Investment - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Investment

We collaborate and partner with investors in novel technology in agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture.

Supporting modern farming methods and innovation in the UK and around the world. Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering and technology across soil, crops and livestock.

Mirico’s ORION®

The agricultural sector is a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, with the IPCC estimating that agriculture and land use are responsible for 21% of all greenhouse emissions, and with 52% of nitrous oxide emissions coming from the sector. To help understand exactly where and how these greenhouse gases are emitted during agricultural processes, reliable measurement methods are needed. As a powerful greenhouse gas with 84 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, methane (CH₄) needs to be accurately monitored, and its emission response to increased temperature needs to be quantified.

Mirico’s Orion® CH₄ technology has been developed to monitor methane emissions on a continuous basis across a large area, in all weathers. At the heart of all Mirico products is a revolutionary new technology- Laser Dispersion Spectroscopy (LDS). Whereas traditional optical sensing systems measure the intensity of returned light, LDS is measuring the change in frequency of the returned light. The technology provides real-time monitoring of emissions, operating specifically in the mid infra-red spectral region and enables the collection and interpretation of emissions data in all weather conditions. From this data users are able to gain insights based on accurate continuous reporting, even in fog, rain, snow and particulate affected environments. The Mirico Orion® is able to carry out fugitive emissions monitoring, biomethane emissions monitoring, greenhouse gas analysis, and agricultural gas monitoring.

Key benefits:
Compared with conventional methods of monitoring methane and ammonia concentrations, Mirico’s Laser Dispersion
Spectroscopy technology offers:
• Accurate, precise and reliable measurements
• Consistent performance in adverse weather conditions (rain, fog, snow, dust)
• Large area coverage with simple, robust equipment
• Autonomous and continuous monitoring
• Real time, reproducible data for more meaningful analysis

Agri-EPI has invested in Mirico’s Orion® methane measurement system and will be using it in funded project work at its state-of-the-art South West Dairy Development Centre (SWDDC) in Somerset, which aims to offer a fresh vision for sustainable UK milk production. Our unique version of this sensor, including bespoke additions to the Mirico software suite, will be available for research use at SWDDC and can be used for trials such as outdoor and indoor methane monitoring, feed trials, herbal leys trials and ground truthing of novel sensors and monitoring methods. For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com.

Aquaculture Innovation Centre opens on Scotland’s Argyll coast

An array of aquaculture specialists, academics and industry representatives gathered at Loch Fyne on Scotland’s Argyll coast yesterday, 15th June, to witness the formal opening of Agri-EPI Centre’s new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre (MAIC).

 

Guests of the launch event were welcomed by Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, Alastair Barge, and CEO of Agri-EPI Centre, Dave Ross, who introduced the new centre.

 

“The facility is scaled and configured to bridge gaps identified by industry, including testing of instrumentation and validation of operational welfare indicators, and other trials, under controlled conditions with near market-sized farmed fish. The proposed investment is industry led – responding to industry demand and taking design and direction from that demand.”

 

Guests enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a networking lunch, and the witnessing of the formal opening of the centre.

 

In conjunction with independent aquaculture company, Otter Ferry Seafish (OFS) – and jointly funded by Innovate UK and Agri-EPI Centre – the Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre offers fully serviced research and development facilities to aquaculture producers and technology providers and is aimed at helping to drive sustainable solutions and improve efficiency for the UK aquaculture industry.

 

Alastair Barge, Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, explained:

“Research has been at the heart of the company since day one, but our recent collaboration with Agri-EPI has added new impact and a new species in salmon. We have a great mix of industry and research, and together we can forge the way as innovators in sustainable aquaculture.”

 

Agri-EPI Centre has over 220 industry focused stakeholder members spanning retailers, supply chain associations, and high-tech companies, large and small, and this collaboration helps drive innovation and solutions within the sector.

 

“Enabling assets such as the new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre provide industry and academia with bespoke industry-focused facilities to perform development testing, validation and solution-finding.”

 

If you would like more information about Agri-EPI Centre, please visit: https://twc.agri-epicentre.com/

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.”

Investbridge Capital launches specialised Agricultural Technologies fund

Agri-EPI member, Investbridge Capital, has launched a specialised Agricultural Technologies (AgTech) fund with the goal of creating a market leading VC fund investing in the most scalable and innovative technology companies revolutionising global food production.

Unity Technologies Founder, Nicholas Francis, has made a career predicting how software will develop in the face of massive hardware and societal changes and sees another tremendous investment opportunity in AgTech. To this end, he has committed $10 million as a cornerstone investor. Working alongside the Investbridge team, Francis will use his experience in entrepreneurialism, VC and the global tech market to help the portfolio companies flourish and reach their full potential, and deliver exceptional outcomes for investors.

