Science and Academia

Discover our science and academia partnerships; our research and development projects and latest news in agri-tech. At Agri-EPI we explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock. Collaborating with teams here in the UK and around the world, our focus is improving the way we farm, manage our land, livestock and farmed fish. With hubs at several leading UK colleges and universities. Find out more about our current partnerships and projects.

Measuring soil flux as a way to understand GHG emissions from soil

Meeting the challenge of climate change with soil flux analysis

For growers, agri-chemical companies, producers and food retailers monitoring and measuring positive and negative soil flux can help balance greater productivity, sustainability and improved soil health. What is soil flux analysis and what impact does it have on climate change?

Driving net zero reduction

Global Green House Gas emissions are a sensitive topic politically with international agreements of targets and the drive to a net zero status, but there is a debate going on also about who is the most culpable.

GHG emissions - IPCC 2014 | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is by far the highest proportion of GHG emissions at around 75%, but Methane (CH4) and Nitrogen Oxide (N2O), although less in proportion, are respectively 28 times and 310 times more potent than CO2. Most of these emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy production, transportation, manufacturing and building but land use also plays a significant part.

In 1973, the National Soil Inventory (England and Wales) was set to obtain an unbiased estimate of soils, and their carbon content. Since the original survey, further sampling has shown that in most soil types, there has been a progressive decline in carbon content, and the inference is that other temperate regions would show similar traits.

Losses due to land use activity

Inefficient use of fertilisers results in N2O being last as emissions to the atmosphere, and nitrates being leached through the soil into water courses. By targeting applications more effectively to ensure the crop is only given what it can utilise we are able to reduce these losses. Using variable rate applications, or slow release Urea are examples of how land managers are changing behaviour.

Storage and application of slurry and manure also result in emissions. Covered stores, better timing of applications and use of dribble bars and direct injection of slurry rather than splash plates can all contribute.

Rumination results in emissions of CH4 which give cattle and sheep a particularly bad image. This is more a factor in international production than UK, where many animals graze pasture unsuitable for crop production, and that permanent grassland can also be considered a net carbon sink.

Deforestation for agriculture, although not an issue in the UK, but certainly in other parts of the globe for production of soya and palm oil amongst other commodities has a significant impact. We not only lose the of that forest to act as a carbon sink, but the felled and cleared timber both emits CO2 and subjects the cleared areas to the potential of erosion.

Cultivations result in emissions from varied sources, the tractor exhaust (combatted in recent years by addition of EGR and AdBlu technology). The soil surface, as each cultivation releases naturally occurring gases into the lower atmosphere (minimum tillage and direct drilling have had some impact by reducing the amount of soil disturbance)

Natural ecological processes in the soil sub-surface produce and consume gases, and as the soils warm due to climate change, microbial metabolic rates increase resulting in increased CO2 emissions. Gases diffused from the soil surface into the lower atmosphere is known as positive flux, and gases absorbed into the soil is known as negative flux, the balance between the two will determine whether soils are a net source, or a net sink of GHG.

Soil Flux chambers

To calculate this, we need to collect accurate data on soil respiration rates, which can be done by using soil flux chambers. There are several different manufacturers of soil flux chambers, but they can be separated into two main categories.

  1. Closed chambers where the gases accumulate in the headspace and are sampled by syringe and stored for laboratory processing and analysis.
    • PP Systems CPY-5 Canopy Assimilation Chamber (#1)
  2. Automated chambers which can provide a timely method of sampling, as when coupled with a multiplexer and an analyser, up to 12 chambers can be linked in series and be deployed over a long period to sample and analyse in the field (subject to a reliable power supply)
    • Eosense eosAC Automated Chamber (#2)
    • Eosense Multiplexer (#3)
    • Picarro G2508 for analysis of CO2, CH4, N2O, NH3, H2O (#4)
    • Picarro G2201-i for analysis of CO2, CH4 and their C13 isotopes (#5)

 

Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

 

All of the above equipment is designed to be used in the laboratory or the field (subject to a satisfactory and reliable electricity supply). The Picarro G2201-i (#5) is particularly useful for academic research applications, as it is more robust and user friendly than typical mass spectrometry methods (McCloskey et al 2020).

