Blog - Agri-EPI Centre | precision farming & innovation

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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!

Kaiapoi Farm hosts Agri-EPI’s second farm walk

Agri-EPI celebrated another successful and sunny day on-farm at Kaiapoi farm on Thursday, 19th May. Farmers Rob and Jo Hodgkins led a group of our Agri-EPI community including tech developers, farmers and industry representatives on a farm tour leading discussions around transitioning to regenerative practices, inter-row hoeing, novel sheep breeding techniques and more. Marcus Travers from Soil Essentials also led a fascinating talk on soil carbon and nitrogen retention.

‘Kaiapoi’ is Maori meaning ‘food over water’. Rob and Jo Hodgkins set up Kaiapoi in 2013 with 200 ewes on 60 rented acres of grass, and have imported Romney Rams from New Zealand to create the ultimate outdoor lambing ewe for the UK climate. They have driven the business forward hard and now run 2250 ewes across 1000ac semi improved grassland and solar panels and farm 1600ac of arable crops around North Hertfordshire.

“Getting people together on farm is incredibly important to showcase first-hand the opportunities in tech development that will deliver big impact on farms” – Claire Hodge, Head of Agri-Tech (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre

 

Agri-EPI and DIT host International Export Advice Centre at LAMMA

Last week Agri-EPI shared a stand at LAMMA with the Department of International Trade (DIT).

LAMMA is the UK’s leading farm machinery, equipment and agricultural services show, attracting over 40,000 visitors to its venue at NEC Birmingham and celebrating its 40th year this year.

Agri-EPI Centre, in collaboration with DIT, hosted the International Export Advice Centre, where officers from Latin America, Africa, and the Eastern European and Central Asian Network, were present on the stand for business-to-business meetings about UK export. Dr Elizabeth Warham, Head of Agri-tech for DIT, was in demand as businesses lined up to speak with her, and Agri-EPI supported on talks with information on their innovation projects and how agri-tech can have an impact on-farm.

Additionally, delegates including the State Minister for Agriculture of Uganda along with a Ugandan delegation, were welcomed to Agri-EPI’s Midlands Agri-tech Innovation Hub for a tour of the facilities and networking with other companies to find out about some of the UK’s most cutting-edge Innovate UK funded projects. Presentations were given by Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development at Agri-EPI Centre, Rebecca Geraghty, CCO of Agrimetrics, and Kit Franklin, Senior Agricultural Engineer and Principle Investigator for Hands Free Farm, who took delegates to see the workshop they use to develop and work on the autonomous tractors for their world-renowned project.

Get inventive and take control of tax

The agricultural sector is taking undeniable initiative when it comes to innovation. But many farming and agri-businesses are missing out on a big opportunity to claim tax relief.

R&D is not all white lab coats and PhDs; farmers often carry out activities that are claimable under the R&D Tax Credit Scheme – a retrospective exercise which offers up to 33% of R&D costs as a tax credit.

Financial consultancy Leyton is working with agri-tech enablers, Agri-EPI, to make more UK farmers aware of the scheme and its potential to provide important cashflow, while aiding the improvement of operational efficiencies.

“The scheme can be applicable to work that is happening on farms day to day – but there is huge value underclaimed within agriculture because farmers don’t classify what they are doing as R&D and don’t fully understand their eligibility,” says George Stuffins, Business Development Manager at Leyton.

Broadly speaking, R&D occurs when farmers make improvements based on three key questions: How do they increase the quality of produce? How do they increase yield? And how do they become more sustainable?

Examples range from poultry farmers experimenting with feeding times and lighting concentrations to improve feed conversion or growth rates, to arable farms engineering weed control equipment to reduce reliance on chemicals and improve soil biology. Rewardable R&D is within the realms of every farm business and can be very lucrative, he says.

“Failed projects can qualify too, not everything goes right first time, and in HMRC’s eyes such work can still add significant value to knowledge in the sector.”

So how do farm businesses qualify for R&D tax credits?

Matilda Hayward, senior R&D technical consultant at Leyton, says that conversations with prospective applicants begin on farm with the aforementioned three key questions.

“It drives the project and outlines the business’ main goals, then looks at what R&D is already occurring on the farm and what other R&D strategies could be explored to capitalise on the R&D tax credit scheme.”

Criteria include:

  1. It must seek a scientific or technological advancement,
  2. It must be meeting a scientific or technological challenge to get the results or determine unfeasibility,
  3. It must show a systematic approach and be your own activity.

Eligibility is not exclusive to large scale businesses – it is entirely based on a business’ project meeting the key criteria – nor is there a maximum number of project claims.

So what can farm businesses claim?

As a retrospective scheme, applicants claim back money spent on innovative projects over the past two years at the end of a financial year.

The bulk of an R&D claim covers PAYE salaries but there is a rate for contracted staff like seasonal workers and consultants. A portion of utility costs are also claimable – albeit quite nominal, as are software licences.

However, high value claims come from projects using a lot of consumables like feed, medicines and artificial insemination products and services.

“The claim could also include a proportion of costs in relation to mortality within the R&D trial,” says Dr Hayward.

Businesses can’t claim capital costs under the scheme – but there are still opportunities under the Capital Allowance Scheme and through grants, says Mr Stuffins.

