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Discover all the latest news from farming, innovation and technology with us.

Agri-EPI news explores new precision engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across crops, land management and livestock for improved welfare and increased productivity. We have a broad memberships from the farming, manufacturing and retail sectors, as well as collaborating on projects around the world.

Swiss crop electrophysiology specialist Vivent is a registered B Corporation™

The ‘Fitbit of plants’, Vivent’s PhytlSigns device, the first commercial crop health diagnostic system based on plant electrophysiology, has been certified as a B Corp – a Certified Benefit Corporation – after meeting rigorous social and environmental standards which represent its commitment to do business in a meaningful way, by pursuing purpose as well as profit. Vivent’s technology leads to increased yields, improved crop protection effectiveness, and encourages the adoption of environmentally preferable protection solutions – so more food, less chemicals. With recertification every three years, Vivent has embarked on a process that aims at ever higher standards and continuous improvement.     

The B Corp Certification covers the whole business – five key impact areas of Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers. The certification process is rigorous, the company has to score over 80 points and provide evidence of socially and environmentally responsible practices – including energy supplies, waste and water use, worker compensation, diversity and corporate transparency. To complete the certification, Vivent had to legally embed their commitment to purpose beyond profit in their company articles. Vivent scored 101.7 in its overall B impact score. 50.9 is the median for ordinary uncertified businesses.

Vivent is now part of a community of over 4500+ businesses globally who have certified as B Corps. The B Corp Community is reflective of the global economy with businesses from a cross section of industries and sizes. These include well-known brands like innocent, Patagonia, Alpro, Triodos Bank, Alessi, and Ecoalf. Recent attention on the agriculture and agritech sectors makes Vivent’s B Corp Certification a notable step, and signals a shift towards greater accountability and transparency. Vivent joins Swiss agritech companies Ecorobotix and CleanGreens as well as 60 other Swiss B Corps.

Carrol Plummer, CEO of Vivent says: “The B Corp certification has been a goal of Vivent’s since its inception. The process was tough, but fair and really helped us to work on many aspects of organization management including our sustainability objectives and streamlining our mission.”

Jonathan Normand, Founder and CEO of B Lab™ Switzerland : “We are very pleased to welcome Vivent to the B Corp community.  As an innovative technology serving agriculture and research, we welcome their commitment to accelerate the transition in a collaborative approach to a resilient and stakeholder economy.”

There are currently 745 certified B Corps in Europe and 4500+ worldwide. Other agriculture and food industry B Corps include Ynsect, AppHarvest, Danone Canada, and Aerofarms.

About Vivent: 

Vivent was founded in 2012 by serial entrepreneurs Carrol Plummer and Dr. Nigel Wallbridge, who have now applied their information processing and telecommunication system skills to biological networking, with an initial focus on crop monitoring. The pair have worked with leading agricultural institutes, universities, crop protection companies and growers to validate this innovative approach. Vivent’s focus is on high-capital indoor growing operations with plans to move into high-value outdoor crops and then into large volume field crops. More information is available at www.vivent.ch 

About B Lab Switzerland

B Lab Switzerland is the Swiss branch of the global non-profit B Lab. B Lab is transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet. As a leader in economic systems change, its global network creates standards, policies and tools for business. In addition, it certifies companies – known as B Corps – that are leading the way. To date, the community includes over 4,500 B Corps in 77 countries and 153 industries, over 8,000 benefit corporations, and 150,000 companies managing their impact with B Impact Assessment and SDG Action Manager.

For further information contact: team@agri-epicentre.com

 

Agri-EPI Centre supports online portal to boost UK agri-tech exports

Mike Freer MP, Minister for Exports formally launched a new portal to help the UK Agri-Tech industry export to new markets.  

