News

Discover all the latest news from the farming, innovation and technology with us.

Agri-EPI news explores new precision engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across crops, land management and livestock for improved welfare and increased productivity. We have a broad memberships from the farming, manufacturing and retail sectors, as well as collaborating on projects around the world.

A real game-changer for dairy cow health

Dairy farmers and vets have enlisted the help of video gaming experts to enhance cow health in a unique new study.

The Innovate UK-funded SmARtview research project sees Agri-EPI Centre and UK Veterinary Group VetPartners join forces with experts at award-winning games developer Pocket Sized Hands and Abertay University’s School of Design & Informatics.

The project aims to develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that can recognise a cow by its skin patterns and use a ‘HoloLens’ Augmented Reality (AR) headset to display health and productivity data about an animal as a user views it.

Agri-EPI’s innovative South West Dairy Development Centre is the project test-bed.

Agri-EPI Head of Dairy Duncan Forbes explained:

“By using the type of technology that is becoming extremely advanced in the video gaming world, we hope to be able to take the care and treatment of dairy cattle into a new era.

The beauty of this project is that it combines farmers’ and vet’s experienced ‘eyes’ with real-time data: technology is being used to enhance, rather than replace, human skills. In addition, SmARtview could provide a solution to one of the key challenges of on-farm technology – while different devices like robotic milkers, sensors and collars can already collect plentiful data, its lack of integration limits insight to drive decision-making.”

Typically, a vet or farmer faces the time-consuming process of examining a cow then going to the farm office to review a variety of paper of PC-based records before determining what kind of intervention may be needed. SmARtview would make the whole process much more efficient and effective.

The new system will be trialled by vets and allied professionals from VetPartners’ practices around the UK. Rachel Dean, VetPartners’ Director of Clinical Research and Excellence in Practice said:

“The farming industry is changing and VetPartners wants to support farmers through this change by offering the best capabilities in terms of health, production and welfare. SmARtview has huge potential for vets and allied professionals, such as foot trimmers and veterinary technicians, who work on farms of all types and sizes. It is a unique and very innovative project which could transform the way they practice.”

Abertay is a world leader in applying games technology to the business, education and healthcare sectors and the University is ranked number one in Europe for videogames education.

Pocket Sized Hands and Abertay University’s School of Design and Informatics are bringing world-leading expertise to the project. Abertay’s Professor Ruth Falconer explained that the first challenge is to develop the AI technology capable of recognising an individual animal. She said:

“Our aim is to put new technology to best use in order to solve problems in the real world. This project brings together our research areas of AI, User Experience and games technology. We aim to develop ‘marker-less’ technology which can achieve the difficult task of recognising a cow by the patterning of its skin and shape in an environment where it is likely to be dirty and the light and weather conditions change frequently.”

When the researchers have cracked the challenge of cow-recognition, Pocket Sized Hands (PSH) will lead the prototype AR development and lend their expertise to the User Experience (UX) aspect of the technology. Their skills with ensure the augmented reality display of data is presented to the user in an engaging way.

PSH Chief Executive Gary McCartan explained:

“It’s really exciting to be applying technology we normally use in game development to the world of farming. AR combines the real world with digital assets – information that is usually tied to a screen can now be viewed in the real world. Use of the technology is in its early stages. For example, current headsets are quite bulky which would not be practical in a farm situation. We will be looking at ways to allow cow data to be easily accessed and understood.”

The initiation of this project was supported by video games cluster InGAME.

An Introduction to the new Agricultural Transition Plan

As a member of the British Agri-Tech community, Kasi McReddie has literally been on the edge of her seat waiting for DEFRA’s announcement which sets out Government’s plans for the transition from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The announcement, of which details can be found at The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, lays out plans for adaptation in the English farming community over the next seven years. Kasi is Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock and Aquaculture and has formulated what this means for farmers and the agri-tech community and what opportunities there are for agri-tech companies going forward.

Farmers in England will see a phased-out reduction in Direct Payments over 4-years starting in 2021, with money saved in reduced BPS payments being used to fund grant and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.

What does the announcement mean for the agri-tech community?

One of the main barriers to the uptake of technology on farm is cost. In my experience, farmers are very good business people and, quite rightly, are rarely convinced to purchase a novel or innovative piece of equipment. The Agricultural Transition Plan gives us more details of some schemes which aim to financially incentivise farmers to look towards technology to improve the sustainability of their production.