Strawberry gas flux measurement research

The time saving that can be achieved by automated chamber equipment deployed in a field experiment is demonstrated by Pamona College, California when monitoring soil flux in a commercial strawberry crop. The time in the field and the interpretation was the same using both systems, but the processing of the data represented a huge time saving for the trial, reducing the days from 68 down to 1.

Monitoring soil flux in Pamona College in California | Soil Flux Analysis | Agri-EPI blog | Soil and Crop Technology Solutions

Soil commercial and research enquiries

For further information on this equipment and the possibilities of incorporating into commercial or research studies with the Soil Flux 360 solution, please contact Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager Crops at Duncan.ross@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

Positive impact of Aquapulse Water Technology on grown produce

For many farmers and growers, the use of chemical inputs is the largest contribution to their carbon footprint. Aquapulse water technology enables reduced inputs, results in better quality produce naturally, and improves water efficiency. It allows growers to achieve enhanced white root development, more consistent batch colour, and better quality produce whilst using reduced inputs, and less water.

Dr. Hugh Martin, formerly Head of Agricultural Science at the Royal Agricultural University, wrote an independent academic paper on Aquapulse water technology. This article brings forward the highlights of that study.

AquapulseWhat is Aquapulse?

Aquapulse technology provides naturally clean water lines, promoting healthy bird development, less maintenance & reduced or eliminated chemical use

  • Aquapulse is a totally natural technology utilising Feldspar minerals contained in a food grade stainless steel cartridge
  • The cartridge can be simply immersed to treat water
  • Plants irrigated with Aquapulse treated water show positive physiological growth changes to roots and fruiting

Main benefits for growers

Using Aquapulse can deliver:

  • Enhanced crop yield
  • Improved quality of produce
  • More consistent batch colour
  • Crisper fruit & vegetables
  • Reduced chemical input
  • Reduced water consumption
  • Extended post picking shelf

Initial water technology trials

Design of full trials NIAB were commissioned to design and perform scientifically robust and statistically verifiable trials on three crops: dwarf beans, maize and capsicum. The trials were overseen and reported by Dr. Hugh Martin, formerly Head of Agricultural Science at the Royal Agricultural University.

Positive impact plant species

Aquapulse has a physiological and morphological impact on specific plant species (more marked in capsicum and maize, less evident in dwarf beans):

  1. Increased fruit yield in capsicum
  2. Increased root mass in capsicum and maize
  3. Change in the root:shoot balance, with a greater proportion of growth in roots
  4. There is evidence of advancement in the rate of development of flowering and fruiting.

Water technology treatment follow-up

Additional scientific evaluation is required to further understand the exact mechanism of Aquapulse treated water on plants. This will focus on physiological and morphological impacts on plants and the mechanisms at play. The work will focus on the following objectives:

  1. Identify specific species that Aquapulse has the greatest impact on
  2. Identify economic benefits in high-value crops
  3. Identify opportunities to reduce agricultural inputs (water, crop protection agents, fertilizers)
  4. Optimise the application of Aquapulse in a farming environment

How can Agri-EPI help?

For more information about the Aquapulse Water Technology, this research or other water and sustainability solutions, please contact our support team via team@agri-epicentre.com.

Serbian researchers learn communication and knowledge exchange best practices

In conjunction with SEFARI, the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes – a consortium of six globally renowned research institutes, Agri-EPI held a virtual communication workshop aimed at enhancing the communication and knowledge exchange skills of researchers working at BioSense Institute in Serbia.

