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Bringing you news, opinion and innovation in technological advances in agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture, check out the Agri-EPI blog.
Exploring precision farming, including engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across crops, land management and livestock, our blog includes input from our broad sector membership and academic partners the length and breadth of the UK.
Offering you ideas and innovation from national and international projects and initiatives, don’t miss out!

Measuring soil flux as a way to understand GHG emissions from soil

Meeting the challenge of climate change with soil flux analysis

For growers, agri-chemical companies, producers and food retailers monitoring and measuring positive and negative soil flux can help balance greater productivity, sustainability and improved soil health. What is soil flux analysis and what impact does it have on climate change?

Driving net zero reduction

Global Green House Gas emissions are a sensitive topic politically with international agreements of targets and the drive to a net zero status, but there is a debate going on also about who is the most culpable.

GHG emissions - IPCC 2014 | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is by far the highest proportion of GHG emissions at around 75%, but Methane (CH4) and Nitrogen Oxide (N2O), although less in proportion, are respectively 28 times and 310 times more potent than CO2. Most of these emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy production, transportation, manufacturing and building but land use also plays a significant part.

In 1973, the National Soil Inventory (England and Wales) was set to obtain an unbiased estimate of soils, and their carbon content. Since the original survey, further sampling has shown that in most soil types, there has been a progressive decline in carbon content, and the inference is that other temperate regions would show similar traits.

Losses due to land use activity

Inefficient use of fertilisers results in N2O being last as emissions to the atmosphere, and nitrates being leached through the soil into water courses. By targeting applications more effectively to ensure the crop is only given what it can utilise we are able to reduce these losses. Using variable rate applications, or slow release Urea are examples of how land managers are changing behaviour.

Storage and application of slurry and manure also result in emissions. Covered stores, better timing of applications and use of dribble bars and direct injection of slurry rather than splash plates can all contribute.

Rumination results in emissions of CH4 which give cattle and sheep a particularly bad image. This is more a factor in international production than UK, where many animals graze pasture unsuitable for crop production, and that permanent grassland can also be considered a net carbon sink.

Deforestation for agriculture, although not an issue in the UK, but certainly in other parts of the globe for production of soya and palm oil amongst other commodities has a significant impact. We not only lose the of that forest to act as a carbon sink, but the felled and cleared timber both emits CO2 and subjects the cleared areas to the potential of erosion.

Cultivations result in emissions from varied sources, the tractor exhaust (combatted in recent years by addition of EGR and AdBlu technology). The soil surface, as each cultivation releases naturally occurring gases into the lower atmosphere (minimum tillage and direct drilling have had some impact by reducing the amount of soil disturbance)

Natural ecological processes in the soil sub-surface produce and consume gases, and as the soils warm due to climate change, microbial metabolic rates increase resulting in increased CO2 emissions. Gases diffused from the soil surface into the lower atmosphere is known as positive flux, and gases absorbed into the soil is known as negative flux, the balance between the two will determine whether soils are a net source, or a net sink of GHG.

Soil Flux chambers

To calculate this, we need to collect accurate data on soil respiration rates, which can be done by using soil flux chambers. There are several different manufacturers of soil flux chambers, but they can be separated into two main categories.

  1. Closed chambers where the gases accumulate in the headspace and are sampled by syringe and stored for laboratory processing and analysis.
    • PP Systems CPY-5 Canopy Assimilation Chamber (#1)
  2. Automated chambers which can provide a timely method of sampling, as when coupled with a multiplexer and an analyser, up to 12 chambers can be linked in series and be deployed over a long period to sample and analyse in the field (subject to a reliable power supply)
    • Eosense eosAC Automated Chamber (#2)
    • Eosense Multiplexer (#3)
    • Picarro G2508 for analysis of CO2, CH4, N2O, NH3, H2O (#4)
    • Picarro G2201-i for analysis of CO2, CH4 and their C13 isotopes (#5)

 

Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

 

All of the above equipment is designed to be used in the laboratory or the field (subject to a satisfactory and reliable electricity supply). The Picarro G2201-i (#5) is particularly useful for academic research applications, as it is more robust and user friendly than typical mass spectrometry methods (McCloskey et al 2020).

