Agri-tech - Agri-EPI Centre - engineering precision agriculture


Agricultural technology, agri-tech or agritech, describes the use of technology in agriculture, aquaculture and horticulture to help improve efficiency, yield and profitability. The Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) is one of four agri-tech centres established by the UK Government. Agri-EPI Centre focuses on the delivery of research, development, demonstration and training on precision agriculture and engineering for the livestock, arable, horticulture and aquaculture sectors.

Aquanzo explores sustainable marine-based poultry feed alternative

Agri-EPI and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) visited Rastech Research CIC at the University of St Andrews in Scotland for a partner site visit to Aquanzo Production System facilities.

During this visit, attendees received an introduction to RASTech, followed by a detailed tour of the Aquanzo system. The team also met the production team, saw the new artemia grow-out system in action and learnt more about its workings.

Aquanzo is currently running a 24-month project funded by Innovate UK-DEFRA in collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre and SRUC, that focuses on developing technologies to farm a new source of marine protein, artemia, a marine zooplankton, sustainably at scale and on land. This explores the use of different agricultural by-products to produce artemia, in turn investigating the nutritional benefits on poultry gut health, lifetime growth, and performance. Overall, this project attempts to address the damaging environmental and cost impacts of harvesting marine ingredients from the wild for use in commercial young animal feeding.

Agri-EPI’s Lee Cocker, Project Manager of the Farmed Marine Protein project, said:

“The opportunity for Agri-EPI to support the farming of artemia as a potential new source of marine protein is an exciting one. Helping the project gain traction and witnessing the ramping up of its production system has been brilliant. It is great to read so many positive articles about the project across the aquaculture and livestock feed sectors.”

At the industrial scale, Aquanzo is forecasting production capacity of thousands of metric tonnes of artemia meal per year per industrial facility. Agri-EPI guides this project by providing life cycle analysis, measuring the environmental sustainability at each stage of its development, in addition to project management.

Climate Change, Food Insecurity, and the Future of Agri-Food Systems

Climate Change and Food Insecurity

The saying goes, “everyone needs a farmer three times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner”, but globally we are currently experiencing changes to climate resulting in disruption to food production and resulting food insecurity.

  • Widespread drought across the Americas from Canada to Chile, Central Asia, and Africa, resulting in reduction in crop quality, complete crop failures, and livestock deaths.
  • Excessive rainfall in areas such as New South Wales and parts of Europe where crops cannot be planted or are washed away.
  • Lack of snow in mountainous regions where lower lying land relies on snowmelt to feed irrigation networks. (, 2021)
  • Wildfires in Greece, Italy, Tunisia, and Algeria (European Science Hub, 2023)

Add in the increasing demand for resources.

  • Water for domestic consumption, crop irrigation, and industry. (Drought conditions in areas such as the Panara River Basin in Brazil which serves multiple hydroelectric dams has also led to regional power rationing) (, 2021).
  • Competition for land for agricultural production, housing, infrastructure as well as protecting habitat for the natural world.

Statistics also indicate that the ones who have contributed the least to climate change based on greenhouse gas emissions, are also the most vulnerable in society affected by these changes. E.g., several years of drought in Madagascar has resulted in 33% of the population (8.8 million people) being food insecure (IMF, 2023), surviving off a diet of insects and cactus leaves (BBC, 2021).


Impacts on food security for the UK

The food and drink sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, bigger than the aerospace and automotive industries combined. UK agri-food and seafood sectors create over £120 billion of value for the economy every year and employ over 4 million people (Gov.UK, 2022).

Professor Michael Fakhri, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said trade was the biggest vulnerability in the global food system, as in the last thirty years policies had been “geared towards prioritising food trade by any means possible” (House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, 2023).

Being part of a global food system can provide a diversity of supply sources and access to new products that cannot be produced domestically, contributing to domestic food security. However, exposure to international markets, in combination with global supply chain pressures and shocks, also creates price and supply impacts (Gov.UK, 2022). With approximately 48% of food consumed now being imported, compared to 78% in the mid-70’s, the UK as a nation is not food secure, this also hides a wide range of self-sufficiency levels sector by sector, e.g., the UK is only 17% self-sufficient in fresh fruit.

One of the changes that have been seen over that time frame is changing dietary habits, year-round supply of fresh fruit and salad, where we are not only importing food, but also water contained within that food from countries that can least afford it. Increasing consumption of rice with a large proportion imported from India and Pakistan and Vietnam (, 2023). (The recent ban of rice exports from India due to extreme weather conditions and reported hoarding in other countries, there will be inevitable disruption of supply and price of this now staple foodstuff).


