Sustainability - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Sustainability

Crucial to the our health and that of our planet, sustainability of farming and land management is central to modern farming methods.

Here at Agri-EPI we explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock. Working with our partners and collaborators, we know sustainability must be at the heart of everything we do as we develop novel technology to improve and increase yields, preserve habitats and feed our population.

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

 

Ross Robertson joins Agri-EPI Centre

We are delighted to welcome Ross Robertson as our new Head of Agri-Tech (Mixed) and the newest member of our Agri-EPI team!

Coming from a farming background and working on farms from a young age, Ross graduated from SAC Craibstone with an HND in Agriculture and went straight to work on a pedigree Aberdeen Angus farm. He progressed into sales after several years and then into area management and product development with a local manufacturer of quality Livestock Equipment. Working with Technology equipment at development and design stages in an IUK project then lead to furthering his career into the job role of Head of Agri-Tech at Agri-EPI Centre.

In collaboration with our Head of Crops and Head of Dairy, this Mixed role will support our livestock farmers with a focus on regenerative agriculture and agricultural sustainability, with the aim of developing and and delivering Agri EPI’s offerings across the mixed farming sector including beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, grassland and combinable crops.

“Agri-Tech has a very exciting future ahead. The technologies that we are a part of developing will help the UK Agri Sector massively to carry on being one of the best in the world” — Ross Robertson, Head of Agri-Tech (Mixed) 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.”

 

Farm visit to Godminster Farm

Newton Farm joins Agri-EPI farm network

Newton Farm in Brecon, Wales has joined the Agri-EPI Centre Satellite Farms network.

Owners Richard & Helen Roderick, along with their son Tudor, farm 850 acres including 200 acres they’ve recently rented and plan to farm regeneratively. The Roderick’s manage a diverse business, including an impressive outwintered herd of stabiliser cattle, a flock of 800 ewes, and an arable enterprise. The Roderick’s are passionate about a number of farming topics, including carbon sequestration, grassland management, and animal health.

Newton Farm has been a Farming Connect demonstration farm for several years, giving Agri-EPI a unique opportunity to work with the Welsh government and farmers across Wales to encourage innovation and share best practices further afield.

Richard and Helen’s vision is for Newton Farm to be a profitable mixed farm, which maximises the use of its own resources, while increasing biodiversity and conserving the wildlife and historical features of the farm. To achieve this, their strategy is to focus on sustainability, genetics, and maximizing the use of forage and root crops.

Their latest venture is to be the first Welsh farm to join our Agri-EPI Centre farms network to trial technology to improve farm efficiency, and we are thrilled to have them!

“We are delighted to welcome Newton Farm into our farm network and are looking forward to working with the Rodericks to pursue exciting new projects in the beef and sheep sectors” – Emily Laskin, Farms Technical Coordinator at Agri-EPI Centre

Farming Innovation Pathways: LightWeeding

The LightWeeder is a world-first eye-safe, herbicide-free, carbon neutral, commercially viable weeding system delivered by lightweight autonomous field robots via UK agri-robotics company and Agri-EPI Centre member, Earth Rover.

The LightWeeding technology uses semiconductor LEDs to solve key technical, safety and commercialisation challenges faced by laser-based weeding systems.

The LightWeeder is part of CLAWS (Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding and Scouting), Earth Rover’s agri robot that can kill weeds using a unique concentrated light method, and can also scout fields to obtain a complete data map of all crops after planting, showing the crops exact location, size, and any early signs of disease.

The main features of CLAWS are:

  • Weeding – chemical free and inherently safer than laser weeding. No till and no crop damage and can be used in any conditions without compacting the soil.
  • Scouting – In depth analysis of crops to allow better harvest predictions and increased yields

The complete system is ultra-lightweight (only 300kg) meaning it requires low amounts of energy to run, and is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than many of its competitors. It runs on batteries and (eventually) solar panels therefore uses no fossil fuels and helps farmers meet their net zero targets.

With increasing types of chemical-resistant weeds, a significant downturn in availability of hand labour plus a shift in society towards more organic options, now more than ever there is a need to change the way we farm. A recent report by Rothamsted Research shows weeds “pose an unprecedented threat to our food security” and highlights the need to diversify weed control as an urgent priority.

As explained by John Taylor, Farm Director at Pollybell Organic Farm,

“the key element here is that the LightWeeder not only makes chemical free farming more effective but it also solves the huge issue farmers are facing today in terms of the huge loss in labour force. Being able to weed fields autonomously means that food production doesn’t just grind to a halt.”

Lightweeding has several advantages over mechanical systems: it is energy-efficient and no-till, it does not damage drip irrigation or crops, it is not dependent on soil conditions, and it does not enable weeds to develop resistance. However, effective lightweeding must be low-cost, fast, and offer safe autonomous operation in modern farm environments – criteria that does not exist in-the market at this time.