Farmers and Food Suppliers

Supporting farmers, growers and food suppliers, our role at Agri-EPI is to explore and help deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock. From seed research, harvesting, post-harvest storage, packaging and retail, we collaborate with farmers, scientists and retailers to increase sustainability, yield and efficiency.

Idea to reality: what’s stopping tech getting onto farms?

The intractable issue of getting useful new technologies onto farms – and how the barriers to success might be overcome – will be the subject of a webinar led by tech innovation company Cambridge Consultants and Agri-EPI Centre on Thursday 28th January.

The event will feature expert panellists representing different stages of the innovation ‘pipeline’:

  • Ben Scott Robinson, Chief Executive of The Small Robot Company*(concept)
  • Chris Roberts, Head of Industrial Robotics at Cambridge Consultants (supporting concept development)
  • Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive (‘enabler’ bringing together public and private sector partners)
  • James Green, Group Director of Agriculture at G’s Fresh (on-farm end user)

The panel will explore some of the key issues involved in ensuring a new idea can move from concept stage right through to being put to effective use in supporting efficient, productive and sustainable farming.

Connecting early tech development to farming

They will be looking at a host of challenges along the innovation journey, including a disconnect between early technology developers and farmers; difficulties in companies finding the right business models and return-on-investment for their products; regulatory issues; skills gaps; and challenges with product testing in a seasonal farming environment.

Event host, Cambridge Consultants’ Head of Automation & Autonomy Sajith Wimalaratne, explained:

“We’re excited to have a strong panel of experts who will be discussing why it takes so long to get new technological solutions onto farms, and why, despite no shortage of concepts, there is currently so little farmers can use.

“We hope to identify ways of easing some of these issues that will help to ensure new technology which really meets farmers’ needs can be deployed more quickly and effectively.”

Agri-EPI Chef Executive Dave Ross said:

“Agri-EPI’s role is to bring together those with the know-how to drive innovation in farming and food production and our webinar promises to be a really exciting journey around the key challenges and potential solutions to getting technology in place that really meets farmers’ needs.”

The free webinar runs between 11am and noon on 28th January. Further details and registration can be found here.

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Agri-EPI member Small Robot Company BBC The One Show 18 Jan 2021BBC The One Show

You might have missed it. Small Robot Tom and roboteers have appeared on the BBC The One Show this Monday 18 January 2020. The appearance saw the weed zapping robot in action and an interview with Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year Craig Livingstone. Small Robot Company is a British start-up that makes robots for agriculture. They design and produce machines that could, in the future, replace tractors and harvesters. The founders developed the idea after talking to farmers about the growing costs and decreasing profits of farming. More background about Small Robot Company in this case study.

The best Farm Business Managers review and plan ahead

In farming circles, November is normally the start of the winter round of conferences, events and a wide range of meetings from Business Groups and Monitor Farms to commercial companies showcasing their products for the coming season. Not so this year and farmer’s diaries will instead be filling up with invites to webinars, podcasts and virtual events – including Agri-EPI’s own webinar showcasing the benefits of technology at Parkend with Satellite Farmer, Brian Weatherup, on the 25th November.

Personally, I miss the face to face interaction of a “live” meeting, particularly in a smaller workshop format, where body language can signify so much and pull in completely different threads to a discussion. However, we are where we are and as Farm Business Managers it is vital to gather as much knowledge as possible from our peers and colleagues by whatever means are available.

In the last update I said that harvest has been varied across the country, but I hadn’t appreciated how varied until recently. NE Scotland has had a record harvest with average spring barley yields of over 8.5t/ha not uncommon and autumn drilled crops looking exceptional – yet a very different story in the south of the country. Whilst I have no doubt the weather is the main factor in this difference, I wonder if it’s the only one. Farmers in Aberdeenshire, where harvest moisture for wheat is regularly well above 20%, are used to growing cereals under challenging weather conditions – so are they routinely doing something different to mitigate the weather impact?

Perhaps the focus on virtual communication is an opportunity to “visit” a farm geographically remote from your own, see what they do differently and what areas could be applied to benefit your own farm. So when trawling through the on-line lists and invites, perhaps look to subjects and areas which may seem less relevant to your own farm.

November is also the time of year to carry out an in-depth review of the past season, whether it be crops or livestock – what worked, what didn’t work, what could have been done better and apply that to the planning for next season.

Opportunities for farm business managers

Another opportunity created by virtual communication is to use the time freed up to take this review and planning process a step further and look 5 years ahead. There will be significant changes taking place during this time initiated by Brexit, climate change and consumer habits.

Get your close advisors involved and have a think about what the farming environment might be like in 5 years’ time, how fit will your business be and what might you have to change to ensure you maintain a resilient business.

As the business environment will change, the level of technology available is likely going to change at an even greater rate and will be a key tool in maintaining a resilient business. You need to marry up technology to what you think your business will need to look like in 5 years’ time, investing in areas of your farm and business that you may not have considered in the past, but which opportunities have arisen through the combination of emerging technologies and changing circumstances.

There is one constant in business and that is change – you are either moving forwards against your peers or moving backwards against your peers – there is no such thing as standing still.

Change will create opportunities and by taking time to think and plan ahead now, you will be in the best position to capitalise on these opportunities when they come your way.

 


Gavin Dick

Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.

Head of Farm Network Gavin Dick Reflects on Harvest

As harvest nears completion across the country and minds begin to focus on autumn drilling, it’s time to begin to reflect on the harvest and current growing season and start to assimilate areas to focus on at the in-depth review which should be taking place later in the year.

