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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!

Holistic farming platforms to support agri-businesses

Three years ago, Glas Data founders Rob Sanders and Colin Philipson saw a need to help farmers produce larger quantities of better produce in a sustainable and cost saving manner. They tailored an existing platform to the agricultural industry and launched software system GlasCore. This system was specifically designed to help farming businesses control and monitor all aspects of their farm and process, ensuring they capture and isolate any potential problems before they became major issues.

Agri-EPI met with member Glas Data to find out more about their technology supporting farming businesses, the collaboration with hardware providers and their plans for the future:

 

Q&A with agri-tech innovator Glas Data

This high tech system, can be explained in three stages:

  1. Hardware – form of installing sensors that captures real-time data (example: Temp of milk)
  2. Gateway – Wirelessly and securely collects the data.
  3. Software – GlasCore displays this data in a readable and easy to understand manner.

With this whole system being wireless and automated, all our client need do is log on to their dashboard from the comfort of their home or on the go on their phone to see all the real-time readings and track their farming data.

The great thing about GlasCore is that yes it aggregates data from sensors, but it can also  aggregate data from other sources, such as the NMR (National Milk Records). This allows for the data to be imported really easily and displayed, for example, by cow. We have current users who can now access and review the protein, fat, milk levels etc in individual cows. Then, with one of our most recent exciting updates, they can visualise these cows in one graph all separately and be able to easily track the highest performing, and different levels in comparison to one another.

Depending on the business targets and aims our system can help in a myriad of ways. We sit down and talk with each potential client and customer and ask them for their targets and goals, this way we are able to customise their dashboard to achieve this. From monitoring key metrics to alerting someone of a potential issue, GlasCore, is customised to the clients needs.

What is key to note is that GlasCore draws together all of your business data, from freezer and fridge temperatures, to water and energy usage, to monitoring whether a door is open or closed, GlasCore brings this into a easily accessible versatile dashboard.

This year has proven the importance of the UK farming industry and how we need to ensure the best care of our animals, produce, and entire process from the feed we provide our animals to the best quality in processing products. UK farmers work tirelessly long days and harder than ever to ensure this and we want to help them. Our software is designed to provide business and personal reassurance and peace of mind which I think is important now more than ever. Farmers care so much for their animals and farms, we need to help care for them but giving a little help where we can.

The various features within the system, and can be really tailored to the clients needs and use. Some tools and aspects may not be as essential depending on the usage.

  • Mapping: Through the RPA, map out your land parcels, hedges, field boundaries and names into one easy to use map. Visualise your buildings, landmarks and then pin your sensors to their specific locations. (Expand)
  • Real-Time Alerts: Setting up specific alerts from your live data incase a temp goes too low, or a large amount of water is used to prevent failures, leakages and ensure your business is looked after 24/7. You chose the parameters and create the alerts to what you need. Receive a text or email when something spikes.  (Expand)
  • Visualisations: Real-time data is great, but here you can visualise this in a helpful way that allows you to notice spikes, compare data, and track its progress. (Expand)

The UK farming industry is becoming more and more important with everything going on in the world. Something we have been working thoroughly on is water monitoring and early leak detection. Through monitoring key metrics and providing a substantial overview of usage, we can detect leakages early and also find ways to conserve water and form a more sustainable way of farming. There is much more detail to this, but our system presents all of your data in a way that you can use it to take action.

The farming industry has taken incredible steps over the last decade and is reaching for a low carbon and sustainable way of working, providing more produce of better quality. Through this many people have IoT devices (Internet of Things) and smart sensors all collecting data, but no platform to review, track and notice trends for this. This is where GlasCore comes in! Working with companies that allow us to provide over 70 different LoRaWAN sensors and gateways to collect the data, we have the whole package.

Our development team work continuously to develop and provide more and more exciting features. One of my tasks is to ask our customers and clients what they want from their dashboard and if we cannot already provide that service, work with the development team to create a solution and place this in to our development pipeline. We have actually just had a large update over the weekend, that I will be creating tutorial videos for to showcase the new functions.

Our aim as a team and company is to help farmers take control of their data, massively increase the data they manage so that the decisions they make are as informed as possible, and in the long run analyse all the data and generate insights that are completely tailored to them.

 

More information

If you would like to understand more about the on-farm software solutions on offer, please contact Glas Data by using the following contact details:

Email: hello@glas-data.com
Phone: 07485 017650

45 Lemon Street
Truro, Cornwall
TR1 2NS
United Kingdom

Transformation of Scottish salmon production

Transformational innovation in aquaculture

Although significant progress has been made in recent years, current salmon production systems still encounter various challenges associated with “open water” production related to water quality, environmental pollution, and escapes. Additionally, threats of diseases, algae, sea lice, jellyfish and other predators persist as a result of unsecure perimeters.

