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.