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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.

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.

New animal health report highlights lessons learned Covid-19 pandemic

Lessons learned from Covid-19 pandemic highlighted in new animal health report

The animal health industry needs to be better prepared for disruptions like Covid-19 and have resiliency plans in place to handle supply and demand.

This is the ‘lessons learned’ message from Agri-EPI’s Chief Executive Dave Ross in a new report exploring the impact of Covid-19 on the global animal health industry.

Report Animal Health Industry Response COVID19 - Kisaco ResearchThe production of Animal Health Industry Response to COVID-19 and the Rise of Telemedicine was co-ordinated by Kisaco Research. It seeks to assess the full impact of the outbreak across the sector, and provide insight in the form of industry surveys, data collection, discussions, and interviews with market leaders and emerging companies.

Dave was one of 55 contributing experts from around the world. He comments in the report on labour shortages and the skills gap from COVID and Brexit, the issue of food protectionism and overall lessons learned from the advent of the pandemic.

On the latter point, Dave says that the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the food supply chain when a disruptor comes into the market and highlighted the lack of preparations companies and suppliers had to pivot to other markets.

He cites in the report the example of the UK dairy sector, where 35 million litres of milk were being produced a day, pre-Covid. A significant proportion of the approximately 10 million litres destined for the service sector ended up being wasted when demand stopped abruptly due to lockdown. This led to a subsequent price collapse, with the current system ‘not being able to turn off the tap’ on supply.

Dave also highlights how the crisis has brought a renewed focus on the need to reduce food waste, with 9.5 million tons of food being lost each year in the UK.

The report coincides with Animal Health Investment USA, a large scale event on 12 and 13 October connecting businesses and investors around opportunities in the animal health industry. Dave sits on the event’s Global Advisory Board.

To get hold of the report, please get in touch with Kisaco Research.

Things to consider – recruitment in Agritech

Sam Clayton, Managing Director and Recruiter at AgRecruit shares his views on recruitment in agritech

Running an AgriTech specific recruitment business means that I spend my time working with companies in the AgriFood domain when it comes to recruiting for roles that are non-traditional for the sector. This sees me working on roles in Software Engineering, AI & Robotics, Data and various Engineering disciplines, as well as commercially oriented roles focused on a tech service.

For start-ups, or perhaps more established entities delving into the tech market for the first time, recruitment can mean stepping outside of the Agri world and into a wild-west where you’ll be fighting tooth and nail for the in-demand talent you need, against companies across the likes of Banking, Retail, Energy, Healthcare and any other sector you can think of.

This post focuses on elements that need consideration before you even dip your toe into the water and start engaging with candidates. Some may seem obvious, but hopefully there’ll be one or two you hadn’t thought of which will help you on your way…

Does what you’re looking for exist?

You may have 3-4 business needs that require addressing, varying from Sales through to Software Development – but, if you’re expecting one miracle worker to solve all of these, you might have to think again. With the odd exception, generally people will specialise in one discipline; so you need to decide which of these is the most pressing, or work out if you can recruit for more than one post.

How challenging is the role to fill?

You’ve decided that your requirements are feasible and it’s all systems go. Will it be straightforward though? Software Engineers and Data Scientists, for example, are established role types – but are still notoriously hard to find and attract. Are you looking for a skillset that is abundantly available, or is this a highly specialist role that could prove challenging?

Can you make life easier for yourself?

If, based on the above point, you’ve deduced that this could be challenging, can you take measures to open up the pool of viable candidates? Some flexibility on aspects such as remote working or the role requirements (could elements be learned on the job?) can significantly facilitate your journey.

In agritech recruitment, what do you have to offer?

What is standout or unique about you and your proposition that will be enough to not only convince somebody that the upheaval of changing jobs is worthwhile, but also that you should be their first choice versus the other parties vying for their attention? How are you making your ‘USPs’ (Unique Selling Points) apparent to candidates?

Do you have an interview & selection plan?

What type of interview(s) do you want to carry out and across how many stages? Are all decision makers agreed on what is needed and reading from the same hymn-sheet? Will your process give people a chance? Of course, the barrier for entry can’t be set too low… but, on the other hand, a process that is overly arduous or drawn out may result in great candidates being ruled out for minor imperfections or becoming disengaged.

Do you have the time?

You doubtless have other tasks and responsibilities that require attention; do you have the time to make this a priority right now? Can you review CVs in good time? Do you have time to vet candidates on the basics (e.g. salary expectations, are they serious about looking or just ‘window shopping’, etc) before committing to interview? Are you and all other decisions makers available to move through the interview process at sufficient rapidity?

Will you need help?

If you’ve exhausted your own network and your job ad isn’t yielding results, you may need to enlist help and look at going down the Recruitment Agency route. It will need to be a sufficiently attractive proposition for an agency to invest time & resources into. Surprisingly to many, the fee % you’re willing to pay is not the most important thing here; experienced Recruiters are more likely to prioritise the prospect of a healthy working relationship and partnership. To aid this, consider whether you’d be happy to work with one agency exclusively, or will there likely be further assignments to come should they deliver for you?

