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.

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.”

Agri-EPI appoints farming industry experts to its Board

Agri-EPI has appointed three farming industry experts to its Board: Sarah Calcutt, Tom Hind and Allan Stevenson.

Sarah Calcutt has spent 25 years working in food and farming. Sarah’s experience gives a unique insight into the business development needs and opportunities open to the British food and farming community.

In addition to running her successful business growth and communications consultancy, Partners in Produce Ltd, Sarah holds a number of executive, non- executive and voluntary roles. These include Non-Executive Director of the Covent Garden Market Authority, Executive Chair of the National Fruit Show and membership of City Harvest’s Food Council. She is a monthly columnist in Southeast Farmer and a regular contributor to a range of food and farming publications.

 

Tom Hind was born in Sheffield and now lives in North Yorkshire. He brings a wealth of experience drawn from across the food and farming sector in terms of policy, industry dynamics and commercial drivers. His career in farming has spanned more than 20 years in a variety of leadership roles at the NFU, Tesco and AHDB. He is a recognised expert in agricultural policy and has a significant track record in strategy development and influencing government and the wider food and farming industry.

Having left the farming industry in 2020 Tom is now CEO of the North York Moors National Park Authority where he leads a team of over 130 people charged with conserving and enhancing the landscape, cultural heritage & natural beauty of the North York Moors, one of ten National Parks across England.

 

Allan Stevenson was brought up on a Scottish arable farm and has enjoyed a varied career as a chartered accountant in a broad range of private and public sector business roles. He brings a diverse range of experience and expertise to Agri-EPI. He is a past Chairman of the Farmers Club, and currently Chairman of two pension schemes, advisor/consultant to a few agri-tech companies and running Luffness Mains Farming, an arable enterprise in East Lothian.

After a business and law degree in Edinburgh his accountancy career took him abroad and then to England where he worked in finance and commercial roles in growing private international businesses, finally returning with his family to buy out the family farming enterprise in Scotland.

Back in Scotland, he acquired a portfolio of NED roles, including Chair of AHDB Potatoes and SCRI which merged into the new James Hutton Institute, both these appointments taking him into the agriculture and science policy environment, with an interest in the sustainability of food, farming and technology. These involved some time developing relationships in China and elsewhere on matters concerning the global potato industry.

Agri-EPI Chair Vince Gillingham said: “I am delighted to welcome Sarah Calcutt, Tom Hind and Allan Stevenson to Agri-EPI as Non-Executive Directors. They bring an invaluable mix of skills to the Board, including boots on the ground farming, extensive policy experience and many decades of business experience. As Agri-EPI moves into the next phase of its growth, they will add huge value to the organisation, help deliver impact across agriculture and help us strengthen our connections to the sector’s front line.”

Agri-EPI Centre featured as supporter of Midlands tech innovators in UK Government campaign

As part of a UK Government campaign encouraging UK companies to export their goods, the Department for International Trade has released a short video which we were delighted to see featured Agri-EPI Centre, our partners and our Midlands Innovation Hub.