Robotics, AI and Automation

With an increasing role in the modern management of land and livestock, at Agri-EPI we are at the fore-front of robotics, AI and automation in farming. Our role to explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture. Collaborating with a broad range of teams and individuals from science, farming and the retail and processing sector for the improvement of our land and farming methods.

Improving wheat yield predictions with crop image technology

Novel applications developed by researchers at BioSense Institute in Serbia are dedicated to make deep learning technology a widely accepted practice in agriculture, providing small and big farm holders to benefit from precision farming technology.

BioSense, the Serbian Research and Development Institute for Information Technologies in Biosystems, is a multidisciplinary research institute for agriculture of the future. The wheat yield prediction research conducted in Serbia aims to increase the collection of farm management data, help farmers understand more about their farm business by using sensor technology and IoT applications, and reduce farm labour.

Wheat yield experiments

Wheat is one of the most important crop types in food production worldwide. Due to increasing food demand and rising population, it is necessary to boost production and supplies of wheat and other cereals.

In 2019, BioSense Institute, observed wheat in different experimental field stages and did this for three consecutive seasons. Cameras used during the experiment were the FLIR SC620 in season one and two, and a thermal camera in the third season. By taking pictures of the wheat growing in their field (four weeks before harvest), and uploading it through a mobile application, farmers were able to gain information about the wheat yield estimate based on the current state of growth.

The objective of this research is to enable the farmer to use imagery to detect at an earlier stage when estimated yields are below average and timely apply agronomic treatments to improve yield.

Farm efficiency with data management

The automatization of ear density calculation (number of ears per unit ground area, usually 1m2), which is one of the main agronomic yield components in determining grain yield in wheat, can provide fast evaluation of this attribute and potentially save 200 hours of manual work, ease monitoring, and increase crop management practice efficiency. This will save money from potential yield reduction, which can cause big losses in the farmers’ investments.

The currently used process of yield prediction includes manual and tedious work. The farmer takes samples from the area of 1m2 from the field (if the field is larger, then from a few locations within a field), and measures the biomass. The next step is to separate and count the ears of wheat manually. Since the counting of one sample requires up to 1 hour, while the number of samples can easily exceed 200, this can result in more than 200 working hours, or two to three weeks of manual labour that could be avoided.

The collected dataset comprises RGB and thermal images. Thermal images give us information about the difference in temperature between the ears and their background through their colouring and ease ear detection. Images were taken in four dates on two locations in two stages of wheat growth.

Power of deep learning

Since we have witnessed a huge breakthrough of neural networks, especially in image processing, deep learning has greatly outperformed classical models and algorithms. The nature of deep learning is that the addition of more data improves the quality of results, so by uploading images from farmers (crowd sourcing), the initial database will be expanded, so the algorithm will achieve better and more accurate results.

For more information about the methodologies used in this research by BioSense Institute, visit the DRAGON website.

 

Photo gallery:

 

Data-driven precision agriculture by DRAGON

Agri-EPI Centre is a core partner within the data-driven agriculture services and skill acquisition project DRAGON. The aim of the project is to enable communication skill transfer and knowledge exchange between research organisations and end users through big data and effective data analytics.

 

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This article is an extract from an article of Željana Grbović – Junior Researcher, BioSense Institute – published on www.datadragon.eu.

Grain ‘swimming’ robot offers solution to global food loss

New Innovate UK-funded project tackling the global problem of post-harvest grain losses

Poor Autumn planting conditions, a Spring drought and the recent heavy rains have led to a very difficult UK harvest. And the challenges don’t end once grain is in store – uncontrolled temperature and moisture levels can lead to pests and mould which, due to the notoriously difficult task of monitoring the condition of stored grain, contribute to global post-harvest grain losses of more than 20%.

Now, a new Innovate UK-funded project is tackling the problem. Technology start-up Crover Ltd, Agri-EPI Centre and East of Scotland Farmers have teamed up to develop the first robotic robot able to safely sample grain bulks at various depths and while still in storage, where existing methods cannot. Each one of the robotic devices, called the “Crover”, is expected to be able to save a total of 380 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) every year.

Grain robot

Over the next 18 months, the grain robot Crover will be trialled at the East of Scotland Farmers co-operative in Perth & Kinross, at a farm in Northumberland and within Agri-EPI’s network of partner farms. The project is being supported with £250,000 of Innovate UK funding.

Lorenzo Conti, Crover’s Managing Director, explained:

“Post-harvest losses have serious financial impacts for cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers and breweries. But they also have significant social and environmental consequences, which are becoming ever more even more pressing due to threats such as increasing global food demand, intense price volatility, and harvest unpredictability due to climate change. Four and a half billion people per year are exposed to dangerous mycotoxins from grain moulds which contaminate 25% of the world’s food supply. The carbon footprint from cereal storage losses equates to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

“Like a plane’s wings in air, or a boat’s rotor in water, the patented technology behind our Crover robot allows it to fluently “swim” through bulk solids, like cereals and grains, monitoring their condition while they are still in storage and without leaving any grain unchecked. Our aim is to improve grain storage systems, helping to build the resilience of the grain supply chain and the wider global food system.”

Unlike current grain solutions that can only reach near the surface pose a safety hazard to operators collecting the samples, Crover’s remote probing device will be able to autonomously collect samples throughout the whole silo/shed. This gives early detection of potential spoilage allowing steps to be taken to reduce losses and maintain quality.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are significant and high. Through this new and very exciting collaboration, the partners will blend their technological and industry expertise to investigate how grain robot Crover can respond to that challenge by working effectively in commercial grain storage sites, with potentially huge benefits to the agri-food industry and wider society.”

Robin Barron, General Manager of East of Scotland Farmers said:

“We have a special interest in obtaining representative samples from silos and stores full of malting barley, so that we can accurately assess their recovery from dormancy before being dispatched to maltster customers.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centre Policy Lead said:

“Innovate UK is pleased to have been able to support this innovative and exciting project. It has the potential to deliver significant impact in terms of improving food safety and security as well as helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. “

In this video, the project partners explain the technology and project impact:

More information

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

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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.

Soft fruit robotics

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

New film highlights technology for sustainable dairy production

Dairy Production technology

Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre (SWDDC) in Somerset and one of its satellite farm, Parkend Farm in Fife, are featured in a new film highlighting the development of technology in sustainable dairy production.

The video was produced as part of the Horizon 2020 ‘Internet of Food & Farm’ project. It explores the work of the project’s Dairy Trial Team at Strathclyde University, led by Professors Ivan Andonovic and Craig Michie.

The team is looking at sensors and Artificial Intelligence-based solutions for helping farmers increase their herds’ milk yields, based around a new platform called Herdsman+.

Lots of data about a cow’s health, fertility and performance can be collected using tools such as internet-connect collars, leg tags and milking robots. The key to generating the most accurate picture of each cow in the herd is to be able to integrate this data. Herdsman+ does exactly that, analysing the information to allow the farmer to make well-informed management decisions for optimising each animal’s health, welfare and milk yield.

Sustainable dairy

Agri-EPI has supported the Dairy Trial Team by providing data from the SWDDC and Park End dairy farm. The two dairies have also hosted events for farmers to consult them about new and future tools which may support their businesses’ sustainability during these challenging times for the dairy sector.

 


Logo Science Animated

Science Animated

This video has created by Science Animated is a scientific communication agency who develop engaging and accessible animations based on specific researcher’s work. For more information: https://sciani.com

 

UK agri-tech start-up Roboscientific Wins Tesco Agri T-Jam

Pre-Summit Pitch Day Tesco

 

A UK agri-tech start-up beat over 100 international entrants to win the 2019 Tesco Agri T-Jam on Monday October 14, hosted in partnership with the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit.

The second annual Tesco Agri T-Jam and World Agri-Tech Pitch Day saw ten exciting agri-food start-ups present their ideas for improving supply chain efficiency and sustainability. For the first time, the Agri T-Jam was held at Tesco’s HQ and Heart Building, offering the entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet a variety of Tesco colleagues and supplier partners, as well as key investors from among the summit’s global audience.

Tesco’s Agri-Food team led the judging panel with Emmanuelle Lerges (Food Technical & Agriculture Director), Mark Suddaby (Category Director: Meat, Fish, Poultry), Natalie Smith (Head of Agriculture) and Jo Hickson (Head of Tesco Labs) joined by supply chain partner Branston’s Vee Gururajan (Innovations Director).

Winner Roboscientific

Roboscientific has developed a new generation of sensors for detecting disease, infestation and contamination in agricultural products using Volatile Organic Compounds.  The technology is fast, reliable and affordable and at the point of commercialisation for its automatic early disease detection system for growing broiler poultry and early alerts of spoilage in stored potato and onion crops.

Commenting on the winning selection, Tesco’s Emmanuelle Lerges said:

“We have to commend the high standard of the pitches and the different technologies that made it to the final, across a wide range of sectors. It made it very difficult to choose one winner, but in Roboscientific, we see a fantastic opportunity for long term collaboration, from reducing antibiotics and waste to disease identification and food safety improvements. We look forward to working with Ben and the team at Roboscientific on trialling and developing technology through our supply chain.”

Ben Curtis, Research Development Manager at Roboscientific:

“We’re shell-shocked and elated! It’s been a great experience and we look forward to working together with Tesco and its partners to improve food wastage and animal welfare within the food supply chain.”

Roboscientific will now benefit from introductions to Tesco’s supply chain partners, as well as ongoing support from the Tesco Agriculture team, the value of which was shared in an update from last year’s winner, ImpactVision. Roboscientific will also pitch to the full World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit as part of the start-up Technology Showcase on Wednesday October 16, showcasing its solution to an audience of more than 500 international agribusiness leaders and investors.

The remaining nine finalists will also join the summit: Acris Biotechnology (UK), Biosystems Engineering (UK), BlakBear (UK), CCm Technologies (UK), Faromatics (Spain), Metronome Technologies (UK), N2 Applied (Norway), Proteon Pharmaceuticals (Poland), and Smartbell (UK).

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Association Partner

Smartbell logo

Agri-EPI Centre member Smartbell

As you read this we are pleased to be an Association Partner at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London on 15-16 October. Renowned as the leading platform for new partnerships and business deals, we will be rubbing shoulders with international companies, investors, and start-up representatives. It is sure to generate some exciting opportunities.

One of our members; Smartbell, made it through to the final 10 to pitch their solution to the Tesco Agri T-Jam at the Innovation Summit. An animal health management platform, Smartbell’s real-time monitoring uses AI and the Internet of Things to improve disease detection and productivity. Although Smartbell did not go home with a win today, we warmly congratulate the Smartbell Team for making it to the top 10 entrants.

As Association Partner of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit and the Tesco T-Jam, we will offer our members – early to mid-stage agri-tech start-ups in this case – also next year the opportunity to showcase their solutions that can help optimise Tesco’s ag supply chain.

 

More information

For more information on all finalists and the summit visit: https://worldagritechinnovation.com/tesco-agri-t-jam/

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Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Agri-EPI supports ground-breaking project Hands Free Farm

Agri-EPI Centre is project managing the innovative Hands Free Farm project at Harper Adams University. Hands Free Farm is the follow-on to the famous Hands Free Hectare project started in 2016 by Harpers Adams and Precision Decisions with the aim to be the first in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground. The automation farm project has been taken through two successful cropping cycles and won a number of awards, including the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Future Food Award.

Now, thanks to funding from Innovate UK, the project has evolved into Hands Free Farm, a three-year-long project, run by Harper Adams and Precision Decisions and the UK division of Australian precision agriculture specialist Farmscan AG.

The project has just got underway and is based at Harper Adams’ campus in Shropshire. Agri-EPI Centre is providing the team with project management support and development space at its Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, located on the university’s campus.

Les Hurdiss, Manager of Agri-EPI’s Midlands Hub, said: “Hands Free Farm is a fantastic, ground breaking project which is truly innovative in taking farming into a new era. We are very proud that the project will be developed in our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub. Robotics and automation are at the forefront of the current transformation of agriculture and Hands Free Farm is one of several projects in which Agri-EPI is involved which are advancing this exciting area.”

Jonathan Gill, Harper Adams Mechatronics Researcher said: “This time, we’re planning to grow three different combinable crops across 35 hectares.

“We’re moving past the feasibility study which the hectare provided us with, to now a vision of the future of farming.

“We want to prove the capability and ability of these systems in reducing the levels of soil compaction and precision application.”

Kit Franklin, Harper Adams Senior Agricultural Engineering Lecturer, said: “We want the farm to become a testbed for agricultural innovation. Once the farm’s established, we’ll be encouraging companies to come and test and evaluate their technologies.”

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.