Looking forward, the Environmental Land Management (ELMs) will include the Sustainable Farming Incentive (beginning 2022), which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

Future plans will also include the Farming Investment scheme, which is aimed at improving productivity in agriculture, addressing the underlying causes by supporting businesses to invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure.

This will include:

  • Farming Equipment Technology Fund – small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items
  • Farming Transformation Fund – larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure

The Farming Investment Fund for Equipment and Technology and Transformation will be open for applications in autumn 2021. From 2022, farmers will also benefit from an increased investment in agricultural Research & Development that will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to drive innovation.

What does the announcement mean for farmers?

Under the new plan, farmers will be encouraged and incentivised to embrace changes to production techniques and practices which will reduce any negative environmental impacts. Significant emphasis is being put on innovation over the several years ahead. Farmers will be incentivised to explore how technology can be used to improve productivity whilst simultaneously delivering for the environment.

Agri-EPI have a unique network of 27 ‘Satellite Farms’ – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Satellite Farm network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

How can Agri-EPI support tech companies?

The report states that, by 2028, all farmers should be “managing their whole business in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, fusing the best modern technology available today with the rediscovery of the traditional art of good farm husbandry”.

As an example, technology to improve animal health will be eligible under the new Farming Investment Fund. Agri-EPI are working with a number of innovators to enable the development of solutions for monitoring the health of calves, adult cows and pigs using motion sensors, 3D imagery, augmented reality and more. Such solutions allow ‘early detection’ of health issues before a farmer could with the naked eye, thereby enabling early intervention leading to improved animal welfare, improved productivity, and efficiency. and cost savings on-farm.

Agri-EPI combines technical expertise, technology, and on-farm ‘test beds’ to provide a unique offering to support tech developers and farmers alike to co-develop solutions to some of farming’s most prominent challenges. The Government have now clearly laid out plans which will underpin our mission, by providing grants to farmers to purchase innovative solutions.

Agri-EPI also provide business support, project management and access to world-class research and innovation facilities and research assets, and builds links between research, agri-tech innovation, industry and the value chain, through its membership of >150 companies across agriculture, technology and the value chain.

The announcement should be welcomed by the farming and agri-tech community alike, with shifting policy clearly focussed on incentivising the use of innovation on-farm.

The industry faces unprecedented challenges, the likes of which some will only experience once in a lifetime. During the coming period of change, Agri-EPI will continue to support innovation in agriculture.

More information

If you want to learn more about how we you can get involved in R&D, learn more about our Satellite Farm network, or simply contact us to find out more about how we can support your own business.

Serbian researchers learn communication and knowledge exchange best practices

In conjunction with SEFARI, the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes – a consortium of six globally renowned research institutes, Agri-EPI held a virtual communication workshop aimed at enhancing the communication and knowledge exchange skills of researchers working at BioSense Institute in Serbia.

The workshop centred around two specific areas: sharing best practices in knowledge exchange and learning through case studies. 25 BioSense researchers listened to two communication experts address the importance of communication and knowledge exchange for the research community:

Keynote speaker was Dr Michelle Wilson Chalmers, Research and Communications Manager at SEFARI Gateway (SEFARI’s knowledge exchange and impact hub) and a Teaching Fellow at Edinburgh University. Michelle enlightened participants with valuable insights and practical recommendations derived from her considerable experience in the field of science communication and knowledge exchange.

Dr Michelle Wilson Chalmers said about the workshop:

“This particularly challenging year has brought the need for good science communication and knowledge exchange even more into focus, and it has been a real pleasure to help the BioSense students with practical advice on how to effectively communicate their research.”

SEFARI are partners in the wider Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Portfolio, one of the largest for agri-environment research in the UK, worth £250 million over 2016-2021, and represents a globally distinct investment in and capability for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. SEFARI Gateway works to improve the flow of research, knowledge, and expertise to and from policy, industry and the public – to provide multiple benefits and impacts.

During the workshop Michelle was joined by Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI’s Communications and Policy Manager who, with a background in journalism and communications, has spent the past decade working in communications with organisations supporting sustainable farming and food production.