Navigating Food Shortages and Challenges in the UK’s Agri-Food Sector

We have also experienced other food shortages in recent months, with availability and production of items such as eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes all affected by a perfect storm of record energy inflation, post-pandemic supply chain disruption, the war in Ukraine and the unpredictable effects of climate change (NatWest Report, 2023), and NFU findings suggest that further challenges are imminent with 40% of beef farmers and 36% of sheep farmers planning to reduce numbers in response to input costs.

The sole remaining Nitrogen fertiliser plant in the UK adds further risk to food security as more fertiliser products need to be imported. Availability of seasonal labour has caused issues with harvesting in the horticulture and meat processing sectors.

The UK has the third highest welfare standards globally according to the World Animal Protection – Animal Protection Index and there is a clear cost attached to this legislation with lower standards enforced in other countries, some of which export their products to the UK. This approach by retailers may make prices cheaper for consumers, but equally prevents UK farmers from being competitive in the marketplace in comparison, unless they are able to market their produce locally at higher prices than food processors or retailers are willing to pay.

The UK is also a relatively small but densely populated country, with competition for resources of land, water, and labour. Economic growth requires land for development, whether that be housing or industrial, but this should not be growth at any cost. Productive farmland should not be easily given up making way for warehousing and infrastructure; the environment, biodiversity, and food security surely must have priority if the sector is to satisfy government aims of reducing emissions, halting species decline, increasing woodland creation rates, restoring peatland and overall soil health. During the Covid19 pandemic, public access to the countryside was proven to be beneficial for mental health and wellbeing.


Embracing Innovation and Collaboration for Sustainable Agri-Food Systems

Innovation will be a key component to sustainably boost production and profitability across the supply chain. The government has committed to spend over £270 million through the Farming Innovation Programme and are supporting £120 million investment in research across the food system in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in addition to other funding packages (Gov.UK, 2022). Technological advancements are helping growers move towards achieving some of the government goals of Net Zero, precision breeding for drought tolerance, and reduction in pesticide use, circular use of waste for energy production, feed additives to reduce methane emissions.

Agri-EPI Centre and it’s fellow sister centres CIEL and CHAP are actively working with our members and wider stakeholders to identify real problems faced by growers, and potential solutions that could be developed to those problems of sustainable food production at the same time as improving soils, enhancing environments for wildlife etc. Internal capability and resources such as the farm network, our technical asset portfolio of drones, sensors, robotics, phenotyping facility, cold storage, GHG monitoring are available for research and development in funded projects and commercial use. To find out if we can support your innovative idea, please get in touch via


About the author

Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager Crops and Horticulture.

With a background in horticultural production and agricultural engineering, Duncan has an excellent network and knowledge of current issues and developments across AgriTech and the fresh produce sector.

UK-LATAM Agri-tech collaboration strengthened on visit from Agri-EPI and CIEL

Agri-EPI and CIEL embarked on a trip to Argentina and Brazil over the last few weeks to help strengthen LATAM-UK agri-tech collaboration. Agri-EPI’s International Business Development Manager, Jane Lycett and Head of Agri-Tech (Dairy), Robert Morrison, along with Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock’s Head of Innovation, Dr. Mark Young, met with representatives at Hub4 Agroinnovacion, where they were given a comprehensive overview of Argentine agriculture and agri-tech innovation – including a fascinating insight into circular farming systems being applied to beef production and a visit to Seed Matriz.

Jane Lycett sat on a panel session at the BCR Agtech Forum, hosted by Ingrid Drago from Bolsa de Comercio de Rosario. At the Congreso Aapresid (Argentine No Till Farmers Association), they saw some of the latest developments in Argentine agri-tech.

With Movimiento CREA they agreed some practical steps towards supporting UK agri-tech companies to make an impact in Argentina and identified world class tech solutions from Argentina which can help to address UK farming challenges. This culminated in signing a MoU to formalise Agri-EPI’s commitment to collaborate.

The week in Argentina was wrapped up at The British Embassy in Buenos Aires to agree next steps, working closely with the UK Government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Department for Business and Trade.

The Brazil leg included visits to AgTech Garage, Embrapa’s research farms and with AgriTIERRA’s founder, Mark Jarman.

Jane said:

“There is so much potential for sharing best practices and knowledge in both directions between the UK and Brazil, which will be the focus of a series of company exchange visits that Agri-EPI will facilitate and host later this year.

“We are thrilled to embark on this journey of collaboration and innovation. By connecting the vibrant agri-tech communities of Argentina, Brazil, and the UK, we aim to accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge solutions that will drive sustainable agricultural practices and enhance food security on a global scale.”

The Agri-EPI team looks forward to strengthening existing partnerships and forging new connections that will propel the agri-tech sector towards a more sustainable and resilient future. The journey signifies an important step towards creating a global network of agri-tech innovators, researchers, and businesses that will work together to address common challenges and leverage emerging opportunities.