Aqua Innovations, an SME based in Inverness, have secured funding via the UK Seafood Innovation Fund to undertake the detailed design stage of their flagship innovation concept ‘SeaCAP 6000’. Within the next couple of weeks, with the support of partners Agri-EPI, QED Naval, and Sterner Aquatech and an expert industry-led steering group, the innovative group will explore the feasibility of a transformational way of producing Salmon off the Scottish Coast.

The SeaCAP 6000, a new floating contained farm to grow salmon smolts to full harvest weight, will provide the optimum environment for the fish, with control of water quality, exclusion of external biological factors which can impact on fish health and will capture faeces and waste feed. The innovation is aligned with national agendas to supporting sustainable growth of the sector to double production and economic contribution by 2030.

Benefits over current salmon production systems

The main benefits of the closed contained marine farm are:

  • Control of water quality/internal environment
  • Exclusion of water-borne diseases, and algae, sea lice, jellyfish, and predators
  • Prevention of escapes
  • Capture of the waste for removal and treatment, preventing environmental pollution, and potentially recycling or re-use
  • H&S benefits and operational efficiencies within a controlled working environment
  • Durable, low maintenance, emptied and cleaned between crops
  • Unique mooring system which required only 5% of the seabed lease area to grow an equivalent biomass

Transformational innovation in aquaculture

Inventor of the SeaCAP Rodger Taylor is delighted that the potential of this technology has been recognised, after the concept has been in development for a number of years:

“Now that we have both the funding and the support of strong partners, we can take it a step closer to realisation”.

For Scotland-based Agri-EPI, this is an exciting opportunity to get involved with transformational innovation in aquaculture which aims to have an impact close to home.

Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager for Aquaculture & Livestock says:

“We’re thrilled to be supporting Aqua Innovation on their journey to develop the SeaCAP 6000. Salmon producers face major challenges which may be overcome using technology to contain production – essentially eliminating outside threats and giving the farmer more control over their site. This collaborative approach to innovation is at the heart of Agri-EPI’s vision to support productive, sustainable and profitable food production.”

Design of technology prototype

In partnership with Sterner AquaTech and QED Naval, Aqua Innovation will be working on the detailed design of the prototype 6,000m3 closed contained farm to grow smolts from 100g to 1kg for on-growing in traditional sea cages. Agri-EPI will support the project by organising an industry-led expert steering group to ensure the innovation is developed in-line with the needs and challenges of those in the supply chain. Further support comes in the form of business development and knowledge exchange.

About the UK Seafood Innovation Fund

The UK Seafood Innovation Fund supports bold and ambitious tech-driven projects that will enable a step-change in the productivity and sustainability of the UK seafood sector. Administered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK Seafood Innovation Fund supports projects with a long-term vision to improve the UK seafood, fishing and aquaculture Industries. For more information about the Seafood Innovation Fund, please visit their twitter page.

Follow project progress

Be sure to follow Agri-EPI on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep abreast of the progress with this exciting project. To learn more and find out how you can get involved, please reach out to Kasi McReddie, Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or learn about our industry impact around the globe.

Measuring soil flux as a way to understand GHG emissions from soil

Meeting the challenge of climate change with soil flux analysis

For growers, agri-chemical companies, producers and food retailers monitoring and measuring positive and negative soil flux can help balance greater productivity, sustainability and improved soil health. What is soil flux analysis and what impact does it have on climate change?

Driving net zero reduction

Global Green House Gas emissions are a sensitive topic politically with international agreements of targets and the drive to a net zero status, but there is a debate going on also about who is the most culpable.

GHG emissions - IPCC 2014 | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is by far the highest proportion of GHG emissions at around 75%, but Methane (CH4) and Nitrogen Oxide (N2O), although less in proportion, are respectively 28 times and 310 times more potent than CO2. Most of these emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy production, transportation, manufacturing and building but land use also plays a significant part.

In 1973, the National Soil Inventory (England and Wales) was set to obtain an unbiased estimate of soils, and their carbon content. Since the original survey, further sampling has shown that in most soil types, there has been a progressive decline in carbon content, and the inference is that other temperate regions would show similar traits.

