Research and development - Agri-EPI Centre - Precision Innovation

Research and Development

Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock. Partnering with academic, publicly funded and private research and development teams and individuals, our aim is to improve and increase the use of precision engineering and technology throughout agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture in the UK. Supporting the next generation of farmers and agronomists to help feed the population and support a sustainable approach to land and animal farming and management.

Aquaculture Innovation Centre opens on Scotland’s Argyll coast

An array of aquaculture specialists, academics and industry representatives gathered at Loch Fyne on Scotland’s Argyll coast yesterday, 15th June, to witness the formal opening of Agri-EPI Centre’s new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre (MAIC).

 

Guests of the launch event were welcomed by Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, Alastair Barge, and CEO of Agri-EPI Centre, Dave Ross, who introduced the new centre.

 

“The facility is scaled and configured to bridge gaps identified by industry, including testing of instrumentation and validation of operational welfare indicators, and other trials, under controlled conditions with near market-sized farmed fish. The proposed investment is industry led – responding to industry demand and taking design and direction from that demand.”

 

Guests enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a networking lunch, and the witnessing of the formal opening of the centre.

 

In conjunction with independent aquaculture company, Otter Ferry Seafish (OFS) – and jointly funded by Innovate UK and Agri-EPI Centre – the Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre offers fully serviced research and development facilities to aquaculture producers and technology providers and is aimed at helping to drive sustainable solutions and improve efficiency for the UK aquaculture industry.

 

Alastair Barge, Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, explained:

“Research has been at the heart of the company since day one, but our recent collaboration with Agri-EPI has added new impact and a new species in salmon. We have a great mix of industry and research, and together we can forge the way as innovators in sustainable aquaculture.”

 

Agri-EPI Centre has over 220 industry focused stakeholder members spanning retailers, supply chain associations, and high-tech companies, large and small, and this collaboration helps drive innovation and solutions within the sector.

 

“Enabling assets such as the new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre provide industry and academia with bespoke industry-focused facilities to perform development testing, validation and solution-finding.”

 

If you would like more information about Agri-EPI Centre, please visit: https://twc.agri-epicentre.com/

Dairy welfare and World Milk Day

This world milk day we are highlighting the importance of collaboration and working together to support the development of sustainable and efficient dairy technologies that prioritise animal health and wellbeing.

Agri-EPI Centre recently hosted a dairy research collaboration event with our sister centre, CIEL and member, Westpoint Farm Vets, at our state of the art South West Dairy Development Centre. The event brought together delegates from 13 companies and academic institutions involved in dairy welfare, including Agri-EPI Centre, CIEL, Westpoint Farm Vets, Farm Vets South West, Kingshay, Bristol Vet School, Vet Partners, Innovate UK, Duchy College, Aberystwyth University, Queen’s University Belfast, Steanbow Farms, and University of Nottingham.

Discussions involved the importance for the farming industry to prioritise high welfare, achieved by being compassionate to the mental and physical condition of animals. Dr. Reynolds, a professor of large animal production at California’s Western University, stressed the importance of collaboration across research and industry to address welfare issues, a message which resonated with the participating researchers, vets and farmers.

Matt Dobbs, Managing Director of Westpoint Veterinary Group and close partner of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“I was pleased with Agri-EPI hosting leading dairy researchers from across the UK at the new state of the art Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. With a keynote speaker passionate about animal welfare and the backdrop of the new welfare focused Dairy Centre to stimulate discussion, we were delighted that the group committed to continue collaborating to further enhance the UK’s leading reputation for farm animal welfare. Key to the future will be the application of technology and the group agreed to focus on early detection of farm health and welfare issues.”

Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre is a state of the art dairy facility that demonstrates profitable and resource efficient milk production, uses the latest technology available to optimise animal welfare and sustainable milk production, integrates robotic milking with precision grazing, and provides state-of-the-art facilities for research, development and demonstration.

