Engineering and Manufacturing - Agri-EPI Centre - Precision Innovation

Engineering and Manufacturing

Collaborating with engineers and manufacturers, Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in agriculture across soil, crops and livestock.Our broad membership includes representatives from engineering and manufacturing in support of UK farming, innovation and technology. We also partner with universities and colleges the length and breadth of the British Isles.

Beta Bugs takes flight with Agri-EPI Centre support

  • Agri-EPI Centre supported growth for a sustainable and carbon neutral agri-tech business
  • Membership offered high level networking and exposure for Beta Bugs
  • Friendly and supportive environment for innovation

A specialist UK agri-food supply chain business which is improving insect genetics to tackle one of the world’s biggest challenges has expanded thanks to support from the Agri-EPI Centre.

Beta Bugs has developed a pioneering insect breeding facility at the centre’s Scottish site which is also home to the company’s growing team.

CEO and Founder Thomas Farrugia said the insect farming industry is helping to combat three major areas contributing to the climate emergency: food waste, deforestation, and carbon emissions.

And he says being part of the Agri-EPI Centre has delivered collaboration, funding and access to new market opportunities – as well as space to grow its operations specialising in the genetics of insects destined for feed at the Centre’s Northern Agri-Tech Innovation Hub in Scotland.

The Agri-EPI Centre, part of the UK’s Agri-Tech Strategy and supported by Innovate UK, is a membership organisation which aims to support projects which will generate economic growth and help tackle the global issues of sustainability and feeding the world.

Beta Bugs focus on breeding an improved Black Soldier Fly is part of that mission to generate a sustainable alternative protein source that can be used in aquaculture, pork, and poultry feed.

The growing company is a member of the Agri-EPI Centre, based at the Easter Bush Campus site near Roslin, which offers a host of benefits to members, from employment and lab space to support with funding bids.

Thomas said:

“Agri-EPI provided us with a great office and space for us to be able to grow, both the team and also the space for the bugs. It’s helpful to be on site with other agri-tech businesses because it’s good to be able to build up connections, share peer-to-peer learning and there are collaboration opportunities between us.”

Thomas said being a member of the Agri-EPI had been a huge factor in the growth of the company.

He said:

“It’s great to be able to work with a team that’s so motivated to enable agriculture to innovate further and develop, and to be able to leverage that.

“What I really like about Agri-EPI is the physical space, being able to build connections into the agri-food supply chain. The ability to build relationships with key stakeholders such as Innovate UK and DEFRA has been really important too and one which we accessed via the platforms that Agri-EPI Centre gave us.

“We’ve had assistance with leveraging grant funding and managing building projects, as well as engineering support. Importantly, they’ve helped us expand and helped the company to grow and create jobs.”

Annabelle Gardener, Membership and Events Manager at the Agri-EPI Centre, added:

“Beta Bugs is a great example of a company which has really benefitted from our dedicated support and assistance. The business is growing, creating jobs and developing new products and services to supply other companies in our sector – it is a real supply chain success story.

“By working together, we have shown we can support agri-tech companies to scale and Beta Bugs is just one of 142 different projects we’ve helped since our launch, supporting collaborations providing access to R&D funding of £36 million into the sector.”

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

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

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

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

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

Agri-Tech Hackathon aims to kick-start safety innovations for autonomous agricultural vehicles

Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with Hands Free Farm, is running a Hackathon event challenging technological innovators to “hack” a solution to the increasing challenges and complexities of the safety of autonomous agricultural vehicles.

With new and emerging technologies driving innovations in various sectors worldwide, agriculture in particular stands to benefit from technology that can alleviate issues such as labour shortages whilst also improving the productivity and efficiency of farming.

Driving forward hands-free farming 

Autonomous vehicles offer arable farmers a wide range of benefits: foremost is to enable the better utilisation of farm staff, increase the precision of farming to improve efficacy and possibly reducing the required scale of fam machinery, all of which will combine to improve farm economics. The technologies used may also make the sector a more attractive career proposition for future generations particularly in STEM.

However, to ensure the implementation of agri-tech can keep pace with the rate of innovation, the safety, security and reliability of new technologies must be guaranteed.

The lack of formal safety regulations, codes of practice and other legislation pose a potential barrier to the widespread use of cutting-edge agri-tech, hindering the progress of the entire agri-food sector.

