Dairy - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Dairy

Supporting the many dairy herds around the UK, Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture. Seeking to improve yield, efficiency and the welfare and wellbeing of our milking herds; collaborating and promoting novel technology and husbandry in partnership with farmers, scientists and retailers.

Young company making an asset from farm waste

A young company is working on a new way for farmers to make money from farm waste.Somerset-based BioFactory are developing a modular anaerobic digester which can be scaled to any size of dairy farm. The company has been working with precision engineering and innovation experts Agri-EPI Centre, to develop and refine their system with a view to bringing it to the market.Whereas anaerobic digesters – which ferment organic matter to produce biogas for heat and power generation – are well established in the industry, systems are often too costly and high-maintenance for most family farms.Agri-EPI Centre have helped BioFactory access funding, provided technical assistance, and introduced them to potential funders and advice to help them scale their product and sell it to dairy producers.Having won funding from Innovate UK and Defra for a 12-month feasibility study via the Farming Innovation Programme, BioFactory are now raising working capital to commercialise the company fully, while Agri-EPI Centre continue to provide analysis and consultancy.Charlie Bowyer, business development manager for livestock and aquaculture at Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Slurry is nutrient-rich, and returning it to the soil is a vital part of circular agriculture. Anaerobic digestion is a great way to add value to it whilst retaining nutrients, reducing GHG emissions and becoming more energy-independent.

“Digestate has long been recognised as a high-quality fertiliser, and the heat and power created from biogas can create a meaningful income for farmers or reduce their energy bills. Commercial AD systems are simply out of reach for most dairy farms due to capital and operational costs, as well as barriers such as planning permission and a changed subsidy landscape since the “AD-boom” of the early 2010s.“Working with young companies like BioFactory is Agri-EPI Centre’s bread and butter; helping them develop a good idea into a successful business and providing solutions to farmers at the same time.”

Jon Blake, chief commercial officer at BioFactory, said:

“If you’re a dairy farmer, you will always have slurry, but we can help turn it into an asset rather than a by-product. There is nothing to say that we can’t resolve farming’s impact on the environment as well. Our ethos is to build something simple and reliable for the dairy farmer. Our units are 40’-long shipping containers and easily scaled; if you want to increase your herd, you can simply add another reactor.

“We were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our young company had been waylaid by Covid-19 when we came across a pot of funding for developing technology to help with net zero targets. Agri EPI-Centre helped us get hold of our grant and develop our product in real-life farming conditions.

“Even though the initial 12-month project has concluded, we are so pleased to continue our relationship with Charlie and his colleagues on laboratory analysis of the biodigestate, and with others at Agri-EPI Centre who are helping us with leveraging further funding and sales contracts.”

Agri-EPI’s Farm Tech Circle

Last summer Agri-EPI Centre launched the Farm Tech Circle, a new platform for farmers, growers and producers to discover and connect on topics that focus on enhancing the profitability and sustainability of agriculture.​ 
To learn more and to share this new network with members of the farming community who you think would like to be kept up to date with the latest news in agri-tech, please see below:

Farm Tech Circle

 

FTC Newsletter 1

FTC Newsletter 2

FTC Newsletter 3

Agri-EPI network explores data needs for farmers online

Agri-EPI Centre hosted a member community online special interest group titled What has data ever done for you, that brought farmers and tech developers from across the agri-tech sector together online to discuss data needs, successes and challengers for farmers.

The event was chaired by Eliot Dixon, Head of Agri-Tech (Engineering) at Agri-EPI Centre, and discussions were led by David Smurthwaite, Head of Dairy at Mackie’s of Scotland, and Jose Chitty, COO of Smartbell.

Jose Chitty began the conversation with an overview of his Smartbell project, an animal health monitoring and management system that provides unique data insights, focused on detecting health issues in calves. Smartbell makes it easy to gather data and present insights directly on a phone, and allows for farmers to spot problems faster and more easily, and create benchmarks for tracking changes and improvements on farm. This kind of data gathering can help to improve profitability, improve animal health, justify spending, and help to access funding.

David Smurthwaite, one of Agri-EPI’s innovation farmers, then took over the discussion to comment on the farmer perspective for using data and tech on farm. He uses Smartbell on his farm, and though he was cynical and had a hard time believing in the data at first, the app has improved and the system is working well for his team. For David, data needs to be user friendly, as implementing changes and getting an older team on board to use tech can be a challenge. He would like for the information to be more accessible but has very much started to rely on tech to aid him and his team in improving the welfare of their animals.

Discussion followed, where a number of questions were posed to the audience, and an array of thought-provoking answers were shared:

 

Q: What is the ultimate destination for this technology in the future?

A: Data transfer across the industry for benefit and joined up decision making, data that drives actions to help business, and a hand holder for farmers improving sustainability and profitability.

 

Q: What data sources are already vital for farmers?

A: Data associated with productivity, data that mitigates known risks, data that enables yield to be optimised, and data that provides efficiency on farm.