Agriculture is the least technologically developed of any major industry, whilst food production needs to advance at a much faster pace than it has over the past 100 years. A rising population, worldwide food and labor shortages, and supply chain issues, are all presenting significant challenges for agriculture. By 2050, it’s estimated that the earth’s population will reach nine billion and global food production will need to jump by 70%-100% to feed everyone.*

Innovation will be the key to addressing these issues, and with the farming sector already seeing an influx of start-ups looking to use data analysis and technology such as robotics and AI to improve processes, the AgTech market is primed for significant growth and subsequent investment returns.

Nicholas Francis, AgTech Investment Committee Member, said: “We are standing at the crossroads of two megatrends. On one hand, software is eating the world, and agriculture is one of the last hold-outs. On the other hand, there is a global push to mitigate the climate impact of one of the most important industries of our planet, an industry which contributes almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse emissions. Over the next decade, we will see tremendous investment influx into the sector, making this the perfect time to help these nascent companies grow.

“Climate change is perhaps humanity’s biggest challenge and the stakes are enormous. Thankfully throughout our history, humanity has always risen to such challenges and we are proud to be at the forefront of this transition. We are not alone, agricultural stakeholders and climate investors are realising the scale of the challenges — and are looking to technologies from end to end, in order to improve their production.”

Oliver Hogg, CEO, Investbridge Capital, commented: “Welcoming Nicholas to the team marks a significant new venture for us. With his unrivalled experience in the tech market and his leadership of our new fund, we are extremely well-positioned to capitalise on the investment opportunities within AgTech. I look forward to working closely with Nicholas as we grow our offering in this space.”  

The AgTech market has already grown rapidly in recent years. The sector experienced a six-fold increase in deal flow between 2012-2018 and a 370% increase in investments from 2013 to 2019. In 2020 alone, it raised over $26 billion in investments, compared to around $12 billion just three years prior. **

Alongside Francis, the wider team includes Keith Norman, who brings 40 years’ experience in agriculture and AgTech, and Kelvin Au, a VC investor with 15 years’ experience in tech investment and managing high-growth operations.

Investbridge Capital is a leading alternative asset manager that specialises in real estate, private credit and venture capital. Founded in 2004, the company has offices in Dubai and London and has advised and transacted on deals in excess of USD 5billion.

“At the Agri-EPI Centre, our mission is to bridge the gap between agri-tech innovators, academics and farmers to drive sustainable and profitable food supply chain solutions. The launch of this new fund is a phenomenal opportunity for our members and the wider agri-tech startup community in the UK to scale and help us together to achieve our mission.” Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development, Agri-EPI Centre

For further information on the fund and Agri-EPI’s membership network and Agri-Tech innovation solutions contact the team at team@agri-epicentre.com

Drones In Agriculture: Automation is the Future

Drones offer a huge range of applications in the agricultural sector and are a hugely exciting part of up-and-coming agri-tech solutions. The key to maximising drone technology’s huge potential in agriculture, according to Agri-EPI Centre’s Chief Technical Officer, is the introduction of commercial services for automated drones (drones able to pilot themselves over farmland).

Dr Shamal Mohammed described his vision for the future of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), when he spoke at a recent meeting of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

Future of Drones

After infrastructure, agriculture is the world’s second biggest market for the commercial application of drone technology, according to PwC, with an estimated potential value of $32.4 billion. The APPG invited experts from across the sector to discuss the opportunities and challenges inherent in realising the economic and environmental value of drones in UK farming.

Speaking alongside fellow drone experts from UK agri-tech company Hummingbird Technologies and Harper Adams University, Dr Mohammed described how drones are currently being used on farms. They most commonly undertake ‘eye-in-the-sky’ diagnostic activities like soil analysis, crop monitoring and disease detection, and apply inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides.

Challenges

Shamal described a range of challenges associated with the commercial use of drones. These include the need for qualified pilots, as current commercial models involve farmers purchasing and operating drones themselves or bringing in a company to do the work for them.

Further challenges include regulations requiring flying within the ‘visual line of sight’; their small payload; weather dependency; rural connectivity problems and the current gap in regulation around reducing ‘drift’ of chemical applications.

The future

Dr Mohammed believes that automated or semi-automated drones would alleviate some of these issues. Farmers would use commercial drone-programming services which, once connected to weather stations, would enable the drones to know when conditions were right, take off and fly automatically. The UAVs would then upload data gathered to an easy-to-view farmer interface, providing quality insights and enabling better decision making for farmers.

“This new and as-yet unrealised model would make it easier for farmers to access the benefits of drones,” said Dr Mohammed. “They won’t replace existing systems entirely – for example, farmers will still need tractors and sprayers – but drones might be integrated into their sprayer programmes to carry-out specific small-scale tasks.

