Project - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

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Learn about our projects, the impact and results around the UK and abroad as we support and enable agri-tech innovation in farming and food supply. World-leading projects in agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture.

New data and robotics project essential for viticulture

New data and robotics projects could bring much needed time, cost and labour savings to UK vineyard producers.

Precision agriculture specialists, Agri-EPI Centre, AI-driven autonomous robotics company Antobot and vineyard owner, Ian Beecher-Jones, have embarked on two projects at JoJo’s vineyard near Henley-on-Thames to create a vineyard digital map, and on-the-ground and aerial monitoring.

The shareable digital infrastructure project – funded by Innovate UK and Defra as part of their Farm Innovation Programme Research Starter Round 2- will create the digital infrastructure of the vineyard, including rows, posts and vines to an accuracy of two centimetres using real time kinetic (RTK) surveying tools. The shareable infrastructure model, based on the Australian Collabriculture project could save producers many hours of work and cost in setting their vineyards up ready to embrace viticultural technology.

On-the-ground and aerial monitoring will be gathered by robots and drones to add a layer of data to the digital map. The robots are being developed by agriculture robot technologists, Antobot, and drones are supplied by Agri-EPI Centre. This second strand is funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

The resulting technology will be highly transferable to other row crop sectors, such as orchards and soft fruit.

Duncan Ross, business development manager crops, Agri-EPI Centre said:

“When wine growers want to survey a vineyard with a robot or drone they have to do a survey and plan beforehand, which can be highly time-consuming if they have to do it for each technology they want to use. Creating a shareable digital twin of the vineyard should cut down the amount of time that contractors spend out in the field, saving producers and technology companies time and money. If growers have their own shareable digital infrastructure built to a standardised format, it can be shared with any technology company the grower would like to work with, reducing duplication of unnecessary onboarding and set up time every time a new technology is to be tested and tried in the vineyard or orchard.

Marc Jones, Business Director, Antobot said:

“This project is a vital step in the adoption and acceleration of sustainable robotics in viticulture. The grower-owned digital infrastructure will significantly reduce the time required for ag-tech providers to begin operations at the vineyard resulting in lower costs for the customer and faster development and deployment of robotic applications.

“The digital-infrastructure map will provide a common understanding and ‘language’ for both growers and ag-tech providers ensuring that precision can be matched to reality and reducing the friction between the data outputs and user. Antobot will use their various robot applications during the project, such as logistics (Assist) and scouting (Insight), to ensure that the digital-infrastructure captures multiple use-case requirements and is robust in a variety of tasks and conditions.”

Ian Beecher-Jones of JoJo’s Vineyard said:

“I expect the viticulture sector to act favourably to these exciting and essential projects. We need technology to find a way to replace the labour shortages the industry is facing by allowing a more accessible way for vineyards to embrace robotics and AI technology. It will hopefully allow us to find a new way of marketing vineyards to our customers through a potentially new revenue stream with consumer facing technological products and innovations. We cannot lose traditional wine-making skills, but any vineyard that can blend traditional with modern ways of production will be at the forefront of the industry.

“From my own 20 years of working in agri-tech, I know that there are growing pains for agri-tech companies; by working together, JoJo’s and Agri-EPI Centre can give a platform to companies to test their technologies and roll them out not only to the wider viticulture sector, but potentially other food growers.

“It is the shareability of the digital infrastructure that is key to establishing a reliable and trustworthy data platform we can all work from. Once established we can share it with and partner alongside a range of ag-tech companies who see the benefits and opportunities of working with one of fastest growing crops sectors in the country.”

Agri-tech expertise yields results for robotics firm

An agri-tech company from Essex is helping farmers overcome labour shortages and practice precision agriculture, thanks to support from the Agri-EPI Centre.

Antobot is developing two robots which will help farmers target valuable resources in the most productive areas, as well as taking some time-consuming tasks off skilled workers.

The Agri-EPI Centre has supported Antobot with knowledge and their network in agriculture, increasing understanding of the sector and facilitating connections with growers, research organisations and other companies.

They have collaborated on multiple grant funding applications with successful joint bids to develop agri-tech innovations. The Agri-EPI Centre’s invaluable knowledge and networking has helped Antobot to develop their business and market potential, contributing to their successful £1.2m seed round in 2021.

Antobot business development manager Zoë Stockton said:

“We first started working with the Agri-EPI Centre in 2020 and have built a great relationship with the team.

