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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!

International Women In Engineering Day #IWED21

Today is International Women In Engineering Day, a day which celebrates the amazing work that women engineers around the world are doing.

Agri-EPI’s support agri-tech innovation at three key stages; pre-farmgate development, commercial farm applications and primary product quality. In this post we wanted to highlight three women on International Women in Engineering Day who engineer solutions to enhance agriculture and the environment.

Dr. Sophie Purser, MIRICO 
Sophie began her career as a chemist working as a scientist and then Business Development Manager for a speciality chemicals company in Oxfordshire. She then moved briefly to working with medical devices, before joining MIRICO in 2019 as Commercial Manager. MIRICO are using a revolutionary new technology for gas analysis and want to bring the benefits of the technology to those working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Paula Misiewicz MSc MEng PhD AMIAgrE, Senior lecturer in Soil and Water Management, Harper Adams University

Dr Paula’s research interests are centered around Soil and Water Management and Precision Farming. Current research projects are focused on exploring traffic and tillage interactions using field scale experiments:

Conventional tyre inflation pressure
Low tyre inflation pressure
Controlled traffic farming
Deep, shallow and zero tillage systems
I am also interested in soil mechanics, specifically in soil and tyre interractions: The Evaluation of The Soil Pressure Distribution and Carcass Stiffness Resulting from Pneumatic Agricultural Tyres.

Current PhD supervision: 2 students

Dr Alex Cooke CEnv, MIAgrE is another notable recent PhD (hers from Cranfield) who is having an impact in the Water Management sector. She is the Principal Catchment Scientist at Severn Trent Water and leads their Catchment Management team. She recently presented a ‘lunchtime lecture’ for IAgrE (as well as a guided tour of a water treatment plant for IAgrE members pre-Covid). In her lecture last week she explained how ‘nature-based solutions’ are being adopted as business-as-usual within the water and wastewater industry to deliver assets that provide more for the communities they serve, and the wider environment. This is building on her PhD research which examined “Compost filter socks to control sediment and phosphorus losses from arable land associated with extreme rainfall events”. Farming for Water – Nature based solutions – Dr Alex Cooke CEnv MIAgrE – YouTube

A thank you to The Douglas Bomford Trust for highlighting Dr Paula Misiewicz MSc MEng PhD AMIAgrE, Senior lecturer in Soil and Water Management, Harper Adams University and Dr Alex Cooke MIAgrE CEnv: Catchment Management Scientist.

The objective of The Douglas Bomford Trust is to advance knowledge, understanding, practice, and competence in the application of engineering and technology to achieve sustainable agricultural, food and biological systems for the benefit of the environment and mankind.

As agriculture continues to embrace technology the risk of cyber attacks is increasing

We spoke to Agri-EPI member Chris Milnes from Partner& to find out about risks to agri-tech businesses around cyber security.

The last year has transformed the business environment in which we all work. As we have all had to get used to a new way of working, those with more nefarious aims and ambitions have also had to pivot, and we have seen a huge spike in cyber-attacks.

Over the past 12 months

  • 88 percent of businesses have reported a breach of their IT systems.
  • One small business has been hacked every 19 seconds in the UK
  • 37 percent of businesses in the UK have reported a data breach to the ICO

The cost associated with these breaches can be huge, both directly and indirectly

  • A third of all businesses said that they have lost clients due to cyber breach
  • 41% of customers said they would never return to a business that had suffered a cyber attack.
  • The average cost of a ransomware attack is nearly £600,000, and 48% of businesses have reported being subject to an attack of this variety.
  • Investors are increasingly looking at firms cyber security/defences as part of their due diligence

Agri-tech

Agricultural firms are quickly turning to ‘smart farming’ and ‘precision farming’ and therefore becoming reliant on technology to run their machines and equipment.  The ‘Locking’ of these systems due to a cyber-attack could lead to a loss of production, spoiled stock (severity determined by food type), compromised integrity of quality control systems, unfulfilled customer contracts with traders and processors, project delays…and most importantly, very expensive system damage costs to rebuild the systems and get back up and running again.

For many of the firms in the Agri Epi ecosystem they are fully reliant on their intellectual property, and whilst they are at the start of their journey, a breach could be catastrophic for the business. We are seeing ransom demands well into the millions when technology has been compromised.   Equally, because agriculture is so heavily dependent on seasonality and have a very small harvesting window, a cyber-attack during these periods as the ability to wipe an entire year’s revenues.

