Agri-Tech innovation at the heart of sustainable food production

As agriculture faces its greatest ever demands, data-driven technology is crucial to sustainable and profitable food production

The changing global economic environment is going to mean that farmers must change their approach to how they manage their business. By the year 2050, the world population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion, two thirds of the global population will live in urban areas. To meet increasing demand, the annual world agricultural production would need to increase by 60%. Technology has an important, if not vital, role to play in the transformation of the UK’s farming industry.

Together with the UK government and as one of UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation, Agri-EPI Centre works on facilitating the creation of profitable and sustainable agri-tech businesses.

In the next couple of months, as part of the ‘Agri-Tech Enabler’ campaign together with our wide partnership network, Agri-EPI  Centre will demonstrate the practical and commercial benefits of farm technology innovation, applied across all major commodities. We invite technology companies to bring forward new ideas that have the potential to directly, or indirectly, impact UK Farming and result in sustainable food production. Be sure to look out for #agritechenabler related news on social media in the weeks to come!

As the leading agri-tech enabler, Agri-EPI Centre supports all kinds of businesses to help maximise their innovative ideas. Unlocking the potential of agritech innovation, if you would like to discuss opportunities for your business, big or small, or have something to contribute, please contact team@agri-epicentre.com. We will be delighted to talk to you.

 

Agri-EPI Centre DairyTech webinars July 2020

DairyTech webinars

One of the sectors currently being challenged, where innovative technologies are key to improve efficiency, sustainability and resilience is dairy farming. We would like to invite you to a series of webinars where we highlight the use of novel technologies and management systems designed to improve dairy herd health, wellbeing and sustainably increase milk yields. Read more about the different webinars held in July and how to register:

The webinars give an insight into a range of projects rolled out on our various UK dairy facilities, which are operated in conjunction with our partners Kingshay, SRUC and Harper Adams University and our Satellite Farm Network.

UK-China SmartFarm partnership takes next steps

Utilising UK technology in China

Agri-EPI Centre and one of China’s largest food companies, the Tianjin Food Group, have today signed a collaboration agreement to develop a smart farming project utilising UK technology in China to boost early disease detection and productivity monitoring in pigs.

The project, called “SmartFarm 1.5”, will involve Agri-EPI and UK companies RoboScientific, Greengage Lighting and Innovent Technology, working with pork producers for the Tianjin Food Group in north eastern China. It is being funded by Innovate UK from the UK and supported locally by the Tianjin Food Group.

The new project is a continuation of the SmartFarm concept developed in China by Agri-EPI Centre, which seeks to develop international collaboration to support efficient and sustainable approaches to farming and food production.

The first SmartFarm project looked at precision-based approaches to nitrogen application in wheat production. It ran successfully between 2018 and 19, co-sponsored by Innovate UK, led by Agri-EPI and involving UK companies SoilEssentials and RDS, with autonomous and measurement systems contribution from University of Strathclyde. The Chinese partner organisations were NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC).

Following the successful delivery of this inaugural project, Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Group agreed to explore further opportunities, resulting in today’s signing of an agreement at the 4th Tianjin World Intelligence Congress.

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“We are honoured to be taking China SmartFarm to the next level by working with the Tianjin Food Group to deliver this important project. China is the world’s

largest producer and consumer of pork and technology and to support better productivity and earlier disease detection has significant potential economic benefits. Agri-EPI is excited to be building relationships with a range of international partners, in China – as well as New Zealand and Paraguay – in delivering SmartFarm projects.”

Committee Secretary and Chairman of Tiajin Food Group Zhang Yong said:

“Agri-EPI Centre is an important part of UK Research and Innovation. It has the world’s leading level in precision agriculture, the application of engineering technology in the entire agricultural industry chain, and the application of agricultural robots. With the continuous development of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other intelligent technologies, agriculture has entered the era of intelligence. Precision feeding, precise management, real-time disease monitoring, and automatic environmental adjustment are all improving the level of agricultural production. At this critical historical opportunity, we hope to co-operate sincerely with the British side, make full use of their respective advantages, jointly develop and demonstrate the promotion of smart agricultural technology, and contribute to the progress of global agricultural technology.”

Alasdair Hamilton, Head of the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy, Beijing said:

“Partnerships in agricultural technologies that support sustainable, environmentally friendly farming is a priority area for science and innovation cooperation between the UK and China. The production of sustainable food with a low carbon footprint is a global necessity. It is therefore a pleasure to see that the MOU between Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Company will deepen cooperation in data driven technologies that will improve how we farm and produce nutritious food.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead said:

“I am delighted that this SmartFarm 1.5 collaboration agreement has been signed today. It marks the next step for both countries working together under our prestigious Flagship Challenge to address the global challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors. This follows on from SmartFarm 1.0 an initiative that formed a key output of the UK China Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy’s Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge, and which was a direct result of an earlier MoU signed between CRTDC and Innovate UK in November 2016.”

The new SmartFarm 1.5 project builds on a long history of UK-China co-operation in agricultural research and innovation. The relationship was enhanced in 2017 with the signing of the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy. SmartFarm is a core part of one of the strategy’s major deliverables, the Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge.