Losses due to land use activity

Inefficient use of fertilisers results in N2O being last as emissions to the atmosphere, and nitrates being leached through the soil into water courses. By targeting applications more effectively to ensure the crop is only given what it can utilise we are able to reduce these losses. Using variable rate applications, or slow release Urea are examples of how land managers are changing behaviour.

Storage and application of slurry and manure also result in emissions. Covered stores, better timing of applications and use of dribble bars and direct injection of slurry rather than splash plates can all contribute.

Rumination results in emissions of CH4 which give cattle and sheep a particularly bad image. This is more a factor in international production than UK, where many animals graze pasture unsuitable for crop production, and that permanent grassland can also be considered a net carbon sink.

Deforestation for agriculture, although not an issue in the UK, but certainly in other parts of the globe for production of soya and palm oil amongst other commodities has a significant impact. We not only lose the of that forest to act as a carbon sink, but the felled and cleared timber both emits CO2 and subjects the cleared areas to the potential of erosion.

Cultivations result in emissions from varied sources, the tractor exhaust (combatted in recent years by addition of EGR and AdBlu technology). The soil surface, as each cultivation releases naturally occurring gases into the lower atmosphere (minimum tillage and direct drilling have had some impact by reducing the amount of soil disturbance)

Natural ecological processes in the soil sub-surface produce and consume gases, and as the soils warm due to climate change, microbial metabolic rates increase resulting in increased CO2 emissions. Gases diffused from the soil surface into the lower atmosphere is known as positive flux, and gases absorbed into the soil is known as negative flux, the balance between the two will determine whether soils are a net source, or a net sink of GHG.

Soil Flux chambers

To calculate this, we need to collect accurate data on soil respiration rates, which can be done by using soil flux chambers. There are several different manufacturers of soil flux chambers, but they can be separated into two main categories.

  1. Closed chambers where the gases accumulate in the headspace and are sampled by syringe and stored for laboratory processing and analysis.
    • PP Systems CPY-5 Canopy Assimilation Chamber (#1)
  2. Automated chambers which can provide a timely method of sampling, as when coupled with a multiplexer and an analyser, up to 12 chambers can be linked in series and be deployed over a long period to sample and analyse in the field (subject to a reliable power supply)
    • Eosense eosAC Automated Chamber (#2)
    • Eosense Multiplexer (#3)
    • Picarro G2508 for analysis of CO2, CH4, N2O, NH3, H2O (#4)
    • Picarro G2201-i for analysis of CO2, CH4 and their C13 isotopes (#5)

 

Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

 

All of the above equipment is designed to be used in the laboratory or the field (subject to a satisfactory and reliable electricity supply). The Picarro G2201-i (#5) is particularly useful for academic research applications, as it is more robust and user friendly than typical mass spectrometry methods (McCloskey et al 2020).

Strawberry gas flux measurement research

The time saving that can be achieved by automated chamber equipment deployed in a field experiment is demonstrated by Pamona College, California when monitoring soil flux in a commercial strawberry crop. The time in the field and the interpretation was the same using both systems, but the processing of the data represented a huge time saving for the trial, reducing the days from 68 down to 1.

Monitoring soil flux in Pamona College in California | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Soil commercial and research enquiries

For further information on this equipment and the possibilities of incorporating into commercial or research studies with the Soil Flux 360 solution, please contact Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager Crops at Duncan.ross@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

Ten tips for grant funding bid writing to grow your business

For start-ups, scale-ups and indeed any technology-based company, applications for grant funding are a key part of raising funds for the vital research and development which drives business growth. This is a highly competitive and resource-intense process with no guarantee of success. Here we share some tips for increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome from grant funding applications.

It was drilled into us all at school: read the question. It sounds simple, but it is all too easy to get carried away with enthusiasm and passion for a particular technology or project idea and fail to objectively assess how well the concept addresses the funder’s requirements. Does it fully address the scope and objectives of the competition?

1. Collaborate in the application, as well as in the project

Ensure each partner contributes their ideas, technological insight and market knowledge to the application document. This will ultimately build a stronger project plan and business case and make a more compelling application overall. Nominate one person to lead pulling together all the inputs, but ensure everyone contributes.

2. Build the project from the ground up

Understand how the tasks and work packages will flow and fit together into a coherent plan. Ensure your plan is credible and achievable in the timeframe. Do you have the skills, resources, facilities and time across the team to complete the work?

3. Understand the project finances, early

This shouldn’t be left until the last minute. Each partner in your consortium should agree their contribution and grant requirement. Be sure to familiarise with funding eligibility based on the types and sizes of organisations in your consortium, and any requirements for the mix of partners.