“The development of commercial services involving automated, modular-based drones with better connectivity and supported by localised regulation is the key means of achieving the biggest benefits for agriculture.”

Working together on the future of agri-tech

Agri-EPI’s Agri-tech Innovation Support partner Leyton has seen R&D activity in the crop production sector. Dr Matilda Hayward, R&D Technical Consultant, Leyton, says: “The use of drones within the agriculture sector can significantly enhance precision and accuracy for more targeted farming strategies. Developing and integrating drone software platforms for a range of benefits is a popular innovation which may fall under the R&D Tax scheme. Agriculture business who are working on technically challenging projects involving the use of drones should explore R&D tax relief as a method of funding their projects.”

Agri-EPI Centre’s member network includes several innovative UAV and drone companies that are establishing their technology in the arable sector, including:

Featured Drone Members

Drone Ag

DroneAg uses drones, automation and simple AI technology to make farming more productive and efficient. Bringing together the expertise of farmers, agronomists, drone pilots and software engineers under one banner, Drone Ag draws on the team’s own experience of running a 6,000-acre farm to provide innovative and practical solutions for farmers today, from field mapping and crop spraying to software and drone training courses.

Hummingbird Technologies

Hummingbird Technologies is an artificial intelligence business, using imagery and data analytics from satellite, drone, plane and robot technology, along with proprietary algorithms, to provide farmers with high-resolution maps of their crops at critical decision-making junctions in the season.

Omega Crop

Omega Crop’s patented crop modelling technology, which analyses drone-gathered images of a wheat crop to identify the presence of preventable disease and weeds, often before a farmer or agronomist could detect the problem by eye. This gives the farmer time to make an informed choice about if and how they can intervene to protect their yield.

Animal Dynamics

Stork, is Animal Dynamic’s heavy-lift, aerial payload delivery vehicle has the potential to significantly improve the safety, speed, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of aerial fertiliser, pesticide, or bio-stimulant application. Being fully autonomous and packaged with a user-friendly interface, it will be a quick and easy process to highlight a field area, and let the vehicle do the rest of the work. Stork will take-off, apply the payload across the desired location, and return to land all without any need for human control.

We are confident Stork has the potential to improve yields, reduce waste and pollution, save time, and also reduce costs, making these benefits affordable to a broad range of customers. This technology will help meet the growing demand for high quality food without needing to increase costs or damage the environment in the process.

Agri-Tech Innovation Support

Did you know that Innovative businesses are able to claim back up to 33% of the costs which relate to their research and development activities, such as the advancement of new or existing products or processes?

Innovative use of technology such as drones, sensors, scanners and software can qualify for R&D tax credits. Get in touch with Leyton today:

 

 

Agri-EPI Centre and Leyton announce new partnership

Agri-EPI Centre is proud to announce that it has established a partnership with Leyton, the UK’s leading specialist innovation funding consultancy.

The new partnership will help Agri-EPI’s members and its wider network access Leyton’s advice around government financial incentives for their involvement in agri-food innovation projects. Under a current government scheme, innovative businesses are able to claim back up to 33% of the costs which relate to their research and development activities, such as the advancement of new or existing products or processes.

Supporting innovation in agri-tech

Speaking of the new partnership, Agri-EPI’s Director of Business Development Lisa Williams said: “We are extremely pleased to have developed a special partnership with Leyton. The new arrangement is all part of our efforts to ensure we support our members and wider network to develop innovative ideas that boost their own businesses while supporting a profitable and sustainable agri-food sector. We want to help companies access the best expertise and advice available to help them succeed and our partnership with Leyton is all part of this approach.”

Mark Petty, Head of Strategic Alliances, Leyton UK commented: “From R&D to Patent Box there are some hugely valuable schemes available for innovative Agriculture businesses. Volatile energy prices coupled with environmental concerns and rising expectations from consumers have created a climate of pressure for today’s agri-businesses. Innovation now forms a vital component in navigating both short and long term challenges faced by the sector and rewarding these innovative businesses through government incentives can provide tangible benefits and support future growth.”

Funding the future of agribusiness

Leyton supports a significant proportion of the UK’s agriculture-related R&D claims each year, helping hundreds of businesses, in farming and the supply chain through to engineering and technology providers, increase their ability to fund future projects and grow.

Their team of in-house consultants, which includes scientists, engineers and software developers who understand the agri-food sector, have over a decade of experience working with food producers, processors and retailers across the UK. Leyton helps them benefit from valuable schemes including R&D Tax Credits, Grants and the Patent Box Scheme, which allows qualifying companies to accelerate their innovation strategy through additional funding and/or a reduction in their corporation tax.

You can find out more about our partnership with Leyton, and see if you are eligible for tax credits, grants and more financial schemes on our partnership page.