The Hands-Free farm is partnered with Precision Decisions, part of the Map of Ag group, to support the route mapping element of the machine operations on the farm. Clive Blacker, Head of Arable Produce at Map of Ag explains: “Safety is paramount to any solution and cannot be taken for granted.”

“The diverse nature of agriculture and robotics operating in off road and on road environments poses many challenges, not just dealing with the structure of the rules of the road but the unconventional unstructured field work and environment causes many unpredictable challenges to the saftey of robotics.  The aim of our challenge is to bring great ideas from any background to agriculture that could support robotic saftey in agriculture with the opportunity to test the ideas in a real robotic farm.”

How safety & security concerns hinder agritech adoption

 Despite the sophisticated technologies now available, an NFU Mutual survey found that as many as 80% of farmers haven’t even considered utilising unmanned vehicles and autonomous tractors.

Amongst other factors, from personal preference to initial investment, an increasingly pressing issue for the agriculture industry is farm safety. For autonomous agricultural vehicles to become universally used on-farm, there are numerous safety and security concerns to be addressed.

Safety concerns around autonomous vehicles – and the core focus of this year’s Agri-EPI Centre Hackathon – span a range of technological hazards such as collision avoidance, human supervision and detecting both humans and animals traversing operational fields.

High-tech, high-value equipment and machinery must also be secure against the threat of theft and tampering, while the GPS systems and other software is at risk of cyber attack and data breaches.

“It’s about making autonomous machines a really safe, secure system that farmers feel comfortable with, the public can feel comfortable with and the legislators and insurers can feel comfortable with,” explains Kit Franklin of Hands Free Farm.

The Agri-Tech Hackathon 2021

 The Hands Free Farm and Agri-EPI Centre’s 2021 Hackathon is a combined effort to tackle safety and security concerns around autonomous agricultural vehicles.

The Hackathon invites developers from a range of disciplines, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, drones, computer vision and more to “hack” a safety solution for unmanned machinery.

The Hackathon aims to kick-start innovation in autonomous vehicle safety, encouraging small teams to come up with high-tech solutions that can make our farms safer and support the widespread implementation of agritech, safely.

The winning Hackathon teams will be offered a unique opportunity to implement their technology on the Hands Free Farm, connecting them with expertise and experience to further develop their solution and ultimately take it to market by drawing on the experience of the Hands Free team.

From idea to reality

This activity will be further supported by the winner’s ability to utilise the testing, research and development facilities at Agri-EPI Centre’s many Agri-Tech Hubs situated across the UK, and also a dedicated investment session with intellectual property law firm GJE, enabling new tech developers to protect their designs, branding and other assets.

 Of his own route to co-founding the Hands Free Farm, Franklin said: “I wanted to be an engineer who solved farmers’ problems. I can’t change farming by developing a new crop, because I’m not a biologist. But I can change farming by developing the machinery.”

“Getting to work with the winning concept for a further 12 months is really exciting – thinking about what we might get out of that, and also what we might be able to disseminate from that experience to the wider world, sparking new ideas and conversations.”

To find out more about the Hackathon, register your team and enter, visit: https://agri-epicentre.com/hackathon-2021/

On-farm technical support: introducing Emily Laskin

An interview with Emily Laskin, one of the Agri-EPI Satellite Farm team members who is focused on the technical delivery of on-farm projects. As Projects Assistant, Emily plays a vital role coordinating projects on-farm which includes proposing ideas for trials to farmers, handling day-to-day project activity on farm, sourcing data for projects, assisting with bid writing, and more. Another part of her role is focused on ‘horizon scanning’, which means that part of each day is dedicated to learning about new and upcoming Ag Tech in the industry. Emily Laskin is also the Project Manager on the Paraguay Smart Farm project.

Emily LaskinWhat does a typical day at Agri-EPI Centre look like?

“A typical day is a combination of meetings, calls, email writing, research, and other unique project organisational tasks. Pre-COVID, my team frequently travelled to networking events, on-farm meetings, and conferences as well.”

What has been the best part of your job so far?

“The best part of my job has been getting to know the farmers and getting to see all of the different forms of production across the UK. I love getting out on farm and seeing how each operation is unique.”

