Satellite Farms - Page 3 of 4 - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

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.

Bridging the gap on climate change

Japan is embracing climate-smart technologies and practices for sustainable agriculture; and Agri-EPI is now helping to advance this for global benefits.

At DEFRA‘s invitation, Agri-EPI’s CTO Shamal Mohammed attended an international workshop in Tokyo on scaling up these technologies in early November, where he presented several case studies on bridging the gap between science, technology and farming.

The key case study – the Satellite Farm Network – aims to increase the use of smart technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, he says. This fits nicely with the SmartFarm concept being rolled out in China through Innovate UK – something in which the deputy director from the Ministry of Agriculture of Japan showed interest – see Agri-EPI’s China visit for more information.

Shamal also discussed using technology to maximise productivity, with some UK studies demonstrating that 11m tonnes of carbon can be saved just by improving efficiencies.

Linked to this is research into helping farmers understand limitations of productivity. “If soil is not in good condition and there are compaction issues, more fertiliser won’t increase productivity, but will increase emissions,” explains Shamal.

Other case studies were presented from every delegate country, with the Canadian Living Lab proving most interesting as it put forward ideas in union with Agri-EPI’s initiative to unite science, technology and farming practice.

Additionally, Agri-EPI shared ideas about creating a carbon market with the US Department of Agriculture, with potential for investment from private American investors. “It’s about building that market mechanism and space for trading the carbon stored in soils,” says Shamal.

Japan G20 Workshop November 2019 Japan Shamal Mohammed

The final day of the trip involved visits to three Japanese farms of varying size and layout, Shamal explains: “It was good to see how they managed their land and cropping and what they are doing to increase productivity and store carbon.” Japanese farmers are using labelling to persuade consumers that their products are more sustainable, shifting attitudes and purchasing behaviour.

The conference – which followed the G20 meeting in September – offered Agri-EPI the opportunity to meet and set up communication lines with individuals and organisations across the globe with similar aims. In addition, it helped to build relationships and share the SmartFarm concept – something Japan and other countries may now also be interested in establishing.

Next year, Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 Ministry of Agriculture Chief Scientists (MACS) meeting. Agri-EPI is looking into the possibility of getting a slot at the MACS next year.

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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.

South West Farmer’s Farm Manager of the Year 2019 Announced

Jake Freestone and Duncan Forbes

Jake Freestone recognised as Farmer of the Year 2019

Congratulations to Jake Freestone from Overbury Estate, Tewkesbury, who has been announced as the South West Farmer’s Farm Manager of the Year.

The award is well deserved: Jake, who partners with Agri-EPI as a Satellite Farmer, has recently participated in an exciting Agri-EPI-led trial of high-tech crop scanning equipment which can measure precisely a grain crop’s protein, moisture and oil content as it is being harvested. Jake used it to measure the protein content of milling wheat, allowing him to segregate or blend batches of grain to the desired protein levels, thereby maximising its market value. It is in recognition of his work that Jake has received the South West Farmer award.

Jake was named the winner at a ceremony in Taunton, Somerset, yesterday evening.

Runner-up was Duncan Forbes, Agri-EPI Centre Head of Dairy Development.

Duncan has worked in the dairy industry for around 40 years and has always been focused on moving with the times in response to the changes and challenges facing the industry. Duncan has spent much of his career with Kingshay agricultural consultants in Somerset but, since summer 2018, has also taken on the role of managing Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre.

The awards panel praised both Jake and Duncan for their abilities to plan, evaluate and adjust strategies to deliver profitable and sustainable farm businesses, to manage risk and to develop new ways to deal with traditional farming issues.


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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.

Beef Satellite Farmer shortlisted for Farmers Weekly Awards

Congratulations to Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian on being named as a finalist in the Farmers Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year award for 2019.

Niall was shortlisted in recognition of his commitment to the continuous improvement of his business – something which is also a key driver of his partnership with Agri-EPI.

Beef monitor

During his three years as an Agri-EPI Satellite Farmer, Niall has been trialling a variety of technologies, including the AFI Milk Silent Herdsman Collar for monitoring fertility and health and a quadcopter drone for aerial imagery of fields and stock.  He is also involved in ongoing trials of the Ritchie Beef Monitor, a technology he believes has great potential.