Some of the food network technologies being used that are susceptible to an attack include:

  • Online portals for rural payments and livestock tracking
  • SCADA production systems
  • HVAC systems in livestock farms, production lines
  • Agricultural machinery
  • Smart sensors for soil moisture, weather stations
  • Logistics management software

Given agricultural firms are a crucial component of the supply chain, firms will be working with multiple vendors and suppliers leading to frequent and high cost inbound/outbound fund transfer payments.  Malicious actors will often look to intercept these and conduct a classic social engineering scam diverting funds elsewhere.

Threats

The threat from Cyber Criminals is ever evolving and increasing, and is underestimated by firms across all sectors. Only 1 in 3 firms currently buy any level of cyber insurance, and we estimate that only 1 in 11 firms buy the right level of cover.

Due to the increase in claims there is an increasing realisation from larger corporates that they have to invest in cyber security defences, and as such we are seeing a substantial increase in budgets to combat the risks –we are seeing cyber criminals pivot again to attack smaller firms, where the size of the prize may be lower but they are easier prey

The team at Partners & are keen to help their clients understand the ever-increasing threat around cyber attacks and as such we’ve invested substantially in our offering around cyber risk. One of the key tools that we have access to can run a non-invasive report on your website, which enables you to see what gaps cyber criminals may look to exploit – many of which are easy to fix

We’re keen to support the Agri Epi community and if you’d like for us to run one of these reports, free of charge, or discuss anything else around cyber risk and insurance, please drop us an email or call

 

Partners& aims to be the best insurance advisory business in the UK, providing expert advice that makes a real difference across business insurance, management and employee benefits.

Partners& services cover the energy and renewables, food and drink, manufacturing, retail and wholesale, science and technology and waste management sectors, among others.

Contact:
chris.milnes@partnersand.com 07917028965

Drones In Agriculture: Automation is the Future

Drones offer a huge range of applications in the agricultural sector and are a hugely exciting part of up-and-coming agri-tech solutions. The key to maximising drone technology’s huge potential in agriculture, according to Agri-EPI Centre’s Chief Technical Officer, is the introduction of commercial services for automated drones (drones able to pilot themselves over farmland).

Dr Shamal Mohammed described his vision for the future of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), when he spoke at a recent meeting of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

Future of Drones

After infrastructure, agriculture is the world’s second biggest market for the commercial application of drone technology, according to PwC, with an estimated potential value of $32.4 billion. The APPG invited experts from across the sector to discuss the opportunities and challenges inherent in realising the economic and environmental value of drones in UK farming.

Speaking alongside fellow drone experts from UK agri-tech company Hummingbird Technologies and Harper Adams University, Dr Mohammed described how drones are currently being used on farms. They most commonly undertake ‘eye-in-the-sky’ diagnostic activities like soil analysis, crop monitoring and disease detection, and apply inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides.

Challenges

Shamal described a range of challenges associated with the commercial use of drones. These include the need for qualified pilots, as current commercial models involve farmers purchasing and operating drones themselves or bringing in a company to do the work for them.

Further challenges include regulations requiring flying within the ‘visual line of sight’; their small payload; weather dependency; rural connectivity problems and the current gap in regulation around reducing ‘drift’ of chemical applications.

The future

Dr Mohammed believes that automated or semi-automated drones would alleviate some of these issues. Farmers would use commercial drone-programming services which, once connected to weather stations, would enable the drones to know when conditions were right, take off and fly automatically. The UAVs would then upload data gathered to an easy-to-view farmer interface, providing quality insights and enabling better decision making for farmers.

“This new and as-yet unrealised model would make it easier for farmers to access the benefits of drones,” said Dr Mohammed. “They won’t replace existing systems entirely – for example, farmers will still need tractors and sprayers – but drones might be integrated into their sprayer programmes to carry-out specific small-scale tasks.

“The development of commercial services involving automated, modular-based drones with better connectivity and supported by localised regulation is the key means of achieving the biggest benefits for agriculture.”

Working together on the future of agri-tech

Agri-EPI’s Agri-tech Innovation Support partner Leyton has seen R&D activity in the crop production sector. Dr Matilda Hayward, R&D Technical Consultant, Leyton, says: “The use of drones within the agriculture sector can significantly enhance precision and accuracy for more targeted farming strategies. Developing and integrating drone software platforms for a range of benefits is a popular innovation which may fall under the R&D Tax scheme. Agriculture business who are working on technically challenging projects involving the use of drones should explore R&D tax relief as a method of funding their projects.”

