Crops and Soil - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Crops and Soil

Focussing on the need to improve, sustain and protect our land, Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across crops and soil. Supporting growers, retails, researchers, scientists and agronomists. Discover innovation and new technology that is leading the way to improvements in crops and soil in the UK and around the world.

Omega Crop to demonstrate “world first” weed and disease detection tech at Innovation Week

New technology for accurately identifying wheat-damaging weeds and diseases at their point of emergence in a crop has been developed in the UK, in what is believed to be a world first.

The innovative ‘early warning’ system was invented by British agri-tech company Omega Crop (formerly Dark Horse Technologies) with the support of Agri-EPI Centre and Cranfield University. Innovate UK funding was provided under a programme to boost post-Covid food resilience.

Omega Crop’s new technology to be featured during Agri-EPI’s Innovation Week

It uses 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.

Jared Bainbridge, Founder and Chief Executive of Omega Crop will lifting the lid on the new technology at a webinar on Tuesday 25 May  as part of Agri-EPI’s Innovation Week.

Jared said: “At present, other remote sensing platforms can only monitor the performance of a crop and then they correlate this performance to a “best guess” at what the problem is. They might tell you, you have a disease or weed problem, but they are unable to tell you what diseases, or what weeds.

Maximising yields, lower costs

“Omega Crop’s technology differs from our competitors through our proprietary crop model which we use to best inform you of crop performance, quality, and crop-loss events. It takes the guess-work out of the process by using multiple sources of data from satellites, drone, mobiles phones, hyper-local weather, as well as any other available sources (e.g. soil sampling, any in-field data collected from farmers or agronomists) to accurately diagnose and map the crop-loss events in a field provided as a digital report via our platform to the farmer and agronomist. Omega Crop is also able to integrate with existing farm machinery to target solutions on a plant-by-plant basis. The two key benefits are that farmers can maximise yields through early interventions and lower the cost of production through more precise application of treatments.”

Omega Crop’s system was recently trialled over a three-month period at Agri-EPI’s Crop Technology Southern Innovation Hub based at Cranfield University, supported by Cranfield’s crop science experts.

Dr Toby Waine, Senior Lecturer in applied remote sensing at Cranfield University said: “This project shows how innovative sensing and analytics can better inform business and environmental decisions. Detecting crop disease and weeds earlier in the season will help to reduce the use of plant protection products, helping to maximise efficiency of production and minimise environmental impact. It’s fantastic to be working with SMEs like Omega Crop who are helping bring forward the innovative technologies we need to improve food supply, reduce waste and protect the environment.”

After proving the success of the system, the trials have now moved on to real farms in UK, Europe and the United States.  The system can so far detect Black Grass, Septoria and Fusarium Head Blight. Omega Crop is rapidly building up a library of additional weeds and diseases on multiple crops to increase the scope of their product.

Duncan Ross, Agri-EPI Business Development Manager for Crops said: “Agri-EPI seeks to bring together those with the expertise to develop and deliver new technologies that support productive, sustainable and profitable food production, the need for which has become even more strongly recognised following Covid lockdown supply issues. This project is a prime example of what can be achieved by connecting industry, science and farmers on the ground and we are excited to see how Omega Crop’s system is rolled out commercially to farmers in the near future.”

UK agri-tech expertise boosts essential grain production in Kenya

A collaborative project involving UK agri-tech businesses is transforming finger millet production in Western Kenya, providing agronomic support and precision farming technology to 2,000 farmers. The 18-month project, funded by Innovate UK’s Agri-tech Catalyst Programme, is designed to improve the productivity and profitability of finger millet farming in the Busia and Siaya regions, boosting supply of finger millet grain to meet overwhelming demand.

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.

Radical Bubble Technology for Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability

Exciting possibilities for more profitable, sustainable and productive farming are being offered by the emerging technology ‘ultra-fine bubbles’ (UFBs). The technology is being explored in a £250,000 Innovate UK-funded project, led by MagGrow UK in association with Agri-EPI Centre and the Centre for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).

UFB Technology

UFBs, also known as nanobubbles, are tiny, very stable and long-lasting bubbles, 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair, or about the size of a virus. Unseen by the naked eye, even when present in large numbers in water-based liquids, they do not rise to the surface and burst, but remain stable and buoyant for long periods of time, typically days and weeks.

The bubbles can carry gases, and substances of different kinds on their surfaces. Their stability and longevity offer great potential in agriculture for environmentally friendly spraying and irrigation, along with other applications that help address food security and environmental problems.

The use of UFBs containing ozone is already established in medical and industrial disinfection processes to kill bacteria and destroy viruses. UFBs are also used in oil, gas, and mineral extraction processes; pharmaceutical processes; food-flavouring; the production of cosmetic fragrancies; and in wastewater treatment.

While the technology is already generating huge market value in these sectors, its use in agriculture is still in its infancy. The purpose of the new project is to explore the potential for agricultural applications and integration with other technologies to provide innovative, environmentally friendly solutions for sustainable food security.

Project partners

 
Agri-EPI
CHAP
MagGrow

The project will initially focus on irrigation for delivery of the UFBs. Using Agri-EPI and CHAP’s shared soil and crop technology facilities alongside soil science expertise at Cranfield University, the project will compare the growth of plants treated with oxygen-containing UFB-water, with that of plants given untreated water. The aim of the study is to determine the effect on root development, nutrient absorption, growth and overall crop yield.

Farming application

The project team believes UFBs potentially have a host of additional applications in farming, including supporting a reduction the quantity of chemical inputs required when spraying and irrigating crops to control pests and diseases.

Dr Anthony Furness, MagGrow’s Chief Scientific Officer, said:

“From time-to-time a technology comes along that offers potential for revolutionary change and disruptive economic benefit, such as CDs and smart-phones. We believe that UFB technology has similar transformative potential for agriculture. The versatility of UFB technology, and recent advances in UFB research which have further validated its significance, suggesting too that there is huge potential for their use in advancing spraying and irrigation processes.

“Not only will this help serve to address global food security challenges and the question of how farming can be more sustainable, productive and profitable, it also offers huge potential for new enterprises and job creation across the UK.”

CHAP Innovation Hub Lead, Richard Glass, said:

“Using the unique Phenotyping and Soil Health facility, CHAP, supported by key soil experts from its partner Cranfield University, will assess and explore the application of this innovative technology and its potential role in transforming UK crop production.”

Agri-EPI’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr Shamal Mohammed, said:

“We’re excited to be contributing our expertise and capabilities in plant phenotyping – the ability to measure the structure and function of plants – to this project. UFBs offer great potential within agriculture and our research will allow us to greatly progress knowledge and understanding of useful UFBs treatments.”

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

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.