Can you tell me about any international work you have done with Agri-EPI Centre?

“I am the Project Manager for the Paraguay Smart Farm project and was lucky to have to opportunity to visit Paraguay in February of this year. The project is currently focused on trialling AgSpace’s Contour platform in the South American climate. The trip illuminated the unique struggles South American farmers face and how different their production methods are from those used in the UK. We were able to network with other Paraguayan companies during the trip and are hoping to do more work there in the future.”

Which research topics are you interested in or currently active in?

“I am currently taking a course on Regenerative Agriculture. I am very interested in how traditional farming practices can be used alongside agri-tech in order to cultivate the land in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way (while increasing profitability!). I’m also very interested in the carbon trading market, animal welfare and sustainable livestock rearing practices, and robotics.”

What do you think the next exciting on-farm technology will be that will make a difference?

“I think one of the areas of research with the most potential to make an impact is soil carbon and the carbon market. If we can figure out how to accurately measure carbon sequestration in the soil we will be able to identify ways of maximising carbon sequestration and thus make a positive impact on climate change. The carbon market will be a great way of incentivising farmers to utilise more sustainable practices.

I think agri-tech has the potential to impact carbon management, animal welfare, and improving yields on farm while decreasing inputs. Technology like satellite imagery and a wide variety of sensors can be used to make more profitable and sustainable decisions on farm.”

Are you doing anything outside of your role?

“It might be interesting which could be interesting that I am taking a course on Regenerative Agriculture by The Savory Institute!”

Which Agri-EPI capability is one to keep an eye out?

“I was involved in the procurement process for a WingtraONE UAV that is currently deployed at Elveden Estate (one of our Satellite Farmers). The drone is used for mapping the fields throughout the growing season. This type of aerial imagery can serve many purposes including providing the framework for variable seed-rate and fertiliser application. I think this type of technology has a lot of untapped potential and I’m excited to see how its applications evolve over time.”

 


Meet the team

With national and international expertise and reach, our team are drawn from throughout the UK with hands-on farming, agri-tech and academic specialisms. Learn more about working at Agri-EPI or meet other members of the Agri-EPI Team.

TAFE first business to take up residence in workshop space Newport

Harper Adams University (HAU) has entered a new international collaboration with India-based Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) to develop advanced technological, agronomic and educational solutions for the delivery of sustainable food production around the world.

TAFE, the world’s third largest tractor manufacturing company in terms of volume, has become the first business to take up residence in the Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, on the university campus, to commence a major, collaborative research and development project.

Agri-EPI Centre is one of the four national Centres for Agricultural Innovation created as part of the £17.7m UK government investment from the UK’s Strategy for Agricultural Technologies to help provide engineering and precision agriculture solutions for the agri-food industry.

The collaboration between TAFE, Harper Adams University and Agri-EPI Centre will include joint research projects and programmes, joint publications and staff exchanges.

Research will be focused on agriculture, engineering and technology development programmes on autonomous farming and energy efficient implements, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and sensor technologies along with the Hands Free Hectare (HFH) project that will be implemented at JFarm India; TAFE’s adaptive agriculture research centre.

Partnership logo TAFE at Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

TAFE President & COO, Mr T R Kesavan said:

“TAFE’s collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre and Harper Adams is a reaffirmation of TAFE’s commitment to its vision of ‘Cultivating the World’ as it aims to combine integrated farming techniques with precision agriculture and engineering to develop sustainable farming models that work for both marginal and large farms. This collaboration will provide opportunities for developing a range of advanced training skills, learning and the promotion of international technology transfer and exchange.”

On the team’s arrival, Harper Adams Agricultural Engineering Lecturer Kit Franklin said: “We at Harper Adams have been building contacts with TAFE for the last 18 months. “It’s great to now have this young and enthusiastic team of engineers from TAFE’s Centre of Excellence here in the UK, where we’re about to start on our first collaborative engineering project. “Along with the completion of the project, I hope the team will get a flavour of British agriculture, helping them to return with fresh new ideas.”

Welcoming them to the Agri-EPI Centre, Lee Williams, Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub Manager, said:

“We’re extremely excited about the first major R&D project coming into the centre but even more so as it’s a large international tractor manufacturer that’s working in collaboration with Harper Adams.”

Source: Harper Adams University