AIA Agri-Tech Investment Advisory service expands staff

AIA has expanded its staff with the appointment of Jos Lovegrove-Fielden to the role of Investment Advisory Manager.

Jos joins AIA from PwC’s London practice where he oversaw audit, assurance and advisory services to a range of venture capital, private equity and investment management clients. He is also a partner in his family’s dairy farm in Shropshire.

AIA, an agri-tech investment advisory service, was launched in September 2022 to bridge the gap between investors and innovative agri-food start-ups. It combines expertise in capital raising transactions with the sector expertise, asset base and network of its parent, Agri-EPI Centre.

Joining Agri-EPI Centre, Jos Lovegrove-Fielden said:

“Innovative tech is key to enabling agriculture to respond to the macro challenges and disruptions that it faces. The commercial and investment opportunities that will flow from this are enormous, as will be the impact for people and planet more widely. I’m thrilled to play a part in supporting this transition with AIA.”

John Grealish, head of advisory at AIA, said:

“Jos brings the ideal combination of financial and investor experience, alongside a real world knowledge of farming.

“Since we launched AIA late last year we’ve found the scale of the opportunity has been overwhelmingly validated. Jos’s arrival will enable us to support more companies and more investors in achieving their ambitious goals, even in a challenging market.”

Agri-tech Investment Advisory Ltd is an Appointed Representative of Sapia Partners LLP, an entity which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

For more information about AIA, please follow this link.

Agri-EPI welcomes new Academic Partnerships Manager, Wendy Hewitson

Agri-EPI Centre has welcomed on board a new Academic Partnerships Manager to their team, Wendy Hewitson.

Wendy has a diverse background, with twenty years experience within the retail sector, followed by a further twelve years at Barclays, where she spent the last five as the AgriTech programme manager for Barclays Eagle Labs.

Wendy was one of the founders of the AgriTech Industry vertical for Barclays Eagle Labs, where she created and oversaw the delivery of many successful accelerators, events and industry focussed support material and programmes. She helped support much of the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout all areas of the food supply chain.

Wendy is passionate and highly effective at enabling knowledge transfer, sharing collaboration and growth opportunities with both agritech/agrifood innovators and key industry players within the UK.

Wendy said:

‘’I’m so excited to join Agri-EPI Centre. I’m hoping to help strengthen a collegiate approach between the expertise within academia, the innovative ecosystem, and the breadth of expertise that Agri-EPI centre provides to support the transition and transformation of the agricultural supply chain towards net zero.

The agricultural sector and food supply chain is an ever-changing environment, impacted daily by climatic, political, and societal pressures. It has such a breadth of un-tapped opportunities and capabilities. Having seen how technology, innovation, and collaboration has grown over the last five years I really see this as an opportunity to continue to broaden engagement and collaboration both nationally and globally.”

Putting farmers at the centre of innovation

Agri-EPI Centre has enlisted a network of farms spread throughout the UK to participate in the Agri-EPI Farm Network.

Why a network of commercial farmers?

The innovation farm network was developed by Agri-EPI from the desire to “close the gap” between research and the end-user, by creating a platform to host research projects and evaluate developing technology in a commercial farm environment, rather than in a simulated or research environment. Each farm has technology deployed to measure variance at every stage of production, understand inefficiencies within the system, and inform the agri-tech industry to direct their research to those areas. The goal is to ensure technology is developed to be robust and relevant to meet the challenges and requirements of the end users.

The network is diverse, comprising different farming systems, sectors, sizes and business structures producing a range of agricultural commodities, all equipped with the latest precision sensor technologies that are purpose-built to measure your agricultural innovation. We provide a set of services to assist in the creation of agri-tech products through either commercial or grant funded projects. We assist in the development process through a combination of a strong technical team and a world class set of equipment and facilities. Our innovation services include validation, full use requirement and analysis, data collection and interrogation, market insight and analysis, sustainability analysis, economic modelling with the focus of ensuring agri-tech solutions will have a positive impact on-farm.

Lorenzo Conti, Founder & Managing Director at Crover, said:

“The Agri-EPI Centre has been our first and main partner for on farm demonstration projects. Being able to access a variety of commercial farm sites for testing and demonstration from early on and getting feedback from some of the country’s most innovative farmers about what works and what doesn’t has been invaluable for us.

Like every new technology, it is ultimately only as good as the value perceived by the end users, and the Agri-EPI Centre’s leadership in Knowledge Exchange and dissemination activities has also meant that we have been able to refine and deliver the message to farmers and grain storage operators and created a regular stream of inbound requests.

We are glad to see Agri-EPI’s team and footprint grow at a similar pace to our own business so as to be able to support agricultural innovation projects at more stages and geographies.

For any public-funding-backed innovation project in the UK, partnering up with the Agri-EPI Centre is a no-brainer!”

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