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.

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 the 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.

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.

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.

 

The conference, which is supported by Landmark Systems and Lloyds Bank, runs from between 9am and 3pm on October 6, is free-of-charge and open to all. Register here.

This event is supported by

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