Government and Policy - Agri-EPI Centre - Precision Innovation

Government and Policy

Working with the agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture sectors, at Agri-EPI we explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK.

Updating our members and wider interested sectors on evolving Government directives, regulation and policy, we also support seek to inform, educate and influence policy with research, new technology and empirical data.

International collaboration in agri-tech

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager, Duncan Ross, spoke at The Argentinian Embassy in London along with Agri-EPI Centre members: Ian Beecher-Jones from JoJo’s Vineyard, Marc Jones, Business Director at Antobot, and Emil Endres, Operations Engineer from Outfield Technologies, as part of the dissemination activity from the two Viticulture projects funded by Innovate UK and EIT Food.  They demonstrated the use of drone and robotic technology and the potential benefits to the viticulture sector to a delegation of visitors from the wine growing Mendoza region of Argentina, and the wider British Argentinian Chamber of Commerce. Agri-EPI’s Communications Officer, Tatiana Boyle, supported with the Spanish translation for the tech in viticulture video shown to the delegation.

This visit follows a trip to Argentina by Duncan and Agri-EPI’s Head of Crops, Claire Hodge, where they attended workshops related to the current state of UK Agri-Tech, and a conference on biofilms near Cordoba. They then travelled to Rosario to meet with numerous Agri-Tech businesses in the area to gain an understanding of Argentinian Agri-Tech, before finally visiting “Glimax” a company that researches and validates Agri-Tech from all parts of the globe to make tech adoption recommendations to their farmer clients in the agronomy side of their business.

Duncan said:

“This was a fantastic opportunity facilitated by the Department of International Trade, to build on the links we are developing with Argentinian contacts both in the UK and in country. I envisage future opportunities for Argentinian Agri-Tech companies to use Agri-EPI Centre hubs as landing pads, and for UK Agri-Tech companies to explore opportunities abroad.”

 

         

On-farm conference provides unique discussions around sustainability in farming

 

Sustainability, technology, and innovation in farming were the focus of Agri-EPI Centre’s Annual Conference last month at Shimpling Park Farm in Suffolk. The event brought together over 100 guests from across the agriculture sector, from farmers and growers to tech developers, academics, and other sector representatives, for a day of discussions and networking.

The day, entitled ‘The path to sustainable farming continued: the role of precision technology’, began with introductions from host and farmer, John Pawsey, Agri-EPI’s CEO Dave Ross, and journalist and conference chair, Anna Jones.

Dave Ross said:

“It’s a relief to get back in person. There’s nothing better than actually meeting people face to face to have networking discussions, discuss the problems that are topical, and think about solutions to those problems.”

Fabia Bromovsky, Director of the Global Farm Metric at the Sustainable Food Trust took the floor as the conference’s keynote speaker to discuss the question: what exactly is sustainable farming? She explained that we lacked a common understanding and that where definitions exist, they often overlooked the interconnectedness and diversity of our farm systems.   She set out the need for a common language, a framework that recognises this holistic system and identifies where impact occurs.

She acknowledged the important role of technology to support farmers with this.  Farmers already collect lots of data, but with a consistent set of measures, in-common to all farm assessments, technology can provide solutions that make it easier to collect. Technology can enable farmers to protect their data, share data between consenting users, improve performance, and reduce time and costs.

She maintained the power of a common framework is it would provide a consistent baseline of data, the DNA of the farm, that can underpin supply chain transparency, green investment, and food labelling.  Governments, markets, and the financial sector can then reward producers who are delivering genuine benefit to the environment and public health and shift the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable systems.

The farmer speakers were up next, with a panel made up of four of Agri-EPI’s innovation farmers, including Sophie Alexander from Hemsworth Farm, Jo Franklin from Kaiapoi Farm, John Pawsey from Shimpling Park Farm, and Ian Beecher-Jones from JoJo’s Vineyard.

They discussed the challenges within the agriculture sector including resilience to weather events, net zero goals, and price volatility, and how uncertainty in policy can affect the ability for some farmers to innovate as much as they would like to. Other topics discussed included how sustainability is inextricably linked to profitability, the need for a business mindset as a farmer, and the methods the farmers use to progress towards their sustainability goals.