Strawberry gas flux measurement research

The time saving that can be achieved by automated chamber equipment deployed in a field experiment is demonstrated by Pamona College, California when monitoring soil flux in a commercial strawberry crop. The time in the field and the interpretation was the same using both systems, but the processing of the data represented a huge time saving for the trial, reducing the days from 68 down to 1.

Monitoring soil flux in Pamona College in California | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Soil commercial and research enquiries

For further information on this equipment and the possibilities of incorporating into commercial or research studies with the Soil Flux 360 solution, please contact Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager Crops at Duncan.ross@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

Ten tips for grant funding bid writing to grow your business

For start-ups, scale-ups and indeed any technology-based company, applications for grant funding are a key part of raising funds for the vital research and development which drives business growth. This is a highly competitive and resource-intense process with no guarantee of success. Here we share some tips for increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome from grant funding applications.

It was drilled into us all at school: read the question. It sounds simple, but it is all too easy to get carried away with enthusiasm and passion for a particular technology or project idea and fail to objectively assess how well the concept addresses the funder’s requirements. Does it fully address the scope and objectives of the competition?

1. Collaborate in the application, as well as in the project

Ensure each partner contributes their ideas, technological insight and market knowledge to the application document. This will ultimately build a stronger project plan and business case and make a more compelling application overall. Nominate one person to lead pulling together all the inputs, but ensure everyone contributes.

2. Build the project from the ground up

Understand how the tasks and work packages will flow and fit together into a coherent plan. Ensure your plan is credible and achievable in the timeframe. Do you have the skills, resources, facilities and time across the team to complete the work?

3. Understand the project finances, early

This shouldn’t be left until the last minute. Each partner in your consortium should agree their contribution and grant requirement. Be sure to familiarise with funding eligibility based on the types and sizes of organisations in your consortium, and any requirements for the mix of partners.

4. Be clear where the innovation is in your project

Ensure you are not duplicating work already done by others. Consider the research category and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your work. Is it at the feasibility, industrial research, or experimental development stage? It affects the funding you are eligible for: take independent advice on this if necessary – contact the Knowledge Transfer Network who can offer guidance.

5. Challenge the business case

Thoroughly research the market, using publicly available information, your own business intelligence and experience, consult with experts. Be realistic when you model market uptake, your market entry strategy and revenue forecast. Try to be granular and specific in defining your potential customer base – which market segments are more likely to adopt your technology, are there export opportunities, are there any barriers to adoption which must be overcome – if so, how will you address this? How will your solution deliver value to your customers? Provide quantification and justification of your assumptions wherever possible.

6. Consider the project risks

Quantify them using a rating of likelihood and impact. If a project has very low risk, it is unlikely to attract grant funding, since the justification of a grant is in part to enable risky projects to go ahead in order to realise the benefits of high-risk innovation. Risk should be managed, with credible mitigation strategies in place.

7. Consider other risks

Consider the managerial, commercial, regulatory, ethical and environmental risks in addition to those associated directly with the technology. Consider the new level of risk post-mitigation.

8. Justify the use of public money

Consider what you would do if you weren’t awarded the funding.  How else would you use your investment in the project? How does the project deliver value for money – both for you, and the economy and taxpayer more widely?

9. Check your application

Get someone to proofread your application and have it reviewed independently, such as by the Knowledge Transfer Network. You will receive some challenging feedback; take this on board and address it – better to receive this before submission, than via the assessors’ feedback on an unsuccessful bid.