4. Be clear where the innovation is in your project

Ensure you are not duplicating work already done by others. Consider the research category and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your work. Is it at the feasibility, industrial research, or experimental development stage? It affects the funding you are eligible for: take independent advice on this if necessary – contact the Knowledge Transfer Network who can offer guidance.

5. Challenge the business case

Thoroughly research the market, using publicly available information, your own business intelligence and experience, consult with experts. Be realistic when you model market uptake, your market entry strategy and revenue forecast. Try to be granular and specific in defining your potential customer base – which market segments are more likely to adopt your technology, are there export opportunities, are there any barriers to adoption which must be overcome – if so, how will you address this? How will your solution deliver value to your customers? Provide quantification and justification of your assumptions wherever possible.

6. Consider the project risks

Quantify them using a rating of likelihood and impact. If a project has very low risk, it is unlikely to attract grant funding, since the justification of a grant is in part to enable risky projects to go ahead in order to realise the benefits of high-risk innovation. Risk should be managed, with credible mitigation strategies in place.

7. Consider other risks

Consider the managerial, commercial, regulatory, ethical and environmental risks in addition to those associated directly with the technology. Consider the new level of risk post-mitigation.

8. Justify the use of public money

Consider what you would do if you weren’t awarded the funding.  How else would you use your investment in the project? How does the project deliver value for money – both for you, and the economy and taxpayer more widely?

9. Check your application

Get someone to proofread your application and have it reviewed independently, such as by the Knowledge Transfer Network. You will receive some challenging feedback; take this on board and address it – better to receive this before submission, than via the assessors’ feedback on an unsuccessful bid.

10. Allow yourself plenty of time

Good bids cannot be written quickly. You need to plan for the inputs you need from your partners to arrive in a timely fashion, allow time for review and response to feedback, and to work out any unforeseen issues within your proposal or consortium.

Bid writing support

At Agri-EPI, we can service our collaborators with bid writing support – please contact us to discuss your project ideas at rebecca.lewis@agri-epicentre.com or check out our service support web page.

Myth busting difference in research trials with UK Farm Network

Connecting tech innovators with agriculture

Agri-EPI’s team of experts helps start-ups and tech innovators with a proper research trials setup by brokering relationships with relevant parties, with a representative sample, in a commercially relevant setting.

You’ve spent months, years, and maybe even decades, taking an extraordinary idea from a concept to a prototype. Whether your innovation is a sensor, a feed additive, a diagnostic, a biological solution, a change in animal management or anything else, your end-users are going to want to know that they’re buying into a tried and tested product, service, or model.

Most tech developers will be familiar with the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale – developed by NASA during the 1970’s, the scale allows innovators to track the maturity of technology. The scale stretches from 1-9 with 9 being the most mature, and requires the prototype to be validated and demonstrated in a relevant and operational environment during levels 5-7. During TRL 9, the final product should be demonstrated to have operated successfully in the environment for its intended use.

What is the challenge?

For a technology company with no former experience in the agriculture sector, finding access to the suitable farm environment on which to undertake research, trials and demonstrations can often prove impossible. First and foremost, farms are places of business via which livelihoods are made – understandably, farmers can be less than forthcoming with their desire to get involved with anything that could adversely affect their bottom line. Furthermore, farms can be dangerous settings with heightened biosecurity measures to boot. Operating technology in such a setting should be the job of an expert.

Knowing which farm type to work with for trials, validations and demonstration purposes will be key to achieving the desired outcome. You’ll want to ensure a representative sample has been used, in a commercially relevant setting. Agri-EPI’s team of experts can help guide you to achieving just this, brokering relationships with the relevant parties along the way.

Validating and demonstrating agricultural technologies

We’ve broken this section down into three helpful sections to help you understand and decide the best path forward for your innovation at its current stage of maturity:

  • Anecdotal Trials: for innovations at TRL 4/5
    This stage isn’t crucial but can give innovators extra piece of mind that their technology is making some kind of positive difference at a farm-level before they invest in further work. Gathering anecdotal evidence will likely involve asking personal connections to engage with your innovation and report back any noticeable changes to production.
  • Commercial Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-7
    This stage is vital for those required to understand more precisely the impact of their innovation on production. During commercial farm trials, data for a particular set of parameters will be collected and should be analysed to determine any changes. On most commercial farm settings, projects are at risk of disruption from everyday occurrences such as a change in animal feed or labour providers.
  • Research Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-9
    Undertaking trials, validations and demonstrations via research units ensures a level of control beyond that which can be achieved on a commercial farm setting. For example, animals will be carefully grouped into representative samples and groups maintained under identical environmental settings. Research level projects are the only way to produce robust results with which to scientifically validate technology.