The tech panel included developers Howard Wu from Antobot, Jack Wrangham from DroneAg, Jim Wilson from SoilEssentials, and James Brown from Earth Rover. Their discussions centred around how to make technology accessible to farmers, how to better understand farmers’ priorities for innovation, and how to attract more youth to agriculture with the use of technology.

Lastly, bridging the gap between the farmers and the tech developers, the final speaker panel included Calum Murray, Head of Agriculture & Food at Innovate UK and Agri-EPI speakers including CEO, Dave Ross, CTO, Trisha Toop, and Head of Engineering, Eliot Dixon.

Calum Murray explained:

“What we do at Innovate UK is try to make things happen that wouldn’t normally go ahead. First and foremost, we have to understand what the challenges are. We need to identify those areas that will deliver the greatest impact and give us value for money and give value to the UK economy”.

Dave Ross said:

“We are in an industry that has huge challenges and huge opportunities.”

The speaker sessions were followed by a networking lunch and farm tour around Shimpling Park Farm headed by John Pawsey.

John explained:

“We’ve been using the Skippy Scout Drone. There’s a huge amount to be looking at and I have to say, huge thanks to Agri-EPI and to Skippy Scout, because even though we can actually physically go out and look at all those things ourselves, because it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to go out and get that data, if you have a drone that can go out and get it for you, then why wouldn’t you do that?”

Guests were thrilled to be back in person discussing sustainability within the food supply chain, agri-tech solutions, and innovation in farming.

Ian Beecher-Jones said:

“I think today was very much about the grower, very much about the farmer.”

Calum Murray said:

“It’s been terrific to get back on farm and hear first-hand exactly what farm businesses are having to face.”

Agri-EPI Centre is the UK’s leading centre for precision innovation in farming. They help to deliver profitable and productive solutions to empower more sustainable farms and specialise in connecting knowledgeable experts and new solutions across the agricultural sectors.

Get in touch about opportunities at team@agri-epicentre.com

Paraguay SMART Farm Project: Adapting Origin Digital’s Contour Platform to the South American Climate

Agri-EPI Centre has been leading the Innovate UK-supported SMART Farm project in Paraguay since January 2018. It has involved partnering with a farming business to demonstrate UK agri-tech in the agricultural economy of Paraguay.

The farming business, GVASA in San Pedro, spans 85,000 hectares and incorporates cattle, maize, soybean and rice production enterprises. This phase of the SMART Farm project has focused on implementing Origin Digital’s Contour platform across GVASA’s arable fields, providing the farmer with in-depth soil health information, effective crop growth models, and enabling variable rate application.

Origin has worked collaboratively with Agri-Epi and Innovate UK to gather information on 6927 hectares of field boundaries and cropping information in Paraguay. Management zones were created over 1,661 of these hectares using soil brightness technology, and 589.6 had precision zonal sampling done on them for nutrient analysis.

Using crop growth model rulesets developed for Africa, the team were able to deploy these models in Paraguay with high levels of accuracy. Minor localisation of the models further increased the accuracy confirming the localisable value. These models include crop growth stage and yield predictors.

“The African models showed a strong correlation with actual South American yields , says Dan Wood at Origin Digital.

“And accuracy improved further when adjustments were made to the models to begin localising them further to South America, showing that our crop growth models can be successfully deployed in this geography.”

A particularly useful outcome is variable rate fertiliser recommendations, which can lead to significant cost savings, increased soil health, and improved efficiencies, yield and profitability.

“It has been a pleasure to manage the Paraguay SMART Farm project, particularly facilitating Origin Digital’s successful adaption of the Contour platform to the South American climate,” says Emily Laskin, farms technical coordinator at Agri-EPI.

“Seeing British technology provide efficiency and sustainability benefits to farming practices internationally shows us how we can make a difference and is a source of pride for the entire team at Agri-EPI.”

The economic outcome of introducing UK technology means more profitable farming systems, reduced environmental footprint and improved economic sustainability.

