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Horticulture

Horticulture describes the specific skills and technology to intensively grow plants and crops for human use and consumption.

Agri-EPI collaborates with horticulturists to research and explore novel technology and innovation to support increased yields and sustainability in farming.

Delivering precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across soil, crops.

Agri-tech hackathon seeks solutions to COVID’s impact on farming

Registration now open for an agri-tech Hackathon aimed at developing technological solutions to problems posed by COVID-19

Winners will receive a year of product launch support from experts at Agri-EPI Centre. 

The Hackathon will focus on the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors. Participating teams will be challenged to explore solutions in two areas: the shortage of labour supply for field operations in horticultureand the restrictions on how vets can travel to conduct farm diagnoses and prescription.  

They will have the 12-hour duration of the Hackathon, on 23 and 24 September 2020, to come up with proposed technical solutions within their chosen stream which, if deemed by the judges to have winning market potential, will become the focus of the year-long ‘product launch programme’ delivered by Agri-EPI. 

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Director Lisa Williams explained:

“We invite any businesses, organisations and academic institutions with an involvement or interest in agri-tech to take part in what promises to be a really exciting event, with the aim of delivering new products that address some of the serious impacts of Coronavirus on the farming industry. Collaboration is key to innovation and we look forward to working with the participating teams, and the winners, to develop new ideas. 

“The winning teams will have 12 months of access to Agri-EPI’s technical and project management expertise, our world-class research and innovation facilities, testbeds and research assets, and our extensive network, which includes a membership of more than 120 companies across agriculture, technology and the supply chain. 

The Hackathon is supported by the European Horizon 2020 project Smart AgriHubs. The Challenge partners for the veterinary Hackathon are Vet Partners, ZoetisKnowledge Transfer Network and Landmark Systems. For the horticulture Hackathon, the challenge partners are Bardsley, Grimme, NFU and Knowledge Transfer Network. 

To find out more and register, visit the following website.

Hackathon launch webinar

If you’re a business or academic institution with an interest in agri-tech, join us today (18 August) at 2:00pm to hear more from Agri-EPI Centre’s CEO, Dave Ross, as he goes into more detail about the Hackathon and challenges faced by many in the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors. Register now at register.gotowebinar.com/register to secure your space!

Farming industry pushes robotics to fill soft fruit labour gap

A large UK agri-food consortium has been formed to address agricultural labour shortages by accelerating the use of robotics and automation (R&A) for picking and packing soft fruit and vegetables.

Soft fruit robotics

Strawberry picking robot by Dogtooth Technologies

Strawberry picking robot by Dogtooth Technologies

The consortium plans to trial several new robot-based systems this growing season, on farms producing strawberries, apples, blueberries, lettuce and broccoli. The aim is for approved technologies to be manufactured at scale and fully implemented for the 2021 season.

The effort is being co-ordinated by the University of Lincoln, the National Farmers Union (NFU), Agri-EPI Centre, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), with the backing of more than 100 of the UK’s fresh food producers.

Prof. Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln said:

“The uncertainties created by COVID-19 and Brexit are impacting the supply of seasonal labour into the UK fresh produce sector. Around 70,000 workers are needed annually to pick and pack these products. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is estimated that only 30% of migrant agricultural workers are expected to come to the UK this season, with uncertainty continuing in the future. This could cause severe problems for numerous market sectors, such as fruit and vegetable picking, which ultimately, will reduce the availability of food for the UK at a time when it is needed most.

Robotic harvesting by Dogtooth Technologies Ltd

Robotic harvesting by Dogtooth Technologies Ltd

“While approaches like ‘Pick for Britain’ seek to increase the availability of human labour, there is also an opportunity for the UK agri-food sector and technology providers to collaborate to accelerate the development and uptake of R&A technologies. We have some very good R&A experts in the UK who have been looking at solutions for some time. We want to get these to industry in a very short space of time.”

Ali Capper, Chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board said: “This is an excellent initiative and one that is long overdue. British fruit and veg growers have an on-going challenge around the availability, cost of and access to seasonal labour, exacerbated by Brexit and now COVID-19. This is a global challenge with many countries around the world facing seasonal labour difficulties. I commend the consortium for their energy in trying to accelerate the use of robotics in the fruit and veg sectors and look forward to being part of the team that brings new robotic solutions forward to British farmers and growers.”

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“The key to this kind of ambitious approach is collaboration and it is really exciting to see the widespread support for the consortium. Agri-EPI is pleased to offer any of its facilities and resources as it takes shape.”

David Telford, Head of Agri-food, KTN said:

“At the start of the pandemic, KTN brought together a cross-sector team of partners to look at the threats to various sectors, including agri-food.  This resulting consortium is doing crucial work in aiming to increase sector resilience and boost the UK’s agri-robotics innovation pipeline and SME capacity.”

The consortium is focusing on five areas for action:

  1. Driving collaboration across the robotic, engineering and farming communities.
  2. Securing appropriate investment to develop the Proof of Concepts to complete new robots.
  3. Enlisting industrial engineers from within and outside the agri-food sector to assist with Proof of Concept
  4. Testing new robots on volunteer farms.
  5. Recruiting industrial designers and manufacturers to produce approved R&A technologies.

Businesses which can support any of the above areas can contact Agri-EPI Centre at robotics@agri-epicentre.com