The Beef Monitor is a weigh crate with an integrated water trough, allowing cattle from 350kg to finishing to be weighed every time they drink. It can be used indoors or with animals at grass.

Data can be automatically uploaded to the cloud or exported via Bluetooth, to allow viewing of weights by phone, PC or tablet as well as on the Monitor itself.

Software is currently being developed to analyse the data collected, producing alerts if an animal is underperforming or is nearing finished weight.

Before using the crate, beef farmer Niall was weighing his cattle every three weeks in the run-up to finishing, a 1.5-hour process with EID tags, or a three-hour process without.

The £4,500 Beef Monitor offers Niall a more efficient and precise means of keeping track of animals that are nearing finishing, as well as those that are not performing.

He said:

The potential for the beef monitor is great. If you are a farmer who doesn’t weigh cattle in the run up to finishing, then to go from not weighing to using one of these is a huge leap, but it will help you hit the market spec.

We wish Niall luck in the awards, which take place on Thursday 3rd October at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.


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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.

Another ground-breaking beef project for East Lothian Satellite Farmer

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo

A beef producer working with Agri-EPI as one of its ‘satellite farmers’ is involved in an innovative scheme with Mark & Spencer which uses technology perhaps more commonly associated with crime scenes than supermarkets. Scottish beef farmer Niall Jeffrey, of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian, is taking part in the M&S scheme using DNA samples to allow meat products on the shelves to be traced back to the exact animal they are from.

The technology has the potential to give the consumer greater confidence about the source of their meat, to further boost the reputation of Scotland’s red meat around the world and even to make beef farming more efficient.

Niall was recently featured on BBC Scotland’s Landward programme explaining the scheme.

Marks & Spencer is building on the compulsory tagging system which has been in place since 2000 and provides each animal with its own passport.

Under the new scheme, each animal’s passport is scanned at the abattoir and the ear tag number recorded. The carcass is then swabbed, and a DNA sample taken. This means that a packet of meat can be tested, providing information about any meat that contributed to it, down to the farm and the exact animal it came from.

Steve McLean, the Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at Marks and Spencer, said: “DNA is unique genetic fingerprint. It’s closely associated with a crime scene, it works in the same way, we are able to trace the product regardless of how complex a final retail product that we are making is and we can work it back the way. So it gives us the genetic fingerprint of all the animals that make up that final retail product.”

“Through the work that we are doing we are able to identify lines that are more efficient, that give better eating quality. For me when we take that information and we build it back into breeding programs we will make our Scottish farming base all the more efficient and that’s got to be good for the industry.”

Logo BBCAgri-EPI’s Farms & Commercial Manager Gavin Dick said: “While Agri-EPI isn’t directly involved in this project, it demonstrates that, like all of our satellite farmers, Niall is an innovator who is open to trying new things to improve the productivity of his business and the quality of his products. Farmers like Niall are leading the way in transforming food production.”

Read more about this project on the BBC website.

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.

New scanner could offer barley growers better returns on their crops

Scotland may soon host trials of high-tech crop scanning equipment which allows barley growers to maximise the proportion of their crop suitable for the premium malting market.

The high-tech grain quality monitor, called CropScan 3000h, is a portable scanner that is clamped on to the clean grain elevator of a combine harvester to take samples of grain every eight seconds during harvest. The scanner can measure precisely the protein, moisture and oil content of the crop being harvested.

CropScan trials have already shown extremely promising results at Agri-EPI satellite farms in Suffolk and Gloucester during the 2018 harvest. There, the scanner was used to measure the protein content of milling wheat crops. Knowing the protein content of their crop at the point of harvest can allow growers to segregate or blend batches of grain to the desired protein levels. The farmers, John Pawsey (Shimpling Park Farm) and Jake Freestone (Overbury Farms), have been so impressed that they intend to continue to use CropScan during this year’s harvest.

Crop scanning potential

Gavin Dick, Agri-EPI Centre Farms and Commercial Manager, said the next step is to maximise CropScan’s potential, with a key target being the Scottish malting barley market. To be suitable for the malting market, and therefore attract a premium price, barley nitrogen content must be 1.65% or lower:

“The technology offers live information in the field about a grain crop compared to the traditional method of postharvest testing in a lab, allowing the grower to make field level management decisions.  As we already know there is a correlation between protein and nitrogen, our role now is to see where this technology can go, beginning with testing CropScan on malting barley crops to determine if the concept can be transferred to measuring grain nitrogen levels.”