The value and recognition of science research communication is increasing, pressured by funders that are asking for maximum impact. During the workshop, tools were presented that will help facilitate and enable the conversation between researchers and different audiences. These tools were focused on media, industry partners and policy makers especially.

DRAGON project manager Ivana Gadjanski was pleased with the workshop:

“It was very valuable for us on the DRAGON project to learn first-hand how to do knowledge exchange and scientific communication in an efficient way. We look forward to putting all new learnings into practice.”

Good communication, where information is shared effectively with audiences who can benefit from it, will have a significant impact on the reach of research outcomes. Knowledge exchange is an important, if not essential, research activity, but it is a relatively newly recognised academic discipline. Its value can still sometimes be overlooked.

The items covered in the webinar hopefully empowers the Serbian researchers to communicate with policy, businesses, and media with more confidence. Thereby increasing the reach and impact of their research and accelerating the adoption of agricultural technology in the republic of Serbia.

In a couple of weeks, during a follow-up communications workshop, the same researchers have been asked to present a brief plan for an appropriate knowledge exchange activity where they can put into practice what they have learned.

Uptake of precision agriculture in Serbia

This communications workshop is part of the DRAGON project, a collaboration between BioSense Institute, Wageningen University and Agri-EPI Centre that is focused on the innovation and uptake of precision agricultural technology in Serbia, which in part is about learning from best practices in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.

This three-year project will end in 2021, but the DRAGON project consortium is already exploring spin-off projects to help Serbia with their challenges with regards to the adoption of agricultural technology to achieve sustainable sector innovations.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 810775. For more information about DRAGON, please visit www.datadragon.eu.

Event partners

DRAGON Knowledge Exchange and Communications workshop | Precision Agriculture project Serbia, The Netherlands and United Kingdom | BioSense Institute | Agri-EPI Centre | SEFARI

 

Agri-tech Conference explored food resilience in COVID age

Together with the Agri-Tech Centres, Agri-EPI organised the Virtual Conference ‘Innovation for Food Resilience’. The event, hosted by BBC Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith, was designed to showcase and discuss a host of new technologies and techniques helping farming and food production to become more resilient and sustainable. The conference gathered an incredible interest: over 1200 delegates attended the conference and over 20 countries took part. Recordings are made available on demand for those unable to join on the day.

Accelerating agrifood innovation

‘Innovation for Food Resilience’ features insights into key challenges and opportunities for the food and farming sector from industry thought leaders and how new technologies and solutions being developed across the family of UK Agri-Tech Centres could play a pivotal role in supporting productivity and sustainability.

Professor Tim Benton, from international affairs think tank Chatham House, has a clear message about the need to adapt to frequent and unpredictable change and how building resilience is a key strategy for being able to effectively adjust.

NFU President Minette Batters focuses on UK trade and transition and the seismic impact that the current unknowns will have on farming businesses. She highlights how data and innovation can empower farmers to avoid risk and the opportunity for farming to offset carbon for other sectors

Ellen Wilson, Microsoft UK’s Sustainability and Smart Cities Lead highlights the importance of measuring your own journey to sustainability to effectively manage and understand the impact achieved.   Evidence points to sustainability being better for business.

Food resilience and innovation in agriculture

The 4 Agri-Tech Centres explored different aspects of the work underway to promote innovation throughout the food supply chain. Themes covered are climate smart food systems, sustainable productivity, crop and livestock health, and food provenance and quality.

In particular, CHAP’s Dr Harry Langford, spoke about Climate Resilient Food Systems, highlighting the work of CIEL’s Duchy Future Farm; Agri-EPI Centre’s Hands Free Farm and Gelponics, a CHAP project focusing on developing an autonomous, hydroponic system centered around a novel hydrogel growing media. Another project he talked about was the Agrimetrics’ regenerative agriculture platform regenagri, an initiative aimed at securing the health of the land and the wealth of those who live on it.

Stuart Blyth, Head of Business Development of CIEL, covered Food Safety and Provenance, using CIEL’s Agriplas, a cold plasma research facility investigating the potential uses of the antimicrobial properties of this pioneering technology for the food industry. He also spoke about CHAP’s NLG Centre and Crop Storage facility, and Agri-EPI Centre’s Opti-beef project as a good example of the wide range of work being done in this area. The Opti-Beef project is about creating an enhanced decision support platform to modernise, standardise, and drive efficiency improvements across the UK beef supply chain.