The workshop centred around two specific areas: sharing best practices in knowledge exchange and learning through case studies. 25 BioSense researchers listened to two communication experts address the importance of communication and knowledge exchange for the research community:

Keynote speaker was Dr Michelle Wilson Chalmers, Research and Communications Manager at SEFARI Gateway (SEFARI’s knowledge exchange and impact hub) and a Teaching Fellow at Edinburgh University. Michelle enlightened participants with valuable insights and practical recommendations derived from her considerable experience in the field of science communication and knowledge exchange.

Dr Michelle Wilson Chalmers said about the workshop:

“This particularly challenging year has brought the need for good science communication and knowledge exchange even more into focus, and it has been a real pleasure to help the BioSense students with practical advice on how to effectively communicate their research.”

SEFARI are partners in the wider Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Portfolio, one of the largest for agri-environment research in the UK, worth £250 million over 2016-2021, and represents a globally distinct investment in and capability for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. SEFARI Gateway works to improve the flow of research, knowledge, and expertise to and from policy, industry and the public – to provide multiple benefits and impacts.

During the workshop Michelle was joined by Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI’s Communications and Policy Manager who, with a background in journalism and communications, has spent the past decade working in communications with organisations supporting sustainable farming and food production.

The value and recognition of science research communication is increasing, pressured by funders that are asking for maximum impact. During the workshop, tools were presented that will help facilitate and enable the conversation between researchers and different audiences. These tools were focused on media, industry partners and policy makers especially.

DRAGON project manager Ivana Gadjanski was pleased with the workshop:

“It was very valuable for us on the DRAGON project to learn first-hand how to do knowledge exchange and scientific communication in an efficient way. We look forward to putting all new learnings into practice.”

Good communication, where information is shared effectively with audiences who can benefit from it, will have a significant impact on the reach of research outcomes. Knowledge exchange is an important, if not essential, research activity, but it is a relatively newly recognised academic discipline. Its value can still sometimes be overlooked.

The items covered in the webinar hopefully empowers the Serbian researchers to communicate with policy, businesses, and media with more confidence. Thereby increasing the reach and impact of their research and accelerating the adoption of agricultural technology in the republic of Serbia.

In a couple of weeks, during a follow-up communications workshop, the same researchers have been asked to present a brief plan for an appropriate knowledge exchange activity where they can put into practice what they have learned.

Uptake of precision agriculture in Serbia

This communications workshop is part of the DRAGON project, a collaboration between BioSense Institute, Wageningen University and Agri-EPI Centre that is focused on the innovation and uptake of precision agricultural technology in Serbia, which in part is about learning from best practices in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.

This three-year project will end in 2021, but the DRAGON project consortium is already exploring spin-off projects to help Serbia with their challenges with regards to the adoption of agricultural technology to achieve sustainable sector innovations.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 810775. For more information about DRAGON, please visit www.datadragon.eu.

Event partners

DRAGON Knowledge Exchange and Communications workshop | Precision Agriculture project Serbia, The Netherlands and United Kingdom | BioSense Institute | Agri-EPI Centre | SEFARI

 

Wonder of agri-tech to be shared at New Scientist Live virtual event

The wonderful world of agri-tech will be shared with visitors to the New Scientist Live ‘Future of Food and Agriculture’ virtual event on Saturday 28 November.

Agri-EPI and its fellow UK Agri-Tech Centres CHAP and CIEL will be running a host of engaging talks, with opportunities for the audience to ‘ask the experts’ about the role and impact of new technologies and techniques supporting sustainable food.

Agri-EPI’s contribution to this year’s new scientist live

Agri-EPI will be running a live, 30-minute session from 2.30pm titled ‘Tech to Feed the World’. This will take viewers on a whistle stop tour of three of the newest and most exciting technologies involved in producing our food and getting it onto our plates.

The featured innovations, and the exerts behind them, are ‘SlugBot’, an amazing technology that helps reduce farmers’ need for pesticides by controlling crop-munching critters; Crover, a very clever robot that can ‘swim’ through grain stores to monitor conditions; and the new ‘wonder’ technology ‘cold plasma’ which has a multitude of surprising uses in farming and the food supply chain.