Agri-EPI has begun actively seeking partners with whom to plan Scottish trials. Gavin said:

“The early reaction to the potential of this technology from those involved in the Scottish malting barley industry has so far been enthusiastic and we’re looking to firm up partnerships in the near future to get a trial off the ground. I believe this technology offers great potential as it may allow barley growers to segregate high and low nitrogen barley, as well as to blend grains with differing nitrogen levels, to bring a batch to the correct level for the malting market. This just isn’t possible with the traditional means of testing grain from the store once is has been harvested.”

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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.

Technology meets farming for better management

Partners beef monitors:
Partners Beef Monitor: Agri-EPI Centre, Ritchie Ltd and Scotbeef

As UK farmers face huge changes in their business environment, making precision all the more critical, Agri-EPI Centre is working with them to develop technologies that help to banish guess work from management decisions.

One of the four Centres for Agricultural Innovation established by Innovate UK through the UK government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, Agri-EPI has teamed up with 28 innovative farms, covering commodities including beef, dairy, sheep, arable, pigs, potatoes and root crops. The purpose of these ‘satellite’ farms is to allow new technologies and techniques to be developed and trialled in commercial farming environments.

One of the farms is Bielgrange in East Lothian, owned and run by Niall Jeffrey, AgriScot’s 2018 Scotch Beef Farmer of the Year. Niall has been at the forefront of trialling new Beef Monitor crates developed by Ritchie Agricultural in conjunction with Agri-EPI.

These are effectively modified handling crates with an integrated water trough, which cattle enter voluntarily to drink, indoors or outdoors. As they do so, the crates’ inbuilt sensors record the daily live weight of each animal. With the correct analysis, this daily data can be hugely beneficial in helping a farmer make speedy decisions to reduce costs and ensure animals are delivered to Scotbeef in-spec. Scotbeef monitors the impact of using beef monitor units on carcass specifications.

The Beef Monitors have gone through several phases of development as a result of the on-farm trials and this will continue during 2019, with a view to increasing the type of data that can be collected. The important element, says Agri-EPI Centre’s Farms and Commercial Manager Gavin Dick, is that the beef monitor concept has been shown to work. Gavin explained:

“Farmers are having to adapt to huge changes in their business operating environment, meaning there is now a much greater need for live and detailed management information that allow them to better-informed decisions. The Beef Monitor has already proven to be an ideal vehicle for starting the process of gathering such information, potentially giving beef farmers key information significantly earlier than the best stockperson could identify using their eyes and experience.”

“Now we know the cattle will happily enter the crates voluntarily and stress-free to drink, and we have had really important feedback from Niall and the other farmers trialling the Beef Monitors, this is where Agri-EPI really comes into its own. We are now assessing which of the many available sensor technologies – such as boluses, collars, anklets and even breath analysers – could further enhance data collection and analysis. Such tech is already being used on robotic milkers in the dairy industry so it’s time to see the beef sector catch up.”

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive said:

“The satellite farms are a core element of our activities to bring productivity-boosting technology to UK farmers across all of the key farming sectors. Crucially, we work hard to create and enhance connections between the farming industry, science and commercial developers of new technologies. This is a critical time for UK farming and this multidisciplinary approach is the best means of identifying novel solutions.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres added:

“In their short lifetime the four Agri-Tech Centres have engaged in a major capital build programme developing new high technology assets to drive forward the applied R&D capability in the UK to develop solutions to real world problems that the farming community face.

“The Agri-EPI satellite farm network is a good example of this, providing a unique environment where new technology can be trialled on farms, and the benefits demonstrated to farmers. Apart from the build programme, the four Agri-Tech Centres have to date already engaged with over 35,000 UK farmers, secured 46 projects worth £14.2 million to the research consortia, and £3.1 million to the Centres, created 98 high tech jobs, involved 192 organisations and several high-profile Government initiatives. These include Rural 5G Broadband. The success of the Agri-Tech Centres is being noticed overseas and already attracting a lot of interest from countries as far afield as Paraguay, New Zealand and China.” 

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.