Food security and increasing farmers’ income remain a primary importance in China’s agriculture and rural policies. Technology plays a key role in the government’s plan to achieve this, with more investment being directed at deploying large agri-tech research programmes and innovation systems.

China’s approach to agricultural innovation overlaps many of the UK’s priorities including those set out in the Industrial Strategy.

On June 30, join Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with 8 Hours Ahead, for a webinar exploring agri-tech opportunities in China. For more and to register, visit: www.agri-epicentre.com/land-and-grow-the-agri-tech-china-opportunity.

For further information, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 0131 239 7030, 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

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.

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

South West Dairy Development Centre in new 5G film

Reinvigorating businesses and industries driving rural economies

A new film produced by Cisco in conjunction with BBC StoryWorks describes how 5G-connected technology is being tested at Agri-EPI Centre’s South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset.

The film, which is being broadcast internationally, highlights how 5G technology has the potential to bridge the connectivity gap between urban and rural areas, helping to ‘reinvigorate the businesses and industries that drive rural economies”.

The purpose of the recent 5G RuralFirst project, led by Cisco and involving Agri-EPI, explored how 5G may be used successfully in rural environments, including on the Somerset dairy farm.

As a cow steps into a robotic milkers at the dairy, sensors recognise the animal, record her health and fertility status and know how much milk she is expected to give. The strong, consistent connectivity that 5G can provide has the power to ensure farmers can get the most out of this real-time data.

In the film, Duncan Forbes, Head of Dairy at Agri-EPI Centre, talks about the great potential of 5G technology to support farming and wider rural communities, saying:

Over the next few years there is going to be an explosion of the technology and there’s an opportunity with this improved connectivity to keep the population in rural area and attract others.”

 

View here the video ‘Connected cows: bridging the urban-rural divide’:

A3 Scotland 2020 rescheduled due to Covid-19

Postponed to 2021

As a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Organising Committee for A3 Scotland 2020 has made the difficult decision to postpone its inaugural event, which was due to take place from 30 September to 1 October 2020. Given the ongoing uncertainty, the Committee took the view that it would be impossible to go ahead with international gathering, built around face-to-face networking and site tours.

We are hugely disappointed to have to postpone the inaugural A3 conference but take comfort from the fact that the fantastic support shown by our sponsors and delegates will be maintained for the rescheduled conference. Depending on progress in easing lockdown restrictions, we now plan to hold the event on 21 and 22 April 2021.

It is with great regret that we have had to reschedule what promised to be a fantastic international gathering bringing together key organisations across animal health, agri-tech and aquaculture. We know there has been huge enthusiasm for the event but the health and safety of our speakers, sponsors and delegates is of our highest priority.

We are pleased to say that the rescheduled event will offer the same strong programme based around the theme of ‘Transition to Net Zero’, with an exciting and engaging line-up of committed thought leaders from across industry, science and policy. If you are interested in being involved as a speaker, sponsor or delegate, do not hesitate to get in touch and be sure to follow on social media for the latest updates.

In the meantime, the Committee will be working hard to ensure they maintain momentum in planning and promotion. We are confident that the delay to the event will not dent what promises to be a highlight of the 2021 conference calendar.

Future updates about A3 Scotland can be found online at www.roslininnovationcentre.com.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support. We look forward to seeing you in 2021!

The A3 Organising Committee
Lawrence Brown (Consultant and Veterinary Surgeon), Richard Mole (Moredun Research Institute), Neil Clelland (Scotland’s Rural College), Lyndsay Chapman (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock), Andrea McColl (Highlands and Islands Enterprise), Yoni van Breukelen (Agri-EPI Centre), David Telford (Knowledge Transfer Network) and John Mackenzie (Roslin Innovation Centre).

Covid-19 will drive digital transformation for livestock vets

The Covid-19 crisis is a catalyst for increasing the rate of digital adoption by UK livestock vets, according to Agri-EPI Centre Board member Matt Dobbs.

Writing for the Animal Pharm website, Matt, who is practice lead for digital technology at Stonehaven Consulting, suggests coronavirus has led the already-challenged veterinary industry to question the ways it works and identify areas for improvement.

Factors already indirectly influencing the livestock veterinary industry, including the increasing focus on domestic food production, have come even more to the fore because of the crisis. As food production responds and adapts, says Matt, livestock vets must consider how they can stay ahead of the game.

Digital solutions for monitoring livestock health and welfare have become more varied and more affordable over the past 10-15 years, while also becoming of greater interest to the big processors and retailers. Matt believes the rise of digital technology could very well revolutionise the types of services offered by livestock vets.

Citing the move by the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to respond to Covid-19 by legalising the remote prescribing of medications to farms, Matt suggests, that should this happen across Europe, we will reach a point where the majority of medicines are dispensed by just a few companies.

Loss of revenue in this area means farm vets will have to look at new streams, very likely involving tech solutions. This could see ruminant vets becoming consultants looking after larger animal populations remotely, like their pig and poultry counterparts already do.

Matt said:

“The future is going to be very different. You will see different business models, such as dedicated farm consultant working from the back of their car. Do they really need an office and all the expense that goes into having a clinical practice? All they really need is a decent laptop, access to health and production data and a car.”