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

 

Jane Lycett joins Agri-EPI Centre

Jane Lycett has joined the Agri-EPI Centre team as our new International Business Development Manager.

Born on a Shropshire dairy farm, Jane graduated from the Agriculture Department at Reading University. She worked in dairy sales before pursuing a career in business support, funding and inward investment. For the past decade she has worked with the Department for International Trade, initially based in the British Embassy in Paris and then in the UK, to work for DIT’s Investment Services Team. More recently she worked as their Agri-food Specialist.

Through her role with DIT, Jane worked closely with the Agri-EPI Centre, and since joining the AEC team as International Business Development Manager last month, has continued to develop international relationships and identify collaboration opportunities with overseas partners. This includes leading on the International SmartFarm initiative to support efficient and sustainable approaches to farming and food production across a range of countries, working with UK agri-tech innovators.

“I’m looking forward to identifying opportunities to deploy world class UK agri-tech expertise overseas and also collaborate with companies from other part of the globe – working with the hugely talented and dedicated team at Agri EPI Centre” – Jane Lycett, International Business Development Manager at Agri-EPI Centre

New innovation centre unlocks aquaculture opportunities

Agri-EPI Centre’s latest innovation hub at Loch Fyne on Scotland’s Argyll coast will help to drive sustainable solutions and improve efficiency for the UK aquaculture industry.

In partnership with independent aquaculture company, Otter Ferry Seafish (OFS) – and jointly funded by Innovate UK and Agri-EPI Centre – the Marine Aquaculture and Innovation Centre (MAIC) offers fully serviced research and development facilities to aquaculture producers and technology providers.

For further information on the MAIC facility or to enquire about research collaboration please contact Charlie Bowyer.

charlie.bowyer@agri-epicentre.com

“We’ve been involved in aquaculture innovation and new species development since 1968,” says Alastair Barge, Managing Director at OFS.

“For this initiative, we did market research to see what the sector needed to deliver sustainable solutions – R&D requires facilities, and most businesses can’t afford to run their own research stations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The MAIC comprises a series of replicated small and large land-based tanks, located indoors under programmable lighting.

“The tanks have water capacities of two cubic metres and 20m3, respectively. In the 12 smaller tanks we can test four different regimes or diets, in triplicate, as commonly required for scientific evaluation,” Mr Barge explains. “In the six larger tanks, we can rear salmon and other farmed species to near-harvest weight.”

The tanks have a water flow-through system, incorporating pre-treatment using sand filtration and UV sterilisation. They are fitted with particle separators to measure uneaten food and fish waste.

Eduardo Jimenez, OFS’s Research and Development Manager, says:

“Land-based tanks offer greater environmental control than cages or other sea-based growing systems, improving the reliability of trials data. Interference from environmental factors is minimised because we can control and replicate conditions like lighting, water exchange rate, and oxygen levels.”

And the first trials are already under way.

“At the moment we are running a benchmarking feed trial for a commercial client comparing three diets, to assess which is best in terms of fish growth and feed conversion efficiency.”

As well as helping to improve diets and treatments for farmed fish and shellfish, the MAIC is well suited for evaluating different strains of commercial farmed species and for developing rearing methods for up-and-coming species like seaweeds. It also provides a platform for validating new aquaculture technologies for counting and observing livestock and monitoring water quality.

“This is a great new resource supporting UK aquaculture innovation and we’re going to keep improving the facilities, bringing in new species and trials,” says Dr Jimenez.

Improving aquaculture sustainability is at the core of the partnership and the MAIC.

“I think this centre can be a model for innovation, all with a background of sustainability,” adds Mr Barge.

Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development at Agri-EPI, is excited about the range of R&D projects which the centre can help with.

“It’s one of a kind in the UK. The centre will facilitate a range of trial work that will enable us to really look at efficiencies within the sector. It also opens the opportunity to carry out near-market trials, as well as linking into the long-term sustainability of the sector and wider ecosystem within that supply chain.”