It has been another challenging growing season resulting in a lot of variation in yields across the country, between farms and within fields – this pattern has repeated itself over a few years now and you have to wonder if this is the new normal? If it is, how sustainable is it? How long can we sit back and accept that it’s just the weather and we can’t do anything about it?

Adopting harvest technology

Not much longer, I suspect. We have to take a pro-active approach and start measuring that variation early in the production cycle and trying to understand why that area in the field is yielding less than other areas – the technology is there to help, from satellite imagery to soil probes measuring compaction, moisture and a range of other factors.

Improving yield

It may be that there is no solution to improving the yield in a particular area and if so, then it is important to have an idea what the yield will actually be, giving a more accurate production figure for the farm. This makes marketing more effective in that you can sell more forward if the price is high without the risk of over committing and being penalised. You can accept the lower average yield but mitigate with a higher average price – the BioSense app is a good example of emerging technology which will deliver the detailed information to allow this.

By the same measure you should also know your Costs of Production applied to that lower yielding area to judge whether you should have drilled it at all!

Crop quality

The other variation is crop quality – we currently look at the average protein across the whole wheat field (or even the crop!) and that contributes to whether we get a milling premium or not. Technology now measures protein on the combine so that each trailer load will have a specific protein content which can then be stored separately and/or blended to increase the proportion of the crop receiving the milling premium.

The days of managing farm businesses by measuring averages are limited and farm business managers will have to adopt technology which allows management by measuring absolutes, facilitating better informed decision making through the growing season.

So as the drills are made ready, take a pause to look at satellite images, drone footage, yield maps, ground sensors, mobile apps or whatever measures you have, identify the variations and go have a look to see what’s going on.

Best thing you can do is still to get out your Soil Porosity & Aeration Determination Equipment!

 


Gavin Dick

Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.

NFU Vice President to join agri-tech conversation at innovation conference

NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw will deliver a keynote address on the value of agri-tech to profitable and sustainable farming at Agri-EPI Centre’s annual conference on October 6.

Tom, who farms in partnership with his wife, Emily, and his parents in North Essex, is one of a group of expert speakers to be taking part in the conference, titled:

Agri-tech: Connecting Farmers with Technology

 

Held virtually due to COVID19 restrictions, the panellists include farmers and other experts from across the agri-food sector.

Agri-EPI’s aim is that the day will provide valuable insight and build collaboration as agri-tech is discussed candidly in the context of policy, investment, on-farm uptake, processor and retailer perspectives – and much more.

Together with National Farmers Union, and event partners Landmark Systems and Lloyds Bank, we warmly invite you to attend this Annual Conference. The event runs from between 9am and 3pm on October 6, is free-of-charge and open to all. For more information about the programme and panel line-up, visit the event website or register here.

This event is supported by

Landmark Systems
Lloyds Bank

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Farmers to help identify key agri-tech areas in Scotland

With a survey focused on key agri-tech areas of Scotland, as part of a wider project funded by Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI), beef and sheep farmers, consultants, vets and researchers are being asked for their views on the use of modern technology. Information collected in a new survey will be used to identify key areas for the use of agri-tech to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability in both beef and sheep production systems in Scotland.

Survey agri-tech Scotland

We invite farmers and food producers to fill out the agri-tech survey. The survey should take no more than 5 minutes to complete and can be completed anonymously. This survey can also be completed by respondents outside Scotland and closes on 31st of August.

 

SRUC’s Jenna Bowen, who is leading the study, said:

“The potential benefits of using agri-tech in the beef and sheep sector are far reaching. This survey will help us to understand industry views and experiences with existing systems from participants who use these systems on a regular basis, and help identify where research should be prioritised.”

Project partners

The project team includes Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), The Moredun Research Institute and Agri-EPI Centre.

Agri-EPI Logo Primary Square
Moredun Research Institute

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

COVID-19 will drive digital transformation for livestock vets

The COVID-19 crisis is a catalyst for increasing the rate of digital adoption by UK livestock vets, according to Agri-EPI Centre Board member Matt Dobbs.

Writing for the Animal Pharm website, Matt, who is practice lead for digital technology at Stonehaven Consulting, suggests coronavirus has led the already-challenged veterinary industry to question the ways it works and identify areas for improvement.

Factors already indirectly influencing the livestock veterinary industry, including the increasing focus on domestic food production, have come even more to the fore because of the crisis. As food production responds and adapts, says Matt, livestock vets must consider how they can stay ahead of the game.

Digital transformation for livestock vets

Digital solutions for monitoring livestock health and welfare have become more varied and more affordable over the past 10-15 years, while also becoming of greater interest to the big processors and retailers. Matt believes the rise of digital technology could very well revolutionise the types of services offered by livestock vets.

Citing the move by the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to respond to Covid-19 by legalising the remote prescribing of medications to farms, Matt suggests, that should this happen across Europe, we will reach a point where the majority of medicines are dispensed by just a few companies.

Loss of revenue in this area means farm vets will have to look at new streams, very likely involving tech solutions. This could see ruminant vets becoming consultants looking after larger animal populations remotely, like their pig and poultry counterparts already do.

Matt said:

“The future is going to be very different. You will see different business models, such as dedicated farm consultant working from the back of their car. Do they really need an office and all the expense that goes into having a clinical practice? All they really need is a decent laptop, access to health and production data and a car.”

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.