 

Read more:

Paraguay case study

Agri-EPI Centre welcomes Defra Automation in Horticulture review

Agri EPI-Centre has welcomed the publication of Defra’s review into automation in horticulture and supports its recommendation that the UK Government lead and fund a mission-led approach to accelerate development in the sector.

The recommendations of the independent review, co-chaired by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, and Professor Simon Pearson of the University of Lincoln include establishing a consortium to bring together government and industry to drive adoption of proven technologies, adopting a mission-led approach to fast-track new technologies, and the horticulture sector setting up working groups to share novel harvest practices.

Agri-EPI Centre, which pioneers agricultural engineering, precision and innovation for UK farming, is working hard to improve collaboration and facilities in the sector and asks that the government use the evidence in the report to help the industry in these efforts. Agri-EPI Centre’s Farm Tech Circle and farm and membership networks bring farmers together with developers to address the high-level issues facing agri-robotics and other technological solutions; it is also working with multiple partners to develop agri-robotics test facilities, subject to funding.

Duncan Ross, Agri-EPI Centre business development manager crops, said:

“We support the report’s recommendations as collaboration and additional funding in this area are needed. Agri-EPI Centre is creating a collaborative framework around agri-robotics and building development facilities so that people can come and build their systems. The UK is not alone in experiencing worker shortages and any solutions we can create will help domestic and global markets.

“Following the success of the Innovate UK automated lettuce harvester led by Grimme – which was funded through ‘Robotics for a more resilient future’ we are also looking at selective harvesting of broccoli with funding from Defra FIP.

“A common theme across our current robotic projects is monitoring to optimise existing processes such as spraying and harvesting. In orchards and vineyards we are developing more accurate ways of monitoring blossoms, pests and disease and potential yield which can also optimise actions, such as where to send staff to harvest. The next stage will be about in-field logistics.

“Dedicated government funding can de-risk technology development, encourage further private investment and speed up technological solutions around areas of harvesting which are harder to achieve but will have greater impact on labour resource availability.”

Edinburgh based start-up leads the way in grain monitoring

A cutting-edge grain analysis project has won £366,000 in innovation funding under the Defra Farming Innovation Programme from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Crover is an Edinburgh-based company creating robotic grain storage solutions for improved and automated monitoring and management of grains.

Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are exceptionally high, above 20% in the UK and worldwide. Pests are to blame, with grain moisture content and temperature being the most significant factors. Cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers, and breweries, experience these challenges, which have high-cost implications in terms of lost revenue and costs to rectify.

Crover is developing a novel non-contact sensor for non-contact grain analysis able to detect specific molecular compounds within a radius of up to a few tens of centimetres, based on a novel miniaturised sensing technology. Crover aims to integrate this sensor onto their CROVER robot, the world’s first ‘underground drone’, which swims through grain bulks, and which is at the core of the CROVER autonomous Grain Storage Management system.

Lorenzo Conti, Founder and Managing Director of Crover says:

“At the moment the only grain bulk parameters that can be measured directly in-situ via sensors, without requiring a sample to be collected, are temperature, humidity/moisture and CO2 – we go into this project with the big ambition to expand that range significantly and to take measurements that are currently only possible in the lab into the grain bulk, while implementing that into the CROVER robot and system – think superman partners with batman, in a grain monitoring sense.”

Down the line, the result of this project is expected to allow for the expansion of the parameters that Crover will be able to measure, including specific nutrient measurements, insect presence and species identification aligned with different customer requirements. The project is being worked on in partnership with Agri-EPI Centre and Dyson Farming (formerly known as Beeswax).

“Having worked with the Agri-EPI Centre on other projects before, they are by now our go-to place for knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement, events and project management in the UK. The project further strengthens the collaboration between our two entities.”

Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre explains:

“Working with Crover has shown how Agri-EPI Centre can support with the development of innovative, disruptive technologies. The Crover team has expanded both their ambition and number of employees as they’ve developed their robot, from idea formation to on-farm testing towards the creation of a commercial product that will tackle waste issues in bulk grain storage.

