Young entrepreneur seeks to ‘freeup’ farmers

Agri-EPI Centre and Overbury Enterprises are working with a young entrepreneur and South Wales farmer’s son who has invented an innovative yet simple dial-reading tool which has the potential to save farmers significant time and money.

Tom McNamara

Tom McNamara demonstrating FreeUP

Tom McNamara’s device, called a ‘FreeUP’, can be mounted onto any kind of equipment or machinery to read and record their analogue dials, instantly making them ‘smart’.

Tom’s FreeUP is currently being tested on three farms including Overbury, which participates in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme. Tom has established his own company to develop and sell the FreeUP, and he is on the hunt for additional farms willing to take part in trials of the device.

Tom’s simple invention can read the value on any dial, as frequently as needed. Readings are recorded on a webpage and, if they move outside the parameters set by the operator, they will be notified via text message.

The ability to review the data gathered over time supports better informed decision-making. The data can also be exported for use in any other software.

Tom, who is also an academic researcher in farmer-led innovation, explained:

“It is not realistic for most farmers to replace their expensive analogue equipment with digitised versions. The FreeUP offers the solution by making any piece of equipment with a traditional dial ‘smart’. It doesn’t matter what the dial measures, when it was built, what brand it is – the FreeUP will automate it.”

After discussing the device with Agri-EPI Centre, Tom was invited to trial his FreeUP at Overbury Enterprises, where it is mounted on the water irrigation system. The FreeUP is also being trialled at Stackpole Farm in Pembrokeshire for monitoring water pressure in a bore pump and Cheshire’s Reaseheath College where it is being put to various uses in the milking parlour.

Overbury Farm Manager Jake Freestone said:

“Whilst irrigating, we use the FreeUP to monitor water pressure on the irrigation reel which alerts us to significant changes in pressure, allowing us to react quickly to any problems. We are now looking at other applications across the farm and estate.”

Agri-EPI’s Head of Farm Network, Gavin Dick said:

“We are keen to help Tom develop the FreeUP because it fits perfectly with our aim of helping farmers to gather and understand data simply and cost-effectively. It supports good decision making to help improve efficiency, productivity and profitability.”

Tom’s goals are to go on developing his FreeUP by trialling new farm applications, increasing the type of data it can gather and, of course, increasing sales. His overall ambition is to produce a suite of ‘FreeUP’ products in response to needs identified by farmers which automate tasks using simple and affordable equipment that ‘just works’.

Any farms interested in trialling the FreeUP can email Tom at or, for further information, visit www.freeup.world.

FreeUP

Productivity key to unlocking future opportunities in agriculture

Technology and UK farming

A new report published this week by the Food & Drink Sector Council (FDSC), to which the UK’s Agri-Tech Centres contributed, highlights the critical role of technology in the transformation of the UK’s farming industry.

The report was prepared for the FDSC by the Agricultural Productivity Working Group (and associated Task and Finish sub-groups), on which Agri-EPI CEO Dave Ross represented the Joint Centres.  The report states that the industry and government must together seize the opportunities presented by new policy frameworks and technology to lead the transformation.

With the UK leaving the EU, imminent changes to agricultural policy and the pressure to achieve net zero emissions, the report highlights the steps that industry and government can take together to overcome the productivity challenge that has long faced the British farming industry.

Agri-EPI’s Dave Ross said:

“Alongside fellow industry experts, I worked on this report to outline the priority steps we believe must be taken to maximise agricultural productivity during this unprecedented time for UK agriculture.

“As our report highlights, there is a fundamental need for farming to become more data-driven, allowing performance measurement and the sharing of data for comparison between farms. This will require a range of actions around safe and effective data sharing and use. The report’s further recommendation for an Evidence-Based Farming (EBF) Initiative will be a key part of developing data use in agriculture.  I am confident that Agri-EPI’s existing Satellite Farm network, along with the other Centres’ extensive networks, will play an important role in a new EBF programme.”

Speaking on behalf of the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres (Agri-EPI Centre, Agrimetrics, CHAP and CIEL) Lyndsay Chapman, Chief Executive of CIEL, said:

“We very much welcome the recognition given in this new report to the critical role of agri-tech innovation and data.  As farming faces unprecedented challenges, it is essential that farmers and food businesses have access to accurate information, allowing them to make the best management decisions. The Centres’ shared vision is to drive greater efficiency, resilience and wealth for UK farmers and the wider agri-food sector.”

Read the full report on the FDSC website here.

New venture for Agri-EPI at Dairy-Tech 2020

Agri-EPI is for the first time exhibiting at the major Dairy-Tech event

Taking place at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry on February 5, this one-day event showcases ground-breaking concepts and innovation.

Agri-EPI is teaming up with partners Glas Data and AgSenze to showcase technology at the event’s Innovation Hub – find them there at 10.55am.

Head of Dairy, Duncan Forbes, will be giving a talk about the ground-breaking activities taking place at the Agri-EPI South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset, such as the use of 5G connectivity for improved health and welfare, precision grazing trials and automated milking systems.

The partners will also exhibit at the stand, where visitors can learn more about each company as well as new projects, trials and technologies supporting sustainable milk production.

Lisa Williams, Agri-EPI’s Director of Business Development said:

“We see this is a key event for us so are looking forward to being there. Due to the transformation in the dairy industry over recent years, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that farmers need to be competitive and irrespective of their system type and market they supply. Regardless of their cost base, future successful dairy businesses must be informed, resilient, proactive and efficient. Dairy-Tech provides this platform, alongside a recognition that dairy farming has become a professional industry.

If you would like more information about our presence at the show, please contact Lisa by email or phone: 07950 697 212.

