Blog

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!

Is the fourth Agricultural Revolution upon us?

Agriculture is always changing with the introduction of new technologies. From the first farmers learning to rotate crops and mastering irrigation to today’s use of sensors, cameras and AI, agritechnology has been essential to improving the quality and productivity of food production.

The first agricultural revolution started around 12,000 years ago, when humans first began cultivating the land for food. Following millennia of farming, the second agricultural revolution saw the reorganisation of farmland in the 17th Century while the third came in the 1950s and 60s with the introduction of farming machinery, fertilisers and pesticides. As we increasingly rely on remote sensing, data gathering and autonomous robots to maintain and improve agriculture, many are seeing the rise of agritech as the fourth agricultural revolution.

A new agriculture?

Robotic milking machines have drastically changed the workload of the dairy farmer; it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the impact on the arable, horticulture and other sectors if robots are able to plant, selectively weed, spray by drone and harvest crops, further reducing reliance on manpower.

The appetite from big business, media, and governments worldwide seems to suggest that digital is progress in the right direction, if the agriculture industry is to boost sustainable food production and protect the environment simultaneously. Adding to this is the significant amounts of both public and private investment the agriculture sector is currently attracting, and the sudden overlap of agriculture and other, previously discrete sectors, such as space, sensor development, computer software, hardware developers, robotics, engineering and manufacturing.

A fair playing field

Despite the obvious benefits of increased productivity and profitability for many farmers, the onset of agritech solutions raises questions and challenges, too. 

Ensuring that agricultural technology is available to all is key. Preventing large farming businesses swallowing up the market and pushing out smaller, family-owned farms, who simply can’t afford to invest in large-scale agritech, serves to benefit very few individuals.

Further, if agritech is widely available and used ubiquitously, what then happens to the data? Many food producers are questioning who would own any data gathered for agritech purposes, and whether it is secure. There’s no point collecting vast amounts of data if they cannot be used for decision-making, so digital platform developers must avoid the creation of data silos that could ultimately stifle innovation and collaboration.

Connecting the world

There is also a wider issue of digital connectivity. While urban vertical farms with high-speed fibre internet are able to hit the ground running with many agritech solutions, rural farmers can struggle to access 4G services, let alone broadband. Farmers without the means – or the inclination – to digitally connect could find themselves at an unfair disadvantage.

Even when increasingly connected, the introduction of automation and AI looks set to transform the face of agriculture and put an end to traditional farming methods. If robots in the fields become a viable alternative to human employees, farming life after the fourth agricultural revolution could be a lonely place.

Smarter agritech solutions

The Agri-EPI Centre network brings together researchers, academics, start-ups and larger companies from across the supply chain to explore the future of agriculture and technology, develop the ideas that will drive innovation and take those ideas from paper to prototype.

Our satellite farm network is essential to engaging with end-users, giving us on-the-ground feedback from commercial farm businesses and allowing us to trial new and disruptive technology and assess the impact of agritech. This delicate, informed and reflective approach must be the foundation for all agritech solutions, from animal health to aquaculture.

Shimpling Park Farm

John Pawsey is the owner of Shimpling Park Farms, one of our satellite farms in Suffolk. A keen farmer and agritech enthusiast, John welcomes the opportunity to trial many of the cutting-edge technologies being developed within Agri-EPI Centre’s network. 

“From a purely personal perspective, I can see the benefits coming through and I am hugely excited by the potential developments I hear being discussed,” says John. “But [I am] acutely aware that without bringing the whole industry along with us, the divide between haves and have nots could potentially be damaging.”

So far, John has tested a number of new agritech, including the System Chameleon, CropScan, UAV technology and precision farming platform KORE, deployed by Agri-EPI Centre in partnership with Gothia Redskap, Precision Decisions and SoilEssentials Ltd.

You can find out more about our ongoing research and development work at Shimpling Park Farm, and John’s experience of the technology, in the video below.

Further information about Agri EPI Centre, our solutions and capabilities, the member network we can connect you with and the work we undertake, please feel free to contact Duncan Ross, Crops Business Development Manager at duncan.ross@agri-epicentre.com.

World Water Day 2021: Agritech solutions for better resource management

The 22nd March is World Water Day, an observance day established by the United Nations to highlight the importance of fresh water and raise awareness of the millions of people around the world who still don’t have access to the crucial resource.

World Water Day was established in 1993 to bring greater attention to water scarcity, water pollution, sanitation, water supply and climate change, with each annual event centring on themes from improving hygiene to sustainability.

Events take place around the world to celebrate the day, including fundraising events, campaign launches, volunteering opportunities and discussion in both the real and digital world on key water issues.

World Water Day 2021

Taking place largely online, World Water Day 2021 is focused on ‘Valuing Water’, with activities designed to support the achieved of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.

Whether it’s household or industrial use, water is integral to how we live, eat and work, with wider impacts on education, health and economics. Safeguarding this essential – and crucially, finite – resource is at the heart of World Water Day 2021, as climate change and peak population levels put global water supply under more pressure than ever before.

Sustainable and Equitable water resource management is of particular importance to the agriculture sector, and the UN World Water Development Report 2021 underlines just how often water is overlooked.