Agri-EPI Centre’s member network includes several innovative UAV and drone companies that are establishing their technology in the arable sector, including:

Featured Drone Members

Drone Ag

DroneAg uses drones, automation and simple AI technology to make farming more productive and efficient. Bringing together the expertise of farmers, agronomists, drone pilots and software engineers under one banner, Drone Ag draws on the team’s own experience of running a 6,000-acre farm to provide innovative and practical solutions for farmers today, from field mapping and crop spraying to software and drone training courses.

Hummingbird Technologies

Hummingbird Technologies is an artificial intelligence business, using imagery and data analytics from satellite, drone, plane and robot technology, along with proprietary algorithms, to provide farmers with high-resolution maps of their crops at critical decision-making junctions in the season.

Omega Crop

Omega Crop’s patented crop modelling technology, which analyses drone-gathered images of a wheat crop to identify the presence of preventable disease and weeds, often before a farmer or agronomist could detect the problem by eye. This gives the farmer time to make an informed choice about if and how they can intervene to protect their yield.

Animal Dynamics

Stork, is Animal Dynamic’s heavy-lift, aerial payload delivery vehicle has the potential to significantly improve the safety, speed, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of aerial fertiliser, pesticide, or bio-stimulant application. Being fully autonomous and packaged with a user-friendly interface, it will be a quick and easy process to highlight a field area, and let the vehicle do the rest of the work. Stork will take-off, apply the payload across the desired location, and return to land all without any need for human control.

We are confident Stork has the potential to improve yields, reduce waste and pollution, save time, and also reduce costs, making these benefits affordable to a broad range of customers. This technology will help meet the growing demand for high quality food without needing to increase costs or damage the environment in the process.

Agri-Tech Innovation Support

Did you know that Innovative businesses are able to claim back up to 33% of the costs which relate to their research and development activities, such as the advancement of new or existing products or processes?

Innovative use of technology such as drones, sensors, scanners and software can qualify for R&D tax credits. Get in touch with Leyton today:

 

 

Land And Grow: Agri-Tech Opportunities in China

Agri-EPI Centre’s Land & Grow series of webinars are designed to introduce agri-tech innovators in the UK to the wealth of opportunities available to them in China, helping them to understand the Chinese agriculture sector and connect with Chinese farmers. But what makes China such an exciting destination for agri-tech?

As one of the largest economies in the world, China offers companies in the software, hardware, robotics, biotech and IoT sectors a chance to explore a huge market with even bigger demand for agri-tech; both investors and the Chinese government are actively seeking expertise from abroad to provide smart solutions that are able to upgrade China’s agri-food supply chain.

China faces a number of food security challenges, starting with its population of 134 million people, all of whom need to be sustainably fed. From precision farming to reduce waste and enhance food safety to connected livestock management, agri-tech solutions that provide ways to feed China’s growing population are in high demand.

What makes China’s agrifood sector unique?

The Chinese governments recently outlined a policy seeking to bridge the divide between the urban and rural populations by 2025, aiming to unite disparate digital technology and lift many rural Chinese residents out of poverty. As well as significant investment in infrastructure, Chinese authorities have set their sights on boosting agricultural production – and tech is at the heart of that objective.

Unlike much of the West, China doesn’t have to struggle with legacy technology systems and upgrading existing digital infrastructure, enabling them to implement new tech such as 5G much faster than many European countries and the US.

This enables China to rapidly implement ambitious agrifood projects, with just some of the initiatives listed in the “Digital Agriculture and Rural Area Development Plan 2019-2025” including agricultural robots to increase the productivity and efficiency of fishing, AI to monitor crop yields and improve livestock care and quality and incorporating drones and satellites to better leverage data and decision making across the entire supply chain.

Unlocking agri-tech opportunities in China

Building on our experience working on agri-tech solutions in China, and in collaboration with 8 Hours Ahead, specialists in business development in China, Agri-EPI Centre is hosting a webinar on June 23rd inviting agri-tech innovators to learn more about the incredible opportunities China can offer engineers, scientists and manufacturers.

The webinar offers an in-depth exploration of the Chinese agtech market, from identifying key challenges facing Chinese farmers to financial and commercial support available from the UK and Chinese governments to facilitate international agri-tech solutions.

You can find out more about the webinar, and sign up to attend, on our dedicated events page.