How the tax benefit is received depends on tax position as well as the amount the business is claiming back. But a misconception is that businesses in a loss-making position can’t claim.

“Businesses in this position can actually claim for a higher percentage of qualifying expenditure as cash,” he explains.

Looking forward, if a business decides to move ahead, then they need to treat it like an R&D project, says Dr Hayward.

She recommends keeping all the project details and data in one place, including trial results and analysis, when the trials took place, who was involved and the time spent on each activity.

“HMRC now looks for better audit trails so it’s about making sure it’s documented in the right way to make the most of tax credits,” she says. “And it also benefits the business because it can better justify claimed costs.”

Farmers often have a bank of information that can be used, like health monitoring, soil analysis, and data from audits and surveys.

“A consultant can help a business collate the retrospective data for work they didn’t even consider as an R&D project, as well as the best way to collect and collate data going forwards,” she explains.

“Farmers can claim directly. But involving a consultant takes the pressure off the farmer and gives them the security that the claim is compliant and includes all possible business improvements for maximum return.”

Farm visit to Godminster Farm

Welcome to Agri-EPI: Charlie Bowyer

We are thrilled to welcome our most recent Agri-EPI Centre recruit, Charlie Bowyer, to the team as our new Business Development Manager for Livestock and Agriculture.

Coming from a family mixed sheep and beef farm in South Wales, Charlie graduated from Harper Adams University with a degree in Agriculture in 2015. He then entered the biogas sector, where he worked until 2020 whilst remaining involved with the farm at home. More recently, Charlie worked in forage seed sales, before joining us here at Agri-EPI last month.

As our BD Manager for Livestock and Aquaculture, Charlie will be facilitating and supporting research & development projects within the application of precision agriculture for these sectors, such as trialling new and innovative slurry handling methods, precision monitoring fish growth, or validating new remote cattle health monitoring.

Charlie is excited to be exposed to new, cutting-edge innovations through Agri-EPI and to get involved with the wide range of companies, farmers and projects that we work with. He believes the application and gathering of data will make a huge impact on the future of agri-tech to refine processes and come up with the next generation of innovations.

“Agriculture has always been in a state of change, but current environmental, financial and consumer drivers are forcing change faster than ever before. If we are to meet the grand challenges of reducing emissions and pollution, increasing production and improving animal welfare and food quality, precision and innovation will be cornerstones of the future of agriculture and aquaculture. I am excited to be part of making this happen!” — Charlie Bowyer, Business Development Manager for Livestock and Aquaculture at Agri-EPI Centre

New tech to transform global agriculture – 2021 Excellence Awards winners announced

New technology is set to transform global agriculture, and two agtech companies recognised for their importance in animal health and environmental protection are making rapid progress.

The first – awarded for its contribution to British agriculture – focuses on animal health. Pruex is using non-infective bacteria to improve air quality in poultry units, reducing ammonia emissions and the requirement for antibiotics..

ALVÁTECH Water – awarded for its global impact – has developed a clean, sustainable way to desalinise soil, enabling farmers to irrigate with saline water, reduce water use and even restore salinized soil to healthy, productive farmland.

Both companies were recognised at Agri-EPI’s inaugural Agri-Tech Excellence Awards in October 2021, and are now reaping the rewards of their success by extending their commercial reach around the globe.

“Last year we grew very fast, and we’re now planning a large funding round to further expand worldwide,” explains Zac Gazit, CEO at ALVÁTECH. “We started working with Agri-EPI in December 2020 as we realised they could help with several key things. They know the industry and trends in technology, and we were looking to work with farmers and governments.”

One of the biggest benefits of winning this important award – aside from the global prestige – is an introduction to the formidable judging panel, comprising Syngenta, Kubota, Leyton, Barclays and Marks & Spencer.

“M&S is buying fresh produce from farmers using our devices, and we’re having good, constructive conversations with the whole panel; there are synergies in our ethos and business and we hope to be able to work with all of them.”

ALVÁTECH is now working in 24 countries across six continents, both with government and non-governmental organisations as well as directly with 1000s of farmers.

“Our technology dissociates salt into its components which enables farmers to immediately use less water and fertilisers,” says Mr Gazit. “It is a life-changer for entire regions and millions of farmers in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.”

Farmers are using 20-60 less water, 30% less fertiliser, and are reducing soil salinity by 30% on average. As a result, yields are boosted over 20% – although the more degraded the soil the greater the scale of improvement farmers see.

“Our farmers are reducing costs while improving the soil for the next generation. This is an important green legacy for our planet.”

Pruex is in a similar position; it’s working with 1000s of farmers across the UK, Europe and South Africa, and looks forward to having discussions with M&S following the award.

Using beneficial bacteria to compete with disease-causing strains is a relatively new concept, but Pruex’s game-changing idea is an automated spraying system to apply the bacteria throughout the sheds. This not only benefits the chickens themselves, but also reduces ammonia emissions. This improves air quality for workers and birds, boosting productivity and the birds’ immune systems, and many farms are able to reduce their use of antibiotics; reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance.

“It’s proving very popular,” says Sarah Dusgate, research and development manager at Pruex. “We’ve been working with poultry farmers from the start of the business, but we have developed a new technology that will help to deploy our bacteria products more effectively and easily.”

· For more information visit https://agri-epicentre.com, www.alva-water.com or www.pruex.co.uk.