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.

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.

EIT Food welcomes Agri-EPI to their community

Agri-EPI has joined the EIT Food network and aligns with EIT Food’s sustainable agriculture and aquaculture focus areas to guide and accelerate innovations in food production and farming practices.

EIT Food aims to drive the digital transformation of our food systems, as innovations in data and technology are needed to futureproof the sector against global challenges. This includes the creation and adoption of revolutionary agricultural technologies to help farmers improve the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of their businesses, to address challenges such as the impact of a rising global population and climate change on yield demand and output.

Both EIT Food and Agri-EPI Centre visions are closely aligned – collaboration with a wide range of partners leads to exciting innovation. EIT Food’s strength comes from its partners, which represent many of Europe’s leading agrifood companies, research institutes, universities and startups. A diverse community that spans the entire agrifood chain, enables key players with different skills and capabilities to collaborate with one another to solve some of most pressing food system challenges. EIT Food is delighted to welcome Agri-EPI centre to its fast-growing community, to help them to grow, enhance and contribute to relationships and collaboration which help to drive innovation in their shared interest of sustainable food systems.

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

“Agri-EPI truly recognises the value of collaboration in driving innovation and we know that our membership of EIT Food will allow us to grow our existing networks and contribute our know-how to leading innovation initiatives.”

In particular, Agri-EPI Centre is excited to contribute to all aspects of the research, development, evaluation and dissemination of information about new technologies and techniques which support efficient, sustainable and profitable farming and food productions. Agri-EPI Centre looks forward to building relationships and contributing expertise in support of sustainable food production.

Dr Jayne Brookman, Acting Director of EIT Food’s North-West Co-Location centre said:

“EIT Food is delighted to welcome Agri-EPI to Europe’s leading agrifood innovation network. Our shared commitment to collaboration in the digital transformation of agriculture will strengthen innovation in agri-tech, to drive towards more sustainable food systems.”

An Introduction to the new Agricultural Transition Plan

As a member of the British Agri-Tech community, Kasi McReddie has literally been on the edge of her seat waiting for DEFRA’s announcement which sets out Government’s plans for the transition from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The announcement, of which details can be found at The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, lays out plans for adaptation in the English farming community over the next seven years. Kasi is Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock and Aquaculture and has formulated what this means for farmers and the agri-tech community and what opportunities there are for agri-tech companies going forward.

Farmers in England will see a phased-out reduction in Direct Payments over 4-years starting in 2021, with money saved in reduced BPS payments being used to fund grant and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.

What does the announcement mean for the agri-tech community?

One of the main barriers to the uptake of technology on farm is cost. In my experience, farmers are very good business people and, quite rightly, are rarely convinced to purchase a novel or innovative piece of equipment. The Agricultural Transition Plan gives us more details of some schemes which aim to financially incentivise farmers to look towards technology to improve the sustainability of their production.

Looking forward, the Environmental Land Management (ELMs) will include the Sustainable Farming Incentive (beginning 2022), which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

Future plans will also include the Farming Investment scheme, which is aimed at improving productivity in agriculture, addressing the underlying causes by supporting businesses to invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure.

This will include:

  • Farming Equipment Technology Fund – small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items
  • Farming Transformation Fund – larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure

The Farming Investment Fund for Equipment and Technology and Transformation will be open for applications in autumn 2021. From 2022, farmers will also benefit from an increased investment in agricultural Research & Development that will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to drive innovation.

What does the announcement mean for farmers?

Under the new plan, farmers will be encouraged and incentivised to embrace changes to production techniques and practices which will reduce any negative environmental impacts. Significant emphasis is being put on innovation over the several years ahead. Farmers will be incentivised to explore how technology can be used to improve productivity whilst simultaneously delivering for the environment.

Agri-EPI have a unique network of 27 ‘Satellite Farms’ – 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. 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 Satellite Farm network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

How can Agri-EPI support tech companies?

The report states that, by 2028, all farmers should be “managing their whole business in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, fusing the best modern technology available today with the rediscovery of the traditional art of good farm husbandry”.

As an example, technology to improve animal health will be eligible under the new Farming Investment Fund. Agri-EPI are working with a number of innovators to enable the development of solutions for monitoring the health of calves, adult cows and pigs using motion sensors, 3D imagery, augmented reality and more. Such solutions allow ‘early detection’ of health issues before a farmer could with the naked eye, thereby enabling early intervention leading to improved animal welfare, improved productivity, and efficiency. and cost savings on-farm.

Agri-EPI combines technical expertise, technology, and on-farm ‘test beds’ to provide a unique offering to support tech developers and farmers alike to co-develop solutions to some of farming’s most prominent challenges. The Government have now clearly laid out plans which will underpin our mission, by providing grants to farmers to purchase innovative solutions.

Agri-EPI also provide business support, project management and access to world-class research and innovation facilities and research assets, and builds links between research, agri-tech innovation, industry and the value chain, through its membership of >150 companies across agriculture, technology and the value chain.

The announcement should be welcomed by the farming and agri-tech community alike, with shifting policy clearly focussed on incentivising the use of innovation on-farm.

The industry faces unprecedented challenges, the likes of which some will only experience once in a lifetime. During the coming period of change, Agri-EPI will continue to support innovation in agriculture.

More information

If you want to learn more about how we you can get involved in R&D, learn more about our Satellite Farm network, or simply contact us to find out more about how we can support your own business.

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.