“One of the greatest benefits of our relationship with Agri-EPI Centre has been the expert knowledge they have, particularly about funding streams to help us innovate. As a result of that help, we were awarded Project Insight in UKRI and Defra’s Farming Innovation Pathways program which we are working on with Agri-EPI.

“The development of our Insight robot is the focus of this 24-month project, and Agri-EPI are involved as project managers and knowledge experts.

“They were really useful when we were going through that funding application. The relationship has also directly delivered new business for us, helping us to grow and create sustainable jobs. The assistance has been invaluable.”

Agri-EPI Centre, part of the UK’s Agri-Tech Strategy and supported by Innovate UK, helps develop profitable and productive solutions to empower more sustainable farms and aims to support projects which will generate economic growth and help tackle the global issues of sustainability and feeding the world.

There are four centres across the UK, dedicated to innovation.

Antobot has created a modular robot system which can be adapted for different purposes. The first two applications being developed are Insight, a scouting robot, and Assist, which is used for logistics.

Insight is currently in field trials on partner farms, primarily with strawberry and apple crops. It can collect and process data about crop growth and ripeness so precious worker resources can be directed to the areas where yield is likely to be higher.

 

Read more:

Antobot case study

Edinburgh based start-up leads the way in grain monitoring

A cutting-edge grain analysis project has won £366,000 in innovation funding under the Defra Farming Innovation Programme from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Crover is an Edinburgh-based company creating robotic grain storage solutions for improved and automated monitoring and management of grains.

Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are exceptionally high, above 20% in the UK and worldwide. Pests are to blame, with grain moisture content and temperature being the most significant factors. Cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers, and breweries, experience these challenges, which have high-cost implications in terms of lost revenue and costs to rectify.

Crover is developing a novel non-contact sensor for non-contact grain analysis able to detect specific molecular compounds within a radius of up to a few tens of centimetres, based on a novel miniaturised sensing technology. Crover aims to integrate this sensor onto their CROVER robot, the world’s first ‘underground drone’, which swims through grain bulks, and which is at the core of the CROVER autonomous Grain Storage Management system.

Lorenzo Conti, Founder and Managing Director of Crover says:

“At the moment the only grain bulk parameters that can be measured directly in-situ via sensors, without requiring a sample to be collected, are temperature, humidity/moisture and CO2 – we go into this project with the big ambition to expand that range significantly and to take measurements that are currently only possible in the lab into the grain bulk, while implementing that into the CROVER robot and system – think superman partners with batman, in a grain monitoring sense.”

Down the line, the result of this project is expected to allow for the expansion of the parameters that Crover will be able to measure, including specific nutrient measurements, insect presence and species identification aligned with different customer requirements. The project is being worked on in partnership with Agri-EPI Centre and Dyson Farming (formerly known as Beeswax).

“Having worked with the Agri-EPI Centre on other projects before, they are by now our go-to place for knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement, events and project management in the UK. The project further strengthens the collaboration between our two entities.”

Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre explains:

“Working with Crover has shown how Agri-EPI Centre can support with the development of innovative, disruptive technologies. The Crover team has expanded both their ambition and number of employees as they’ve developed their robot, from idea formation to on-farm testing towards the creation of a commercial product that will tackle waste issues in bulk grain storage.

Ed Ford, Technical Agronomist at Dyson Farming says:

“We are excited to working with Crover on this project. The potential for this technology is twofold when it comes to gathering sampling parameters instore. Not only will it allow farmers to understand the quality and conditions of the grains they have but will also help improve health and safety around grain sampling”

The project aims to address the arable sector and wholegrain value chain’s need for novel and alternative crop protection solutions, in support of the current push toward holistic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches.

Small family business becomes market leader in hoof health

An innovative project leading the way in hoof health has won nearly £250,000 in innovation funding.

Hoofcount is a 10-year-old family business, focusing on how to keep cows’ hoofs clean and healthy. Their project is aimed at using vision to develop an early detection lameness monitoring system. It has won funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, for feasibility studies combining innovation with research and collaboration with farmers and growers.

Hoof health is a prevalent issue in agriculture, particularly in the dairy industry, as it is one of the main factors leading to poor milk production. Dairy cows are susceptible to a range of hoof issues including Digital dermatitis, sole ulcers, white line disease and overgrown hooves. These often show a visual change in the underside and back of the hoof. These issues can develop initially without the animal showing visual signs in its gait.

