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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.
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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.

Welcoming NoFence to our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

NoFence (www.nofence.co.uk), has created the world’s first virtual fencing for livestock: using GPS and cellular communication technology built into special collars to help farmers graze animals on pasture without the need for traditional penning and electric fences. Our vision is to improve animal welfare and make it easier for farmers to rear animals, as well as promote sustainable food production and help people to make better use of pasture resources throughout the world.

The Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub is designed to unite tech innovators, business thinkers, engineers and all agricultural expertise under one roof. From flexible office space to events and workshops, the hub supports agri-tech innovators to take their solutions from the planning stage to testing on commercial farms and ultimately to market.

Set in the home of British agricultural engineering, Shropshire, on the Harper Adams University campus, the hub is one of four Agri-EPI Centre facilities. We sat down with network member and Innovation Hub resident NoFence to catch up on their game-changing fencing solutions and how the Midlands centre is supporting agri-tech innovation.

The world’s first virtual fencing for livestock

Using GPS and cellular communication technology, Nofence eliminates the need for traditional pens and electric fences for livestock. Smart tech in special collars worn by the animals means they can graze on pastures without physical boundaries, making farming easier for farmers, more sustainable for the planet and kinder to animals.

“The Nofence system facilitates the managed grazing process,” explains the Nofence team. “[It allows] farmers to change the boundaries of the grazing zones throughout the day, in order to optimise the energy uptake in the grass and avoid overgrazing.”

“Grazing animals on open pasture land offers well-documented benefits for both wildlife and the environment. For example, grazing animals will often choose more dominant plant species to eat, allowing less competitive plants to thrive. In addition, grazing animals that lie and roll help increase structural diversity of the land, and trampling helps to create areas of bare ground that produce nurseries for seedlings.”

Inspire, inform, innovate

Nofence is just one of the many agri-tech innovators in residence at our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, where the availability of all kinds of agricultural expertise and access to commercial farms for trials and research offer practical benefits to their agri-tech solutions.

“We are always striving to create a product that the farmers find useful,” they say. “It’s not about what we want to make, but about what the customers need.”

Testing technology in a real farming environment allows agri-tech companies to see the practical application of the technology being developed. For Nofence, it’s been hugely exciting to see how their work helps the farmer bring a herd out of the barn and into the pasture.

“Nofence takes the animals back outside, so that the farmer can benefit from all of the land and the ‘free food’ that the animals are made to collect. The grazing ruminant has always been there and is equipped with four legs to find their own food – Nofence allows them to do this, in a much simpler way than before.”

The future of agri-tech

Looking ahead, Nofence plans to use the Midlands Innovation Hub as a centre to continue developing innovative agri-tech solutions and forge links between the UK and their home country of Norway. For Nofence, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of self-sufficiency: “With our technology, countries like Norway and the UK can utilise all of their land to produce food and rely less on imports,” they explain.

With big plans and even bigger goals, Nofence shows no sign of slowing down and can rely on the Midlands Hub as a springboard for their projects to grow nationwide. “Our goal for the UK is that every farmer should have the option to fence virtually,” they declare. “Physical fencing is so 2018!”

To find out more about our Agri-Tech Innovation Hubs, and see how your business could benefit from the many spaces and opportunities available, contact us today.

Recruitment: Everything you need to know about jobs in agritech

Agritech recruitment is a fast-paced and often highly competitive world. For start-ups and larger businesses alike, recruiting skilled candidates for agritech roles can require engaging with unfamiliar sectors from banking and finance to retail, energy or even healthcare. With such a range of desirable skills, recruiting agritech candidates can cover specialist roles including software engineering, AI and robotics and all manner of engineering disciplines.

We previously caught up with Sam Clayton, Managing Director and Recruiter at AgRecruit, for tips, tricks and insights into the agritech recruitment process. With yet more best practices for recruiting agritech employees, Sam is back to discuss all things recruitment with us once again.

Hi Sam, thanks so much for joining us to talk about agritech recruitment again! So first of all, what roles and career routes are there for anyone looking to get into agritech?

Thanks for having me! The truth is that – just like in other tech-driven sectors – the nature of roles that arise can be highly varied, weird and wonderful! We collaborate with many academic bodies and institutions involved in agriculture and agritech, so any connections you can make with those kind of organisations is a great place to start and find out more about agritech careers.

Do you need a background in agri to get a job in agritech?

I definitely wouldn’t say you need a farming background to build a career in agritech; some roles may require a specific skillset, naturally – agri-specific posts such as agronomists or trials management teams need to understand a farming environment, for example. But there’s such a range of opportunities out there and the most important thing to remember is that skills can always be learned by candidates with the right attitude and plenty of enthusiasm.

What kind of job roles should people just starting out in their agritech career look for?

There are plenty of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles that are open to entry-level candidates, thanks to a huge rise in demand recently. An agri background isn’t necessary for many STEM roles, but good experience from other sectors is always a bonus. STEM covers software development, data science, AI, engineering (electrical, mechanical and more) and scientists of varying specialisms. Exploring these opportunities, and seeing how you can get involved to learn as much as you can, is a great way to enter the agritech world.

Do you have to be technical to get into any agritech career?

Not at all! Growing start-ups and established businesses always need management and leadership, so roles such as Technology Officers, Commercial Directors, Heads of Product, even CEOs can be a great fit. Obviously you’ll need to know about the business or product you’re working with, but the key to success in leadership posts is the same in agritech as in any sector: organisation, people skills and problem-solving.

What about sales or business development positions?

These are known as commercial posts and cover anything from sales to account management, strategy and customer success. While some employers recruiting for these roles may ideally target those with some knowledge or experience in agri, increasingly companies are open to candidates from all kinds of backgrounds. For example, companies working with tech products or services naturally gravitate towards those with tech sector backgrounds.

Are there any other types of job in agritech?

There are so many! We call many positions ‘In Between’ roles, as they don’t fit neatly into tech, STEM or commercial categories. ‘In Between’ roles would be, say, product specialists or project managers. Candidates applying for these roles should be comfortable working closely with clients, and happy communicating tech concepts without being a hands-on expert on the solution.

With so many options available for candidates looking to get into agritech, is there any hard -and-fast rule or advice you would give to someone looking for a career in agritech?

It’s hard to say – it really all depends on the client and the exact role. Some clients may want to hire candidates with very specific backgrounds and skills, others may prefer a broader knowledge of the sector, whether that’s software, data, AI or engineering, and others still may lean towards candidates with a good knowledge of the agri domain. It really varies.

Thanks, Sam. Any parting words of wisdom?

Essentially, anybody interested in agritech jobs or a career in the agritech space can find a wealth of opportunities to have a genuinely positive impact on the world. There are so many career opportunities out there, just keep looking and learning as much as you can, regardless of your background. Don’t let a lack of agri background deter you!

Agriculture and agritech recruitment

AgRecruit prides itself on placing candidates into one of the most exciting, motivating and fulfilling sectors: agriculture. Before founding AgRecruit, Sam worked in the tech sector and found himself fascinated by AI, data science and disruptive tech innovations and passionate about the opportunities in agritech to have a real societal impact, both on people’s lives and the sustainability of farming.

To find out more about careers in agtech, or to get in touch with AgRecruit for help finding your next role in agritech, visit the AgRecruit website.

Contact Sam Clayton at AgRecruit for help on anything covered in this post, or any other recruitment related enquiries: (+44) 01908 03595 or sam.clayton@agrecruit-ltd.com

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.