Agri-tech Conference explored food resilience in COVID age

Together with the Agri-Tech Centres, Agri-EPI organised the Virtual Conference ‘Innovation for Food Resilience’. The event, hosted by BBC Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith, was designed to showcase and discuss a host of new technologies and techniques helping farming and food production to become more resilient and sustainable. The conference gathered an incredible interest: over 1200 delegates attended the conference and over 20 countries took part. Recordings are made available on demand for those unable to join on the day.

Accelerating agrifood innovation

‘Innovation for Food Resilience’ features insights into key challenges and opportunities for the food and farming sector from industry thought leaders and how new technologies and solutions being developed across the family of UK Agri-Tech Centres could play a pivotal role in supporting productivity and sustainability.

Professor Tim Benton, from international affairs think tank Chatham House, has a clear message about the need to adapt to frequent and unpredictable change and how building resilience is a key strategy for being able to effectively adjust.

NFU President Minette Batters focuses on UK trade and transition and the seismic impact that the current unknowns will have on farming businesses. She highlights how data and innovation can empower farmers to avoid risk and the opportunity for farming to offset carbon for other sectors

Ellen Wilson, Microsoft UK’s Sustainability and Smart Cities Lead highlights the importance of measuring your own journey to sustainability to effectively manage and understand the impact achieved.   Evidence points to sustainability being better for business.

Food resilience and innovation in agriculture

The 4 Agri-Tech Centres explored different aspects of the work underway to promote innovation throughout the food supply chain. Themes covered are climate smart food systems, sustainable productivity, crop and livestock health, and food provenance and quality.

In particular, CHAP’s Dr Harry Langford, spoke about Climate Resilient Food Systems, highlighting the work of CIEL’s Duchy Future Farm; Agri-EPI Centre’s Hands Free Farm and Gelponics, a CHAP project focusing on developing an autonomous, hydroponic system centered around a novel hydrogel growing media. Another project he talked about was the Agrimetrics’ regenerative agriculture platform regenagri, an initiative aimed at securing the health of the land and the wealth of those who live on it.

Stuart Blyth, Head of Business Development of CIEL, covered Food Safety and Provenance, using CIEL’s Agriplas, a cold plasma research facility investigating the potential uses of the antimicrobial properties of this pioneering technology for the food industry. He also spoke about CHAP’s NLG Centre and Crop Storage facility, and Agri-EPI Centre’s Opti-beef project as a good example of the wide range of work being done in this area. The Opti-Beef project is about creating an enhanced decision support platform to modernise, standardise, and drive efficiency improvements across the UK beef supply chain.

Dr Shamal Mohammed, Chief Technical Officer at Agri-EPI Centre looked at Sustainable Productivity, including CHAP’s Soil Health Facility, Agrimetric’s Verde Analytics and CIEL’s Precision Grazing. Last but not least, Anna Woodley, Agrimetrics Head of Sales, covered Crop and Livestock Health with a focus on looking at whole systems rather than managing risks in isolation.

Presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session, with lots of interaction from delegates across the globe. Closing remarks, by Dr Ian Campbell, interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, provide the key ‘takeaways’ from the event. In particular, he notes how collaboration is key and how the combined capability of the UK Agri-Tech Centres offers the front door for industry to world leading expertise and capabilities.

View on demand

The event can be viewed in its entirety on the UK Agri-Tech Centres YouTube channel.

Event impression

Get in touch

Let us know what Agri-EPI, together with the Agri-Tech Centres, can do for your organisation or how we can inspire innovation in agriculture even further and fill out our contact form.

UK Agri-Tech Centres showcasing latest agri-food innovations

From a robot that can ‘swim’ through grain stores to the ‘wonder’ technology cold plasma, the UK Agri-Tech Centres’ most exciting collaborative projects will be showcased at their joint conference, ‘Innovation for Food Resilience’, this Thursday, November 19.

Experts from Agrimetrics, Agri-EPI centre, CHAP and CIEL will discuss a host of new technologies and techniques helping farming and food production to become more resilient and sustainable. They will focus on advancements in four key areas: Net Zero; sustainable production; crop and animal health; and food quality and provenance.
The free, virtual event will also feature sessions from keynote speakers NFU President Minette Batters; Chatham House Director of Energy, Environment and Resources, Prof. Tim Benton; and Microsoft’s Sustainability and Smart Cities Lead Ellen Wilson.

Speaking on behalf of the four Agri-Tech Centres, Lyndsay Chapman, Chief Executive of CIEL said:

“As the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres it is our mission to support collaboration and innovation right across the food supply chain. Our aim in holding this conference is to bring together all those with an interest in food resilience to discuss the opportunities, challenges and priorities for action during this unprecedented time.

“We’ll be highlighting some of the latest developments in agri-tech that the Centres have achieved in collaboration with our wide range of partners. This is helping to support sustainable and profitable farming and food production.”

Agri-Tech Centres Event | 'Innovation for Food Resilience' | 19 November 2020

Driving agri-food innovations

The four Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation are the result of a unique collaboration between UK Government, academia and industry to drive greater efficiency, resilience and wealth across the agri-food sector. A £90 million investment from the UK’s strategic innovation agency, Innovate UK, is enabling the Centres to harness leading UK research and expertise as a well as build new infrastructure and innovation.

Together, the four Centres aim to:

  • Join-up existing excellence and invest in new innovative research and resources that don’t exist elsewhere
  • Address challenges that no single part of the sector can address alone
  • Open up opportunities for transformational change
  • Position the UK as a global leader in sustainable food production

For more information about the UK Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation, please visit www.agritechcentres.com

 

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. It works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy. For further information visit www.innovateuk.gov.uk