Working with agri-tech partners for greater sustainability

Agri-EPI Centre works with a range of aquaculture and agritech specialists, supporting farmers, academic institutions and a range of other partners to improve the sustainability, efficiency and productivity of water use in agriculture. this World Water Day, we’re celebrating the incredible work agri-tech companies are doing to preserve precious water supplies and benefit the entire planet.

ALVÁTECH 

ALVÁTECH is a leading supplier of affordable technology that enables farmers to use water with higher salinity for irrigation and livestock, so they can save fresh water and improve crop growth. Currently operating in 11 countries around the world, ALVÁTECH’s EMF Active Water System is at the forefront of improving water management in agriculture.

Aqua Innovation Ltd

Developing innovative solutions for the salmon farming industry, Aqua Innovation Ltd. support aquaculture farmers to create the best environments for fish farming, through projects such as the SeaCAP 6000. From fish welfare to waste management and regulatory issues, the work of Aqua Innovation Ltd is driving growth of the aquaculture sector.

Aquapulse

Aquapulse’s natural, non-chemical water technology for the agriculture, fish farming and horticulture sectors, delivering environmental benefits as well as improving sustainability, hygiene and greater profit margins. Naturally cleaner water systems mean healthier animals and crops, and better quality produce such as dairy , fruit and vegetables.

Oxi-Tech Solutions

Emerging UK tech company Oxi-Tech Solutions is currently commercialising a game-changing water disinfection system set to improve animal hygiene and water quality for a range of sectors. Their development of the most powerful oxidant in use today, Dissolved Ozone, removes chemicals and plastics found in water, eliminating the need for chlorine for dairy farmers.

SEM World

Hugely relevant to the 2021 World Water Day theme of ‘Valuing Water’, SEM Energy Ltd works to recycle waste into new products and contribute to a circular, waste-free economy. From meter installations to rust removal, SEM’s solutions usue the latest technology for outstanding results.

Agriculture and World Water Day

Both now and in the future, agri-tech will be key to better management of water resources; from improving crop productivity relative to their water consumption to crop resilience to flooding and drought. Real-time monitoring of crop, soil and weather data can ensure optimal use of water, while biotechnology will enable farmers to produce more with less water.

To find out more about World Water Day and UN-led events you can get involved with, visit the UN Water page. To discover our network (or join it!), you can see our full list of network members and see how agri-tech is transforming agriculture through our projects.

Cover crops: the route to sustainable farming?

Given the increasing focus on soil health, erosion, and pollution, as a result of current agricultural practice, cover cropping is now being used across all sectors of crop production to save nitrogen and agrochemical inputs, increase yields and boost soil sustainability. Is cover cropping the route to sustainable farming? Agri-EPI Business Development Manager Duncan Ross dives into the topic for us highlighting the benefits to farmers to embrace a cover crop farm strategy:

Cover cropping means different things to different people, and the reasons for adoption of cover crops into a farming regime are very diverse and often specific to a particular farm. The transition from Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as a support mechanism for agriculture to one based on environment and soil management (DEFRA’s Agricultural Transition Plan) will no doubt encourage wider uptake of cover crops.

Cover crops are often referred to as over-wintered, fast growing annuals planted between two cash crops. However, in certain circumstances a cover crop could be considered to cover a complete 12-month cycle due to geographical location, or a short-term grass ley.

The benefits can be many, such as:

  • Increasing levels of soil organic matter, as green manure is incorporated into the soil. increasing biological activity and water retention capacity.
  • Capture of vital nutrients that are made available to the subsequent cash crops rather than lost due to leaching.
  • Improve soil structure as vigorous root activity can be used to break up compaction.
  • Reduce pollution of nutrient and pesticides into water courses and erosion of soil.
  • Habitat creation which can be included in agri-environment schemes to generate additional revenue and can improve pest management by encouraging beneficial insects.

Healthier cropping sequences on the farm

Financially, it may be difficult to quantify the benefit, as any potential reduction of inputs or increase in yield of the following crops are offset by the cost of establishment and destruction of the cover crop. Cover crops, though, should be treated as an integral part of the rotation and good establishment is imperative, drill rather than broadcast, small nitrogen and slug pellet applications will result in a higher level of biomass, more nutrients being captured, more root activity, less pollution/erosion.

Which cover crop should I use?

The correct choice of cover crop will vary from farm to farm and will be dependent on many variables such as: what is trying to be achieved? Things to consider would be:

  • Soil type
  • Geographical location – less likely to get good autumn establishment in Northern parts of the UK.
  • Rotation – not using brassicas in a rotation containing OSR
  • Sowing dates – sooner after harvest of previous cash crop as practical to maximise biomass potential
  • Following plant timings – not to compromise future cash crop
  • Previous herbicide usage – residual herbicide could affect cover crop

Farm Business strategy

Seeking expert agronomic advice is key in making the correct decisions on cover crop strategy and type of seed to be included within the mix. For example, if the aim is the long-term management of arable weeds, where there are fewer active ingredients available, and herbicide resistance is to be considered, the weed challenge must be managed across the whole rotation. The cover crop chosen should be established and then destroyed along with the target weeds before it is able to re-seed, and over time the seed bank can be reduced. This method would rely on use of glyphosate as a control method so as not to disturb the soil as deep cultivation would mix the soil profile and reduce the effectiveness of the strategy.

Putting this into practice, some growers are having success with crimper rollers to destroy the cover crop and do away with the use of chemical control and should glyphosate be banned this may be the best option for conventional no-till farmers.