Project aims to help transform Scottish aquaculture industry

Increasing fish health, welfare and productivity

A partnership between Agri-EPI Centre and the world’s largest fish manual vaccination company, Stirling-based Aqualife, is set to help increase fish health, welfare and productivity in the aquaculture sector.

With support from Agri-EPI, Aqualife has won £250,000 funding from the Seafood Innovation Fund, awarded by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), to develop and launch a ‘transformational’ fish vaccinating robot by the end of next year.

The robot, named Incubot 2 will be able to vaccinate fish at sizes below 20 grams, as opposed to the common weight of between 30 and 120 grams, allowing producers to increase productivity by growing their fish out of hatcheries far sooner. It will be capable of vaccinating most species of farmed fish, in large numbers.

Incubot 2 will be a mobile platform, allowing Aqualife to offer automated vaccination to smaller fish farms which cannot afford to invest in large scale immobile systems.

The robot will also help to improve fish quality using artificial intelligence and ‘deep learning’ algorithms to increase vaccination accuracy and improve fish grading.

Aqualife Chief Executive, Gordon Jeffrey, said:

“The aquaculture industry in Scotland aims to double its economic contribution from an estimated £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6 billion by 2030. To achieve this, it must develop solutions to reduce fish losses, most of which result from disease.

“Health and welfare issues have also attracted public attention. Aqualife wishes to play a key role in transforming the industry by embedding engineering excellence within our company to offer a range of truly innovative products and services. This grant ensures we will be able to do that.

“Agri-EPI Centre has played a key role in us winning this grant. From initially pointing us in the direction of the competition to hands on helping us to prepare the application, Phil and the Centre have been crucial.”

Agri-EPI Project Manager, Phil Cassidy, said:

“Agri-EPI aims to stimulate collaboration and innovation to support sustainable food production and this project is a fine example of this. We look forward to managing the project to develop Inocubot 2.”

 

Aqualife and AEC

Visit creates fertile ground for growth of UK-China Smart Farm project

New opportunities arising from the UK-China SmartFarm collaboration were the subject of fruitful discussion at Agri-EPI Centre’s Northern Hub in Edinburgh today (18.12.19).

Agri-EPI hosted a visit by a high-level delegation from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, along with representatives of Innovate UK, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the University of Strathclyde.  The purpose was to explore Smart Farm opportunities with the Tianjin Municipal Commission of Agricultural and Rural Affairs and Tianjin Food Group.

Agri-EPI is helping to realise Innovate UK’s SmartFarm concept to develop a holistic approach to the food supply chain for a more efficient and sustainable approach to farming and food production. SmartFarm is a key component of the Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge, one of the major deliverables under the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy signed in December 2017 in London.

With the Agri-EPI-led pilot ‘SmartFarm 1.0’ already well underway in China, the plan is to create a transferable model for utilising a range of technology to gather data on inputs and outputs, in order to measure and reduce variation and increase productivity at all levels of the supply chain.

Agri-EPI Centre has been working closely with a variety of Chinese and UK partners to deliver SmartFarm 1.0. The project has now come to the attention of officials in Tianjin, who wish to explore how the project’s activities and positive impact may be extended to their region.

The delegation comprised senior representatives from the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Commission of the Tianjin Municipal Government, Tianjin Food Group Company, Tianjin Jinhai Husbandry Group and Tianjin High Quality Agricultural R&D Demonstration Centre.

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres said: “The China SmartFarm project is looking at how Chinese food production can utilise UK technologies to improve efficiency and reduce its environmental impact. We are delighted to have had the opportunity to discuss how we can build on current activities to further support sustainable food production in China.”

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Chief Executive said: “It has been a pleasure to discuss further SmartFarm opportunities and we thank the delegation from Tianjin for their interest in Agri-EPI and the current activities in China. We have already developed exciting collaborations with several Chinese partners and are keen to build on existing relationships to extend the reach of the China SmartFarm initiative.”

Agri-EPI Centre welcomes new COO

Kirk Siderman-Wolter has joined the growing Agri-EPI team as its new COO, working to support CEO Dave Ross and taking responsibility for the operational, financial and support functions of the organisation.

He started on the 1st of December, with a vision of ensuring Agri-EPI has the infrastructure to empower world leading precision and agricultural technologies.

Kirk has an extensive career ranging from work in central government to social enterprise and innovation companies. He has worked from audit to board level in the private, public and charities sectors all round the world, and has held posts with the Ministry of Justice, BEIS, the Home Office and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

A Chartered Accountant, he also holds an MBA from the London Business School and is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Guelph, Canada’s largest agricultural university.

Committed to the idea of giving something back to the community, Kirk is also a non-executive director of PTSD999, a charitable affiliated group for PTSD sufferers within the emergency services and is a governor for the Education & Training Collective (formerly Stockton & Riverside College Group).

Having worked with everything from start-ups and rapidly growing companies to large and multinational organisations, he has a strong understanding of what it takes to run a business and how to work with central, devolved and local governments; as well as socially minded organisations.

More recently he has also worked with an innovation house, supporting their growth from two functioning operational units to a site with seven highly advanced research and design facilities, bringing technology and skills with global relevance.

“I am excited to be joining this dynamic and rapidly growing organisation,” he says. “I have a vision of Agri-EPI operating as a fulcrum to bring our members and partners together with government and the investment community to create a fertile and productive environment to support agri-tech innovation in the UK.”

A word from the acting Chair Vincent Gillingham, Director AgSpace:

“I have the pleasure to congratulate Kirk on his new role as COO, I know the whole Board is wishing him a successful mission. Agri-EPI has made an excellent choice based on expertise, experience and talent.“