The Agri-Tech Centres will also be hosting virtual exhibition stand, with a packed programme of films, Q&As and resources accessible to visitors throughout the day.

Find out more and register here.

Event partners

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.

Agri-EPI at New Scientist Live

Together with Farmers Weekly, Agri-EPI Centre joined Agrimetrics, CIEL, CHAP and its partners GEA Group and RHIZA for the New Scientist Live festival in London today (10 October). The event, which is in its fourth year, has been recognised as Europe’s top science festival, and is expected to welcome a crowd of over 40,000 visitors in its four day run, 10 – 13 October.

Visitors to stall 611 at the Ag Pavilion, where the four Centres and partners are based, have the opportunity to witness first-hand the positive impact that technology has on the farming industry, and on the planet as a whole, as Tom Westerman, RHIZA Digital Manager, explains:

“Agriculture is a forward thinking technical industry and has got a huge role to play in the future of our planet, ensuring food security and sustainability.”

Demonstrations at New Scientist Live

During New Scientist Live, RHIZA is helping farmers tackle this face on with its Contour desktop and mobile app, which helps farmers identify their areas of better or worse crop and is on display at today’s festival, as are GEA Group, who have brought along their DairyRobot R9500.

The robot has been designed to automatically take care of premium quality milk and free up resources to make the farmer’s daily planning and routine more flexible and effective.

David Simmons, Head of Milking & Dairy Farming Sales at GEA Group, said of the event:

“We couldn’t agree more that technology is transforming the world of farming. It’s our absolute pleasure to show students and youngsters how fast-paced and high-tech the farming industry really is.”

Considering a career in agri-tech? Visit New Scientist Live!

It’s been anticipated that by 2025, the agricultural technology sector will be worth more than £136 billion globally. The UK Government is keen to contribute to this number, and in recent years, has invested in four agri-tech centres to lead in its efforts. The four Centres, Agri-EPI Centre, Agrimetrics, CHAP and CIEL, work collaboratively to harness leading UK research and expertise as well as build new infrastructure and innovation.

The Centres also work with leading partners to drive growth and offer support for innovative ideas and projects that help farmers and business owners become more profitable and sustainable. Naomi Smitten, Projects Co-ordinator for Agri-EPI explains:

“The projects are made up of experts from all industries focused on, but not limited to, Agriculture. Most of the companies that are involved in our projects are already operating organisations and/or universities. They don’t necessarily have the time or skill set to align a project.”

To date, the Centres have worked on a number of game-changing projects, such as Hands Free Farm with Harper Adams University and Precision Soil Mapping with partners Cranfield University, AgSpace, Innovate UK and The James Hutton Institute.

Event photo impression:

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.

‘Affordable’ precision soil map takes off following UK agri-tech partnership

A collaborative project to help farmers and landowners make a more affordable entry into precision farming has resulted in the commercial success of a high-tech soil mapping service.

Precision agriculture company RHIZA is now offering an affordable precision soil mapping service utilising satellite data which was developed as a result of their Innovate UK-funded research project involving AgSpace, Agri-EPI Centre, Cranfield University and James Hutton Institute (JHI).

The two-year project joined high resolution satellite data together with the UK’s most comprehensive soil datasets from Cranfield and JHI to produce a new ‘precision soil map’, an economically viable alternative to the traditional, labour intensive method of field soil surveys.

Since the project concluded in August 2018, RHIZA has developed a commercially available product which it says can cost farmers up to 50% less than traditional soil mapping.

Max Dafforn, RHIZA Business Manager, said:

“The precision soil mapping service has really taken off: it is now providing data on around 800,000 ha of farmland across the UK, helping growers to increase yields with lower input costs and reduced environmental impact.”

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

“Our aim in collaborating with academic and commercial partners is ultimately to see greater uptake of precision agriculture technologies which deliver benefits for productivity in farming and food production. The results of the project tick all the boxes in this regard and we’re proud to have been involved the development of the precision soil map as a commercially viable product.”

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.