10. Allow yourself plenty of time

Good bids cannot be written quickly. You need to plan for the inputs you need from your partners to arrive in a timely fashion, allow time for review and response to feedback, and to work out any unforeseen issues within your proposal or consortium.

Bid writing support

At Agri-EPI, we can service our collaborators with bid writing support – please contact us to discuss your project ideas at rebecca.lewis@agri-epicentre.com or check out our service support web page.

Myth busting difference in research trials with UK Farm Network

Connecting tech innovators with agriculture

Agri-EPI’s team of experts helps start-ups and tech innovators with a proper research trials setup by brokering relationships with relevant parties, with a representative sample, in a commercially relevant setting.

You’ve spent months, years, and maybe even decades, taking an extraordinary idea from a concept to a prototype. Whether your innovation is a sensor, a feed additive, a diagnostic, a biological solution, a change in animal management or anything else, your end-users are going to want to know that they’re buying into a tried and tested product, service, or model.

Most tech developers will be familiar with the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale – developed by NASA during the 1970’s, the scale allows innovators to track the maturity of technology. The scale stretches from 1-9 with 9 being the most mature, and requires the prototype to be validated and demonstrated in a relevant and operational environment during levels 5-7. During TRL 9, the final product should be demonstrated to have operated successfully in the environment for its intended use.

What is the challenge?

For a technology company with no former experience in the agriculture sector, finding access to the suitable farm environment on which to undertake research, trials and demonstrations can often prove impossible. First and foremost, farms are places of business via which livelihoods are made – understandably, farmers can be less than forthcoming with their desire to get involved with anything that could adversely affect their bottom line. Furthermore, farms can be dangerous settings with heightened biosecurity measures to boot. Operating technology in such a setting should be the job of an expert.

Knowing which farm type to work with for trials, validations and demonstration purposes will be key to achieving the desired outcome. You’ll want to ensure a representative sample has been used, in a commercially relevant setting. Agri-EPI’s team of experts can help guide you to achieving just this, brokering relationships with the relevant parties along the way.

Validating and demonstrating agricultural technologies

We’ve broken this section down into three helpful sections to help you understand and decide the best path forward for your innovation at its current stage of maturity:

  • Anecdotal Trials: for innovations at TRL 4/5
    This stage isn’t crucial but can give innovators extra piece of mind that their technology is making some kind of positive difference at a farm-level before they invest in further work. Gathering anecdotal evidence will likely involve asking personal connections to engage with your innovation and report back any noticeable changes to production.
  • Commercial Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-7
    This stage is vital for those required to understand more precisely the impact of their innovation on production. During commercial farm trials, data for a particular set of parameters will be collected and should be analysed to determine any changes. On most commercial farm settings, projects are at risk of disruption from everyday occurrences such as a change in animal feed or labour providers.
  • Research Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-9
    Undertaking trials, validations and demonstrations via research units ensures a level of control beyond that which can be achieved on a commercial farm setting. For example, animals will be carefully grouped into representative samples and groups maintained under identical environmental settings. Research level projects are the only way to produce robust results with which to scientifically validate technology.

Conducting research farm trials with the Agri-EPI Farm Network

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo StackedAgri-EPI have a unique network of 24 ‘Satellite Farms’ operating in all the major plant and livestock areas – 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. In addition, Agri-EPI operate a network of commercial, semi-commercial and research farms which, in partnership with industry and academia, offer controlled settings for scientifically robust research to take place. 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 Farm Network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

Working with Agri-EPI to facilitate trials, validations and demonstrations guarantees independent project oversight, the timely provision of high-quality data, reliability, and connects you with a vast network of forward-thinking, leading farmers and other important players in the agri-food supply chain. Agri-EPI can provide testimonials from previous projects.

More information

Supporting the agri-tech sector, emerging novel technology and methodologies, through our network of farms and broad multi-sector membership, we support and help deliver great results in engineering precision innovation.

Learn about our industry impact around the globe, or for more information about our UK satellite farm network, please contact Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.