 

Q: What are specific challenges on farm that could be solved with data and information now?

A: Yield forecasting, connecting environment with individual animal performance, prediction rather than just alerting, investment, storing data, and statistical analysis for data.

 

Q: What is stopping farmers from getting the most information out of the data they have?

A: The data isn’t always the farmers but rather the equipment manufacturers, the data is too complex, farmers may lack certain skills or digital knowledge needed to understand the data adequately, farmers may not have enough time or have inoperable systems on their farm, and a lack on interoperability.

 

Q: What are disadvantages of using information and data?

A: Becoming over-reliant on certain companies and pieces of tech, the lack of accuracy of some data, or getting landed with the wrong application. Trust in the system needs to be ensured.

 

Q:Who should own the rights to the data from farms?

A: Farmers should own the data and be able to have a say on what is done with it, but secondary information could be owned by third party. Both parties should understand contractual laws and come to their own agreements, since data sharing is extremely important for the agriculture sector.

 

Agri-EPI will host their next member community special interest group in person at Cranfield University on 17th January, entitled Accelerating robotic systems for agriculture. Find out more here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/special-interest-group-accelerating-robotic-systems-for-agriculture-tickets-464983296557

Dairy welfare and World Milk Day

This world milk day we are highlighting the importance of collaboration and working together to support the development of sustainable and efficient dairy technologies that prioritise animal health and wellbeing.

Agri-EPI Centre recently hosted a dairy research collaboration event with our sister centre, CIEL and member, Westpoint Farm Vets, at our state of the art South West Dairy Development Centre. The event brought together delegates from 13 companies and academic institutions involved in dairy welfare, including Agri-EPI Centre, CIEL, Westpoint Farm Vets, Farm Vets South West, Kingshay, Bristol Vet School, Vet Partners, Innovate UK, Duchy College, Aberystwyth University, Queen’s University Belfast, Steanbow Farms, and University of Nottingham.

Discussions involved the importance for the farming industry to prioritise high welfare, achieved by being compassionate to the mental and physical condition of animals. Dr. Reynolds, a professor of large animal production at California’s Western University, stressed the importance of collaboration across research and industry to address welfare issues, a message which resonated with the participating researchers, vets and farmers.

Matt Dobbs, Managing Director of Westpoint Veterinary Group and close partner of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“I was pleased with Agri-EPI hosting leading dairy researchers from across the UK at the new state of the art Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. With a keynote speaker passionate about animal welfare and the backdrop of the new welfare focused Dairy Centre to stimulate discussion, we were delighted that the group committed to continue collaborating to further enhance the UK’s leading reputation for farm animal welfare. Key to the future will be the application of technology and the group agreed to focus on early detection of farm health and welfare issues.”

Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre is a state of the art dairy facility that demonstrates profitable and resource efficient milk production, uses the latest technology available to optimise animal welfare and sustainable milk production, integrates robotic milking with precision grazing, and provides state-of-the-art facilities for research, development and demonstration.

Farm visit to Godminster Farm

Data project paves way for improved cow management and breeding

A new project combining the know-how of agri-tech experts at Agri-EPI Centre and genetics scientists at The Roslin Institute hopes to pave the way for more precise dairy cow management and breeding.

The DairyMine Project is seeking to integrate on-farm cow performance data with genomic data, by assembling a pilot dataset from project farms. The project partners will ‘mine’ the dataset (the process of finding patterns, correlations and anomalies within large data sets to predict outcomes) to develop a data-driven cow management and breeding platform for use by farmers. They will also project the impact of scaling the DairyMine to more farms.

This accessible means of viewing the whole range of information about each of their animals in one place could help farmers with day-to-day cow management, such as picking up illness at the earliest possible stage, as well offering medium to long-term impact on animal performance by supporting more accurate breeding predictions.

The project outcomes will also support training of a new generation of farm data scientists at the Easter Bush Campus in Edinburgh. In March 2021, it was announced that the Easter Bush Agritech Hub would receive £27 million from the UK Government, £1.3 million from the Scottish Government, and £31.3 million from the University of Edinburgh, as partners of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

Agri-EPI Centre’s Head of Dairy, Duncan Forbes, said: “Information about the health, fertility and performance of the herd at our South West Dairy Development Centre is recorded in a variety of ways, including through multi-sensor embedded milking robots and animal wearables. Combining this wealth of data with each animal’s genomic information, which will be obtained by the team at The Roslin Institute, will allow us to consider the whole picture when it comes to making both short and longer-term management and breeding decisions.”

Gregor Gorjanc, Chancellor’s Fellow in Data-Driven Innovation for Agri-tech at The Roslin Institute explained: “While cow performance and genomic data is already available to farmers, its volume, and the lack of a single means of analysing, integrating and viewing it presents a barrier to farmers. We hope to prove that this can be achieved, bringing benefits to the dairy sector and to future researchers here in Edinburgh.”

This project is supported by the Scottish Funding Council’s Covid-19 Recovery Scheme via The University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation initiative.