Conducting research farm trials with the Agri-EPI Farm Network

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo StackedAgri-EPI have a unique network of 24 ‘Satellite Farms’ operating in all the major plant and livestock areas – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. In addition, Agri-EPI operate a network of commercial, semi-commercial and research farms which, in partnership with industry and academia, offer controlled settings for scientifically robust research to take place. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Farm Network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

Working with Agri-EPI to facilitate trials, validations and demonstrations guarantees independent project oversight, the timely provision of high-quality data, reliability, and connects you with a vast network of forward-thinking, leading farmers and other important players in the agri-food supply chain. Agri-EPI can provide testimonials from previous projects.

More information

Supporting the agri-tech sector, emerging novel technology and methodologies, through our network of farms and broad multi-sector membership, we support and help deliver great results in engineering precision innovation.

Learn about our industry impact around the globe, or for more information about our UK satellite farm network, please contact Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

An Introduction to the new Agricultural Transition Plan

As a member of the British Agri-Tech community, Kasi McReddie has literally been on the edge of her seat waiting for DEFRA’s announcement which sets out Government’s plans for the transition from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The announcement, of which details can be found at The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, lays out plans for adaptation in the English farming community over the next seven years. Kasi is Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock and Aquaculture and has formulated what this means for farmers and the agri-tech community and what opportunities there are for agri-tech companies going forward.

Farmers in England will see a phased-out reduction in Direct Payments over 4-years starting in 2021, with money saved in reduced BPS payments being used to fund grant and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.

What does the announcement mean for the agri-tech community?

One of the main barriers to the uptake of technology on farm is cost. In my experience, farmers are very good business people and, quite rightly, are rarely convinced to purchase a novel or innovative piece of equipment. The Agricultural Transition Plan gives us more details of some schemes which aim to financially incentivise farmers to look towards technology to improve the sustainability of their production.

Looking forward, the Environmental Land Management (ELMs) will include the Sustainable Farming Incentive (beginning 2022), which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

Future plans will also include the Farming Investment scheme, which is aimed at improving productivity in agriculture, addressing the underlying causes by supporting businesses to invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure.

This will include:

  • Farming Equipment Technology Fund – small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items
  • Farming Transformation Fund – larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure

The Farming Investment Fund for Equipment and Technology and Transformation will be open for applications in autumn 2021. From 2022, farmers will also benefit from an increased investment in agricultural Research & Development that will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to drive innovation.

What does the announcement mean for farmers?

Under the new plan, farmers will be encouraged and incentivised to embrace changes to production techniques and practices which will reduce any negative environmental impacts. Significant emphasis is being put on innovation over the several years ahead. Farmers will be incentivised to explore how technology can be used to improve productivity whilst simultaneously delivering for the environment.

Agri-EPI have a unique network of 27 ‘Satellite Farms’ – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Satellite Farm network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

How can Agri-EPI support tech companies?

The report states that, by 2028, all farmers should be “managing their whole business in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, fusing the best modern technology available today with the rediscovery of the traditional art of good farm husbandry”.

As an example, technology to improve animal health will be eligible under the new Farming Investment Fund. Agri-EPI are working with a number of innovators to enable the development of solutions for monitoring the health of calves, adult cows and pigs using motion sensors, 3D imagery, augmented reality and more. Such solutions allow ‘early detection’ of health issues before a farmer could with the naked eye, thereby enabling early intervention leading to improved animal welfare, improved productivity, and efficiency. and cost savings on-farm.

Agri-EPI combines technical expertise, technology, and on-farm ‘test beds’ to provide a unique offering to support tech developers and farmers alike to co-develop solutions to some of farming’s most prominent challenges. The Government have now clearly laid out plans which will underpin our mission, by providing grants to farmers to purchase innovative solutions.

Agri-EPI also provide business support, project management and access to world-class research and innovation facilities and research assets, and builds links between research, agri-tech innovation, industry and the value chain, through its membership of >150 companies across agriculture, technology and the value chain.

The announcement should be welcomed by the farming and agri-tech community alike, with shifting policy clearly focussed on incentivising the use of innovation on-farm.

The industry faces unprecedented challenges, the likes of which some will only experience once in a lifetime. During the coming period of change, Agri-EPI will continue to support innovation in agriculture.

More information

If you want to learn more about how we you can get involved in R&D, learn more about our Satellite Farm network, or simply contact us to find out more about how we can support your own business.