“The partnership is a perfect combination to drive forward change and is a valuable resource to aquaculture businesses that want to initiate and progress R&D projects. If any business is interested in undertaking a project, then we encourage them to get in touch.”

 

Get inventive and take control of tax

The agricultural sector is taking undeniable initiative when it comes to innovation. But many farming and agri-businesses are missing out on a big opportunity to claim tax relief.

R&D is not all white lab coats and PhDs; farmers often carry out activities that are claimable under the R&D Tax Credit Scheme – a retrospective exercise which offers up to 33% of R&D costs as a tax credit.

Financial consultancy Leyton is working with agri-tech enablers, Agri-EPI, to make more UK farmers aware of the scheme and its potential to provide important cashflow, while aiding the improvement of operational efficiencies.

“The scheme can be applicable to work that is happening on farms day to day – but there is huge value underclaimed within agriculture because farmers don’t classify what they are doing as R&D and don’t fully understand their eligibility,” says George Stuffins, Business Development Manager at Leyton.

Broadly speaking, R&D occurs when farmers make improvements based on three key questions: How do they increase the quality of produce? How do they increase yield? And how do they become more sustainable?

Examples range from poultry farmers experimenting with feeding times and lighting concentrations to improve feed conversion or growth rates, to arable farms engineering weed control equipment to reduce reliance on chemicals and improve soil biology. Rewardable R&D is within the realms of every farm business and can be very lucrative, he says.

“Failed projects can qualify too, not everything goes right first time, and in HMRC’s eyes such work can still add significant value to knowledge in the sector.”

So how do farm businesses qualify for R&D tax credits?

Matilda Hayward, senior R&D technical consultant at Leyton, says that conversations with prospective applicants begin on farm with the aforementioned three key questions.

“It drives the project and outlines the business’ main goals, then looks at what R&D is already occurring on the farm and what other R&D strategies could be explored to capitalise on the R&D tax credit scheme.”

Criteria include:

  1. It must seek a scientific or technological advancement,
  2. It must be meeting a scientific or technological challenge to get the results or determine unfeasibility,
  3. It must show a systematic approach and be your own activity.

Eligibility is not exclusive to large scale businesses – it is entirely based on a business’ project meeting the key criteria – nor is there a maximum number of project claims.

So what can farm businesses claim?

As a retrospective scheme, applicants claim back money spent on innovative projects over the past two years at the end of a financial year.

The bulk of an R&D claim covers PAYE salaries but there is a rate for contracted staff like seasonal workers and consultants. A portion of utility costs are also claimable – albeit quite nominal, as are software licences.

However, high value claims come from projects using a lot of consumables like feed, medicines and artificial insemination products and services.

“The claim could also include a proportion of costs in relation to mortality within the R&D trial,” says Dr Hayward.

Businesses can’t claim capital costs under the scheme – but there are still opportunities under the Capital Allowance Scheme and through grants, says Mr Stuffins.

How the tax benefit is received depends on tax position as well as the amount the business is claiming back. But a misconception is that businesses in a loss-making position can’t claim.

“Businesses in this position can actually claim for a higher percentage of qualifying expenditure as cash,” he explains.

Looking forward, if a business decides to move ahead, then they need to treat it like an R&D project, says Dr Hayward.

She recommends keeping all the project details and data in one place, including trial results and analysis, when the trials took place, who was involved and the time spent on each activity.

“HMRC now looks for better audit trails so it’s about making sure it’s documented in the right way to make the most of tax credits,” she says. “And it also benefits the business because it can better justify claimed costs.”

Farmers often have a bank of information that can be used, like health monitoring, soil analysis, and data from audits and surveys.

“A consultant can help a business collate the retrospective data for work they didn’t even consider as an R&D project, as well as the best way to collect and collate data going forwards,” she explains.

“Farmers can claim directly. But involving a consultant takes the pressure off the farmer and gives them the security that the claim is compliant and includes all possible business improvements for maximum return.”