Ed Ford, Technical Agronomist at Dyson Farming says:

“We are excited to working with Crover on this project. The potential for this technology is twofold when it comes to gathering sampling parameters instore. Not only will it allow farmers to understand the quality and conditions of the grains they have but will also help improve health and safety around grain sampling”

The project aims to address the arable sector and wholegrain value chain’s need for novel and alternative crop protection solutions, in support of the current push toward holistic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches.

Get inventive and take control of tax

The agricultural sector is taking undeniable initiative when it comes to innovation. But many farming and agri-businesses are missing out on a big opportunity to claim tax relief.

R&D is not all white lab coats and PhDs; farmers often carry out activities that are claimable under the R&D Tax Credit Scheme – a retrospective exercise which offers up to 33% of R&D costs as a tax credit.

Financial consultancy Leyton is working with agri-tech enablers, Agri-EPI, to make more UK farmers aware of the scheme and its potential to provide important cashflow, while aiding the improvement of operational efficiencies.

“The scheme can be applicable to work that is happening on farms day to day – but there is huge value underclaimed within agriculture because farmers don’t classify what they are doing as R&D and don’t fully understand their eligibility,” says George Stuffins, Business Development Manager at Leyton.

Broadly speaking, R&D occurs when farmers make improvements based on three key questions: How do they increase the quality of produce? How do they increase yield? And how do they become more sustainable?

Examples range from poultry farmers experimenting with feeding times and lighting concentrations to improve feed conversion or growth rates, to arable farms engineering weed control equipment to reduce reliance on chemicals and improve soil biology. Rewardable R&D is within the realms of every farm business and can be very lucrative, he says.

“Failed projects can qualify too, not everything goes right first time, and in HMRC’s eyes such work can still add significant value to knowledge in the sector.”

So how do farm businesses qualify for R&D tax credits?

Matilda Hayward, senior R&D technical consultant at Leyton, says that conversations with prospective applicants begin on farm with the aforementioned three key questions.

“It drives the project and outlines the business’ main goals, then looks at what R&D is already occurring on the farm and what other R&D strategies could be explored to capitalise on the R&D tax credit scheme.”

Criteria include:

  1. It must seek a scientific or technological advancement,
  2. It must be meeting a scientific or technological challenge to get the results or determine unfeasibility,
  3. It must show a systematic approach and be your own activity.

Eligibility is not exclusive to large scale businesses – it is entirely based on a business’ project meeting the key criteria – nor is there a maximum number of project claims.

So what can farm businesses claim?

As a retrospective scheme, applicants claim back money spent on innovative projects over the past two years at the end of a financial year.

The bulk of an R&D claim covers PAYE salaries but there is a rate for contracted staff like seasonal workers and consultants. A portion of utility costs are also claimable – albeit quite nominal, as are software licences.

However, high value claims come from projects using a lot of consumables like feed, medicines and artificial insemination products and services.

“The claim could also include a proportion of costs in relation to mortality within the R&D trial,” says Dr Hayward.

Businesses can’t claim capital costs under the scheme – but there are still opportunities under the Capital Allowance Scheme and through grants, says Mr Stuffins.

How the tax benefit is received depends on tax position as well as the amount the business is claiming back. But a misconception is that businesses in a loss-making position can’t claim.

“Businesses in this position can actually claim for a higher percentage of qualifying expenditure as cash,” he explains.

Looking forward, if a business decides to move ahead, then they need to treat it like an R&D project, says Dr Hayward.

She recommends keeping all the project details and data in one place, including trial results and analysis, when the trials took place, who was involved and the time spent on each activity.

“HMRC now looks for better audit trails so it’s about making sure it’s documented in the right way to make the most of tax credits,” she says. “And it also benefits the business because it can better justify claimed costs.”

Farmers often have a bank of information that can be used, like health monitoring, soil analysis, and data from audits and surveys.

“A consultant can help a business collate the retrospective data for work they didn’t even consider as an R&D project, as well as the best way to collect and collate data going forwards,” she explains.

“Farmers can claim directly. But involving a consultant takes the pressure off the farmer and gives them the security that the claim is compliant and includes all possible business improvements for maximum return.”