John Hardiman, Software Engineer at Hoofcount explained:

“Lameness is a key issue in dairy herds, with conservative estimates of 25% of dairy cattle suffering from lameness and each lame cow costing more than £300 in loss of production and treatment. The Hoofcount footbath is trusted and recommended by farmers, vets and hoof trimmers internationally as they are seeing a continuous fall in lameness on farms using the Hoofcount Automatic Footbath.”

Detecting and treating these issues at an early stage is beneficial to the animal in keeping the hooves healthy and preventing severe lameness which leads to a lower production, increased veterinary and treatment costs, reduced animal welfare, a higher Carbon footprint, and many other issues. Developing a system that can visualise these changes daily and detect any potential issues early will be of huge benefit to the national herd. Utilising computer vision and machine learning is Hoofcount’s preferred method for monitoring and detecting these issues.

“Collaboration with farmers is core to Hoofcount’s continued innovation and leading reputation in reliable foot-bathing for herd hoof health. Agri-EPI Centre has bolstered our collaboration, with the introduction of The Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) at University of the West of England Bristol and successful application for Innovate UK funding (IUK). CMV has a track record of successful computer vision within agriculture. Agri-EPI has been instrumental in the project funding application and continues to support the project organisation with its network of research farms.”

“As with our automatic footbaths, we know that we will never get rid of Digital dermatitis and hoof health issues completely, however we want to do everything we can to minimise the effects of them and reduce the spread.”

Duncan Forbes, Head of Dairy at Agri-EPI Centre said:

“This is a great example of the sort of practical collaborations we seek to create, bringing together innovative companies like Hoofcount with leading research experts like the team at CMV at UWE Bristol. Early detection of lameness is vital to meeting the challenge of delivering a substantial reduction in lameness prevalence in dairy herds. UK milk producers will very much welcome the benefits to cow welfare and cost reduction that this emerging technical solution will deliver.”

Kaiapoi Farm hosts Agri-EPI’s second farm walk

Agri-EPI celebrated another successful and sunny day on-farm at Kaiapoi farm on Thursday, 19th May. Farmers Rob and Jo Hodgkins led a group of our Agri-EPI community including tech developers, farmers and industry representatives on a farm tour leading discussions around transitioning to regenerative practices, inter-row hoeing, novel sheep breeding techniques and more. Marcus Travers from Soil Essentials also led a fascinating talk on soil carbon and nitrogen retention.

‘Kaiapoi’ is Maori meaning ‘food over water’. Rob and Jo Hodgkins set up Kaiapoi in 2013 with 200 ewes on 60 rented acres of grass, and have imported Romney Rams from New Zealand to create the ultimate outdoor lambing ewe for the UK climate. They have driven the business forward hard and now run 2250 ewes across 1000ac semi improved grassland and solar panels and farm 1600ac of arable crops around North Hertfordshire.

“Getting people together on farm is incredibly important to showcase first-hand the opportunities in tech development that will deliver big impact on farms” – Claire Hodge, Head of Agri-Tech (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre

 

Agri-EPI and DIT host International Export Advice Centre at LAMMA

Last week Agri-EPI shared a stand at LAMMA with the Department of International Trade (DIT).

LAMMA is the UK’s leading farm machinery, equipment and agricultural services show, attracting over 40,000 visitors to its venue at NEC Birmingham and celebrating its 40th year this year.

Agri-EPI Centre, in collaboration with DIT, hosted the International Export Advice Centre, where officers from Latin America, Africa, and the Eastern European and Central Asian Network, were present on the stand for business-to-business meetings about UK export. Dr Elizabeth Warham, Head of Agri-tech for DIT, was in demand as businesses lined up to speak with her, and Agri-EPI supported on talks with information on their innovation projects and how agri-tech can have an impact on-farm.

Additionally, delegates including the State Minister for Agriculture of Uganda along with a Ugandan delegation, were welcomed to Agri-EPI’s Midlands Agri-tech Innovation Hub for a tour of the facilities and networking with other companies to find out about some of the UK’s most cutting-edge Innovate UK funded projects. Presentations were given by Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development at Agri-EPI Centre, Rebecca Geraghty, CCO of Agrimetrics, and Kit Franklin, Senior Agricultural Engineer and Principle Investigator for Hands Free Farm, who took delegates to see the workshop they use to develop and work on the autonomous tractors for their world-renowned project.