All the above points could lead to a blog post on their own, but hopefully this is enough to help make your life easier and start to maximise your chances of success. We are passionate about building further relationships in the AgriTech space and lending a helping hand where possible to growing companies in this domain, so will always be happy to provide advice and guidance for free on the topics mentioned here. Happy hunting!

Contact Sam Clayton at AgRecruit for help on anything covered in this post, or any other recruitment related enquiries:
(+44) 01908 035950
sam.clayton@agrecruit-ltd.com

Claiming tax relief in agritech with R&D

Claiming tax relief

Paul Crooks of CATAX, an Agri-EPI member, explains how those in the agritech sector can make a claim via the available Research and Development (R&D) tax relief.

“The demands on farmers and the agri-tech sector, driven by requirements for increasing efficiency, minimising or mitigating environmental threats, reducing energy use, waste management etc are significant and are driving an enormous research and development effort within the industry. However, farmers and the agri-tech sector are missing out on hundreds of thousands of Pounds in unclaimed Research and Development (R&D) tax relief.

“We know not enough farmers and agricultural businesses are coming forward because the numbers reaching Catax’s door are dwarfed by those in other industries such as engineering and manufacturing. As one of the UK’s leading specialist tax companies, that finding is meaningful.”

Areas where R&D is most likely to be found in agriculture include:

  • Development and use of new technologies and processes in farming
  • Reductions in the environmental impact of the sector
  • Use of data and the internet of things to aid crop or animal management
  • Robotics and AI
  • Monitoring, satellite imagery and remote sensing
  • Increasing yield
  • Improving labour productivity through robotics and machines
  • Resource management
  • Biotechnology
  • Drone technology
  • Soil management and smart irrigation.

The project doesn’t have to be successful to qualify and claims can be back-dated two years.

Many businesses do not realise that much of what they are doing can be categorised as R&D under the government’s rules, making them eligible for the valuable tax relief that was designed to reward and encourage innovation. The HMRC criteria for genuine R&D is whether an appreciable improvement can be shown, addressing a scientific or technological uncertainty.

“Catax worked with a leading UK equipment manufacturer who wanted to develop their own range of manure spreaders and trailers and the technological uncertainty came about in meeting new mechanical, construction and design parameters to produce a new series of equipment which had increased functionality. Our twelve years of experience in specialist tax relief enabled us to identify and, importantly, maximise the qualifying costs in this innovative project and the tax benefit to the engineering business amounted to £30 000.”

Another client wanted to develop an automatic gas purging system in his potato store and a lot of work was carried out in determining the optimum location and frequency of gas sensors which linked to the automatic purging pump. The total tax saving for this business was over £60 000.

The average tax relief benefit for farmers and agritech businesses we have worked with has amounted to £50,000 – a significant sum which could be reinvested in the business to fuel further innovation and growth. If your business profits from products you hold a patent on, then the Patent Box Tax Relief can also help retain more of those profits in your business.”

Many businesses in receipt of public grants from Innovate etc have been advised that they cannot claim R&D Tax Relief on grant aided projects. This is untrue, although the claim is processed through a different HMRC programme to the normal one available to SME businesses and can amount to a benefit of nearly 10% of the entire R&D project.

As in most disciplines, the results achieved by specialists can differ significantly from that achieved by many generalists and the same principals apply in the field of R&D Tax Relief. Most good R&D tax specialists will work on a commission basis so cost considerations can be dismissed as no fees will apply unless a significant benefit is achieved for your business.

Catax have developed a highly efficient system which maximises your tax benefit but minimises your time involvement while we collect and process the information required.

For more information, visit: www.catax.com.

Unlocking new UK funding for agri-food innovation

Agri-EPI Centre can help

Agri-EPI is seeking to lend its expertise to businesses in the agri-tech space to help them access the UK Government’s £1.25 billion government coronavirus support package.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the new package this week to protect firms driving innovation in the UK. It includes a £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector. SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans.

UK funding

Agri-EPI has the expertise to help de-risk both the financial and technical aspects of accessing and utilising grants from the new support package.

Chief Executive Dave Ross explained:

“Agri-EPI works to develop partnerships and provide support to UK businesses seeking to develop, evaluate and market technical and engineering products which support efficiency, profitability and sustainability across the food supply chain. We work closely with academia and science and have a portfolio of publicly-supported facilities and assets which are open for use by our partners.

“With a strong track record of success in supporting businesses of all sizes to successfully access funding and to invest in opportunities, we are primed to offer our expertise to any businesses seeking to access this new UK Government funding and we urge those in the agri-food sector with an interest accessing the funding to contact us so that we can lend our expertise to making it happen.”

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

For further details on the new UK funding opportunities, visit the UK Government’s website.

To discuss collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre, please contact Business Development Director, Lisa Williams.

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.