Dr Shamal Mohammed, Chief Technical Officer at Agri-EPI Centre looked at Sustainable Productivity, including CHAP’s Soil Health Facility, Agrimetric’s Verde Analytics and CIEL’s Precision Grazing. Last but not least, Anna Woodley, Agrimetrics Head of Sales, covered Crop and Livestock Health with a focus on looking at whole systems rather than managing risks in isolation.

Presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session, with lots of interaction from delegates across the globe. Closing remarks, by Dr Ian Campbell, interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, provide the key ‘takeaways’ from the event. In particular, he notes how collaboration is key and how the combined capability of the UK Agri-Tech Centres offers the front door for industry to world leading expertise and capabilities.

View on demand

The event can be viewed in its entirety on the UK Agri-Tech Centres YouTube channel.

Event impression

Get in touch

Let us know what Agri-EPI, together with the Agri-Tech Centres, can do for your organisation or how we can inspire innovation in agriculture even further and fill out our contact form.

Wonder of agri-tech to be shared at New Scientist Live virtual event

The wonderful world of agri-tech will be shared with visitors to the New Scientist Live ‘Future of Food and Agriculture’ virtual event on Saturday 28 November.

Agri-EPI and its fellow UK Agri-Tech Centres CHAP and CIEL will be running a host of engaging talks, with opportunities for the audience to ‘ask the experts’ about the role and impact of new technologies and techniques supporting sustainable food.

Agri-EPI’s contribution to this year’s new scientist live

Agri-EPI will be running a live, 30-minute session from 2.30pm titled ‘Tech to Feed the World’. This will take viewers on a whistle stop tour of three of the newest and most exciting technologies involved in producing our food and getting it onto our plates.

The featured innovations, and the exerts behind them, are ‘SlugBot’, an amazing technology that helps reduce farmers’ need for pesticides by controlling crop-munching critters; Crover, a very clever robot that can ‘swim’ through grain stores to monitor conditions; and the new ‘wonder’ technology ‘cold plasma’ which has a multitude of surprising uses in farming and the food supply chain.

The Agri-Tech Centres will also be hosting virtual exhibition stand, with a packed programme of films, Q&As and resources accessible to visitors throughout the day.

Find out more and register here.

Event partners

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.

Ericsson recognises Agri-EPI CEO Dave Ross as 5G Trailblazer and pioneer

Agri-EPI CEO Dave Ross has been chosen as a 5G Trailblazer and connectivity pioneer by Ericsson.

With 5G Trailblazers, Ericsson is shedding a light on important projects that are gaining momentum and to inspire people about what 5G can do to change their lives and businesses. The Pioneers are those working at the forefront of their industries, harnessing the power of 5G to drive crucial projects and show the full potential of 5G connectivity.

5G rural innovation

Agri-EPI is playing a leading role in a number of exciting projects exploring how 5G can support sustainable and productive farming. This includes evaluating collars worn by cows to monitor their health, welfare and productivity and using 5G-connected drones to asses the volume and quality of grass for livestock grazing.

Agri-EPI Centre is strategic partner and starting its involvement to 5G New Thinking, a programme aiming to make next generation connectivity an achievable reality for rural communities across the UK.

Dave Ross about 5G connectivity in the UK:

“The UK agricultural community is under pressure to produce more food, with less labour and less impact on the environment. Drones, autonomous vehicles, robotics and remote sensing and diagnostics will significantly change how we farm in the UK, but this innovation will only be possible if network connectivity in our rural areas is dramatically improved.”

Many belief Britain has never needed 5G more. They argue it has the potential to transform the way we live and work for the better, fast-tracking the UK’s economic recovery and enabling the use of game-changing technology in every field.

Accreditation badge PIONEER | Ericssons 5G Trailblazers | Dave Ross Agri-EPI | 5G New Thinking | ConnectivityMeet other 5G Trailblazers

Ericsson is championing the top 25 people and teams working at the forefront of 5G innovation. Learn here more about other pioneers, catalysts and conversation starters and their cutting-edge work, changing lives and businesses across the UK.

5G connectivity projects

5G New Thinking is a natural evolution of the 5G RuralFirst project, a co-innovation project to create rural test-beds and trials for 5G wireless and mobile connectivity across the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset.