Satellite Farms

Our satellite farms all have different specialisms and geography across arable and livestock settings, enabling us to explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock. The Agri-EPI farm network stretches the length and breadth of the UK, enabling the research and development of novel technology, commercial trials and on-site data analysis in as many different regions and combinations as possible.

 

Myth busting difference in research trials with UK Farm Network

Connecting tech innovators with agriculture

Agri-EPI’s team of experts helps start-ups and tech innovators with a proper research trials setup by brokering relationships with relevant parties, with a representative sample, in a commercially relevant setting.

You’ve spent months, years, and maybe even decades, taking an extraordinary idea from a concept to a prototype. Whether your innovation is a sensor, a feed additive, a diagnostic, a biological solution, a change in animal management or anything else, your end-users are going to want to know that they’re buying into a tried and tested product, service, or model.

Most tech developers will be familiar with the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale – developed by NASA during the 1970’s, the scale allows innovators to track the maturity of technology. The scale stretches from 1-9 with 9 being the most mature, and requires the prototype to be validated and demonstrated in a relevant and operational environment during levels 5-7. During TRL 9, the final product should be demonstrated to have operated successfully in the environment for its intended use.

What is the challenge?

For a technology company with no former experience in the agriculture sector, finding access to the suitable farm environment on which to undertake research, trials and demonstrations can often prove impossible. First and foremost, farms are places of business via which livelihoods are made – understandably, farmers can be less than forthcoming with their desire to get involved with anything that could adversely affect their bottom line. Furthermore, farms can be dangerous settings with heightened biosecurity measures to boot. Operating technology in such a setting should be the job of an expert.

Knowing which farm type to work with for trials, validations and demonstration purposes will be key to achieving the desired outcome. You’ll want to ensure a representative sample has been used, in a commercially relevant setting. Agri-EPI’s team of experts can help guide you to achieving just this, brokering relationships with the relevant parties along the way.

Validating and demonstrating agricultural technologies

We’ve broken this section down into three helpful sections to help you understand and decide the best path forward for your innovation at its current stage of maturity:

  • Anecdotal Trials: for innovations at TRL 4/5
    This stage isn’t crucial but can give innovators extra piece of mind that their technology is making some kind of positive difference at a farm-level before they invest in further work. Gathering anecdotal evidence will likely involve asking personal connections to engage with your innovation and report back any noticeable changes to production.
  • Commercial Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-7
    This stage is vital for those required to understand more precisely the impact of their innovation on production. During commercial farm trials, data for a particular set of parameters will be collected and should be analysed to determine any changes. On most commercial farm settings, projects are at risk of disruption from everyday occurrences such as a change in animal feed or labour providers.
  • Research Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-9
    Undertaking trials, validations and demonstrations via research units ensures a level of control beyond that which can be achieved on a commercial farm setting. For example, animals will be carefully grouped into representative samples and groups maintained under identical environmental settings. Research level projects are the only way to produce robust results with which to scientifically validate technology.

Conducting research farm trials with the Agri-EPI Farm Network

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo StackedAgri-EPI have a unique network of 24 ‘Satellite Farms’ operating in all the major plant and livestock areas – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. In addition, Agri-EPI operate a network of commercial, semi-commercial and research farms which, in partnership with industry and academia, offer controlled settings for scientifically robust research to take place. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Farm Network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

Working with Agri-EPI to facilitate trials, validations and demonstrations guarantees independent project oversight, the timely provision of high-quality data, reliability, and connects you with a vast network of forward-thinking, leading farmers and other important players in the agri-food supply chain. Agri-EPI can provide testimonials from previous projects.

More information

Supporting the agri-tech sector, emerging novel technology and methodologies, through our network of farms and broad multi-sector membership, we support and help deliver great results in engineering precision innovation.

Learn about our industry impact around the globe, or for more information about our UK satellite farm network, please contact Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

The best Farm Business Managers review and plan ahead

In farming circles, November is normally the start of the winter round of conferences, events and a wide range of meetings from Business Groups and Monitor Farms to commercial companies showcasing their products for the coming season. Not so this year and farmer’s diaries will instead be filling up with invites to webinars, podcasts and virtual events – including Agri-EPI’s own webinar showcasing the benefits of technology at Parkend with Satellite Farmer, Brian Weatherup, on the 25th November.

Personally, I miss the face to face interaction of a “live” meeting, particularly in a smaller workshop format, where body language can signify so much and pull in completely different threads to a discussion. However, we are where we are and as Farm Business Managers it is vital to gather as much knowledge as possible from our peers and colleagues by whatever means are available.

In the last update I said that harvest has been varied across the country, but I hadn’t appreciated how varied until recently. NE Scotland has had a record harvest with average spring barley yields of over 8.5t/ha not uncommon and autumn drilled crops looking exceptional – yet a very different story in the south of the country. Whilst I have no doubt the weather is the main factor in this difference, I wonder if it’s the only one. Farmers in Aberdeenshire, where harvest moisture for wheat is regularly well above 20%, are used to growing cereals under challenging weather conditions – so are they routinely doing something different to mitigate the weather impact?

Perhaps the focus on virtual communication is an opportunity to “visit” a farm geographically remote from your own, see what they do differently and what areas could be applied to benefit your own farm. So when trawling through the on-line lists and invites, perhaps look to subjects and areas which may seem less relevant to your own farm.

November is also the time of year to carry out an in-depth review of the past season, whether it be crops or livestock – what worked, what didn’t work, what could have been done better and apply that to the planning for next season.

Opportunities for farm business managers

Another opportunity created by virtual communication is to use the time freed up to take this review and planning process a step further and look 5 years ahead. There will be significant changes taking place during this time initiated by Brexit, climate change and consumer habits.

Get your close advisors involved and have a think about what the farming environment might be like in 5 years’ time, how fit will your business be and what might you have to change to ensure you maintain a resilient business.

As the business environment will change, the level of technology available is likely going to change at an even greater rate and will be a key tool in maintaining a resilient business. You need to marry up technology to what you think your business will need to look like in 5 years’ time, investing in areas of your farm and business that you may not have considered in the past, but which opportunities have arisen through the combination of emerging technologies and changing circumstances.

There is one constant in business and that is change – you are either moving forwards against your peers or moving backwards against your peers – there is no such thing as standing still.

Change will create opportunities and by taking time to think and plan ahead now, you will be in the best position to capitalise on these opportunities when they come your way.

 


Gavin Dick

Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.

A Dark Horse on the crop sensing scene?

An Agri-EPI-supported trial of a new crop monitoring service has delivered promising results for Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian, Scotland.

Bielgrange comprises 350Ha of lowland arable land and 240Ha of hill with a beef herd running between both. As part of Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme, Niall is helping develop and evaluate Dark Horse Technologies’ service, which uses satellite and drones to monitor crops, diagnose growth problems and predict yield.

Dark Horse’s prediction of yield from Niall’s field of second winter wheat was accurate to within less than 0.5% – and they did it without setting foot on his farm.

Niall said:

“We chose a difficult field for the trial where the crop was poorly established. The open canopy enabled weeds to establish which we could not treat without damaging the crop. Dark Horse remotely programmed a drone mission. All I had to do was go to the field and press start then, when it finished the mission, upload the memory card online to Dark Horse. We initially predicted a yield of around 8 tonnes and revised this throughout the growing season as Dark Horse showed us how things were progressing.

Dark Horse’s ultimate prediction – made three weeks before harvest– was 6.4 T/ha and the actual result was 6.43 T/ha. Going forward, the prediction could help me with the management of harvest storage and forward selling. We were impressed with the accuracy of the results. I’m intrigued to see what else it can do.”

Dark Horse Technologies promotes its service as being different from other forms of crop analysis because it goes beyond pure spectral analysis and incorporates specific spatial and temporal analysis of the crops.

Jared Bainbridge, Founder and Chief Executive of Dark Horse Technologies said:

“What we were able to achieve with Niall is a great example of our service. Feature analysis allows us to monitor the geometric growth trajectory of each plant in the field over time. We can gauge each individual plant’s performance to understand the ideal size and shape of a crop at any point in its life cycle and can benchmark each plant’s performance.

Our service is designed so that it can be delivered with factory issued drones you can buy off-the-shelf. We’re not a drone company but an advanced crop imaging company. We are capable of combining multiple sources of data and imagery such as satellite, drone, mobile, sensor and ground-truth data; into a proprietary model capable of predicting yield and mapping crop-loss events with a high degree of accuracy. We are also able to integrate with existing on-farm machines to ensure sprayers target the areas of the field which need the most help, saving time and money.”

Niall and Dark Horse and now preparing for more trials, including a field scale seed treatment trial and the measurement of grass output from a paddock grazing system for cattle next summer.

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

“This kind of trial is what our satellite farm network is all about: bringing together farmers with the developers of next generation technologies and techniques to develop and evaluate new ways of supporting producers’ efficiency and productivity.”

On-farm technical support: introducing Emily Laskin

An interview with Emily Laskin, one of the Agri-EPI Satellite Farm team members who is focused on the technical delivery of on-farm projects. As Projects Assistant, Emily plays a vital role coordinating projects on-farm which includes proposing ideas for trials to farmers, handling day-to-day project activity on farm, sourcing data for projects, assisting with bid writing, and more. Another part of her role is focused on ‘horizon scanning’, which means that part of each day is dedicated to learning about new and upcoming Ag Tech in the industry. Emily Laskin is also the Project Manager on the Paraguay Smart Farm project.

Emily LaskinWhat does a typical day at Agri-EPI Centre look like?

“A typical day is a combination of meetings, calls, email writing, research, and other unique project organisational tasks. Pre-COVID, my team frequently travelled to networking events, on-farm meetings, and conferences as well.”

What has been the best part of your job so far?

“The best part of my job has been getting to know the farmers and getting to see all of the different forms of production across the UK. I love getting out on farm and seeing how each operation is unique.”

Can you tell me about any international work you have done with Agri-EPI Centre?

“I am the Project Manager for the Paraguay Smart Farm project and was lucky to have to opportunity to visit Paraguay in February of this year. The project is currently focused on trialling AgSpace’s Contour platform in the South American climate. The trip illuminated the unique struggles South American farmers face and how different their production methods are from those used in the UK. We were able to network with other Paraguayan companies during the trip and are hoping to do more work there in the future.”

Which research topics are you interested in or currently active in?

“I am currently taking a course on Regenerative Agriculture. I am very interested in how traditional farming practices can be used alongside agri-tech in order to cultivate the land in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way (while increasing profitability!). I’m also very interested in the carbon trading market, animal welfare and sustainable livestock rearing practices, and robotics.”

What do you think the next exciting on-farm technology will be that will make a difference?

“I think one of the areas of research with the most potential to make an impact is soil carbon and the carbon market. If we can figure out how to accurately measure carbon sequestration in the soil we will be able to identify ways of maximising carbon sequestration and thus make a positive impact on climate change. The carbon market will be a great way of incentivising farmers to utilise more sustainable practices.

I think agri-tech has the potential to impact carbon management, animal welfare, and improving yields on farm while decreasing inputs. Technology like satellite imagery and a wide variety of sensors can be used to make more profitable and sustainable decisions on farm.”

Are you doing anything outside of your role?

“It might be interesting which could be interesting that I am taking a course on Regenerative Agriculture by The Savory Institute!”

Which Agri-EPI capability is one to keep an eye out?

“I was involved in the procurement process for a WingtraONE UAV that is currently deployed at Elveden Estate (one of our Satellite Farmers). The drone is used for mapping the fields throughout the growing season. This type of aerial imagery can serve many purposes including providing the framework for variable seed-rate and fertiliser application. I think this type of technology has a lot of untapped potential and I’m excited to see how its applications evolve over time.”

 


Meet the team

With national and international expertise and reach, our team are drawn from throughout the UK with hands-on farming, agri-tech and academic specialisms. Learn more about working at Agri-EPI or meet other members of the Agri-EPI Team.

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.

China SmartFarm partners

China SmartFarm concept

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.

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