The portal has been developed by the Department for International Trade and three UK Agri-Tech trade associations – UK Technology for Agriculture and Genetics (UK TAG), the Commercial Horticultural Association and the Agricultural Engineers Association. The Agri-Tech Centres sit on the portal the steering group alongside its founding organisations and Local Enterprise Partners in the Midlands Engine, Northern Powerhouse and South West. 

Business Development Director, Lisa Williams said: “Agri-EPI Centre, funded by Innovate UK, is pleased to support the launch of the international portal alongside our sister centre’s. The portal will provide a platform and an access point for overseas contacts that wish to understand and connect with world leading agri-tech companies based within the UK, whilst connecting with all partners on agri-tech matters – a growing market to support the sustainable agri-food sector.” 

By signing up to the platform, users will gain exclusive access to several ‘Meet the Buyer’ events each year, as well as the ability to communicate directly with international buyers through an internal messaging system.  The functionality of the directory allows users to search by sector, product and region. It also provides access to the UK Capability Brochures on agricultural engineering, companion pets, horticulture and livestock genetics published with our Trade Challenge Partners. 

Chris Jackson, Export Manager for UK TAG. Said:Post-Brexit, Britain has a unique opportunity to strengthen its position as a global hub of agricultural science and innovation, developing and exporting technological solutions to improve food production around the world, and attracting inward investment to support jobs and economic activity at home.”  

It is vital that we tell the world what we’re good at, and this new website will help us to get the message out there that the UK produces some of the best agricultural technology and help companies take advantage of future trade deals.” 

The Minister for Exports launched the portal at the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science & Technology in Agriculture today (10.01.22), where he spoke of the need for the UK to shout more loudly about the UK’s leading agri-tech expertise and capabilities in order to boost exports. 

 

Farm Automation Innovation Helping to Mitigate Labour Shortage

In the wake of unprecedented geopolitical and pandemic-related changes spanning the last few years, the UK’s agri-food labour shortage has been exacerbated. In the most recent government update released at the start of the year, it was announced that the Seasonal Worker visa scheme will now been extended to the end of 2024. This update includes a forthcoming series of recommendations around an Automation Review, to reduce reliance on labour.

With labour shortages significantly affecting farms and supply chains, the need for innovation in the automation space has become an imperative. Our recent prototype lettuce harvester project in collaboration with PDM, G’s, the University of Bristol, GRIMME and IDS is a great example of the kind of innovation that could assist in mitigating the fallout from these labour shortages. Early predictions for the harvester suggest a possible 50% reduction in labour needs.

Agri-tech and automation innovations continue; in an effort to alleviate manual labour requirements and to keep farms operating effectively, we are working on a number of exciting automation projects with our members that we will be sharing this year. We look forward to future industry and government collaborations continuing to invest in developing these innovations

Agri-tech success in the Midlands – 3 years on

New agri-technology is centred around bright ideas – but when it comes to turning those ideas into reality then having the right contacts is key. And the Agri-EPI Centre’s Midlands hub is proof of that, having facilitated cutting-edge projects since it opened three years ago.

“We help people to get things done,” explains hub operations manager, Les Hurdiss. “My job is matchmaking companies and enabling development of practical, forward-thinking agricultural technology.”

The Midlands hub is located at Harper Adams University, meaning tenants have direct links to local farms, university researchers and – through Agri-EPI itself – assistance in securing commercial or grant funding. Comprising 10,000sq ft of workshop space and 6,000sq ft of office and meeting rooms, it offers flexible solutions for tenants, from one-hour conference slots to full-time premises.

“Our aim is to inform, inspire and innovate,” says Mr Hurdiss. This involves five steps: Identifying farmers’ challenges, finding firms with ideas to solve those challenges, giving access to university faculties to prove the concept, securing funding, and facilitating partnerships with farmers or other businesses to get it off the ground.

The networking element is therefore key. “Sometimes people get as much out of chatting over a cup of coffee as they do spending hours in research. The hub is a great opportunity for early and mid-stage agri-tech companies to come to one place where they have all the facilities and opportunities to meet like-minded people, farmers and academics to bring their ideas to fruition.”

So what kind of innovations are existing tenants working on? The technology ranges from hydroponic growing systems to autonomous crop management, drones to livestock boluses, and waste management to insect protein. And there have been some notable successes, says Mr Hurdiss.

“We work with DIT to bring companies into Shropshire as a landing pad. When UPL (an Indian company) came to the site just over a year ago, they liked it so much they bought a 65-acre research farm down the road.” Not only has that created new jobs in the area, but MagGrow – which is developing magnetic ultra-fine spraying technology with Agri-EPI – is hoping to hold field trials at the UPL site next year. “The Midlands hub is real ecosystem with opportunities across the whole farmed sector.”

NoFence

Synne Foss Budal, general manager at Norwegian firm NoFence, has been renting office and warehouse space at the hub since April, making it the 10-year old company’s first overseas base. “When we arrived we had 25 customers in the UK, now we have 140,” she says. “The real value comes from networking; getting to meet the right people, including Government policy makers.”

NoFence makes virtual livestock fencing; animals wear a GPS-connected collar which emits a sound when they get close to the pre-set boundary. “Instead of using their eyes to see the fence they learn to use their ears,” says Mrs Budal.

The benefit is that no physical fencing is required, meaning stock can graze conservation areas without new infrastructure. And farmers can rotationally graze paddocks without needing electric fencing; they simply input the new boundary on their phone and GPS does the rest.

All of this helps to improve grazing practices without disturbing the soil; a win-win for the environment, adds Mrs Budal. “We want to be part of making agriculture greener.”

Earth Rover

Earth Rover has been renting office and workshop space at the hub since 2020. “It’s a great address to have as a start-up; it puts you on the agri-tech map,” says the firm’s David Whitewood. Earth Rover is developing a robotic broccoli harvester, and is also pursuing grant funding to create a smart weeder using concentrated light imaging.

“Being part of the Agri-EPI community is very useful; we share ideas about industry requirements. The farm facilities at the hub are amazing and there’s a good support network among the other start-ups. There’s a lot of cross-fertilisation, which is what we need.”

 

Agri-EPI Centre and CIEL delighted to host Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI today.

We took the opportunity to provide insight into work of the Agritech Centres in their role of translation of science into best practice and related agri-food sector benefits

Ottoline visited the Agri-EPI Northern Hub and CIEL-supported LARIF building and met Dr Mark Young of CIEL and Dave Ross of Agri-EPI, who provided examples of work the Agritech Centres are doing to benefit sustainability and commercial impact, leveraging our networks including key academic partners.

We are grateful to the University of Edinburgh for the overall co-ordination of the visit. Pictured are (left to right):

Prof. David Argyll, William Dick Chair of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Professor Moira Whyte, Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh
Dave Ross, CEO, Agri-EPI Centre
Prof. Jonathan Seckl, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh
Helen Dundas, Data Driven Innovation Sector Lead in Agritech, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director, The Roslin Institute
Dr. Thomas Farrugia, CEO, Beta Bugs Ltd
Dr. Mark Young, Head of Innovation, CIEL

NEVONEX announced as Agri-EPI conference sponsor

NEVONEX, powered by Bosch, has been announced as the sponsor of Agri-EPI Centre’s annual conference on 28 October.

The conference, titled ‘The Path to Sustainability’, will focus on the role of agri-tech in the journey towards more economically and environmentally sustainable farming.

The free, online event will bring together farmers and the wider agri-food industry, technology developers and start-ups, investors, and researchers in a series of panel discussions about the role of data and technology in improving productivity and profit while protecting and enhancing the environment. Farmers involved in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm Network will join the conversation.

Bosch supports farmers productivity and sustainability through its NEVONEX platform, an open, manufacturer-independent ecosystem providing seamless connectivity and automation of work processes and machines on-farm. You can find out more and register for the event here.