Sustainability - Page 2 of 5 - 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.

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.

Industry collaborators discuss developing autonomous ag solutions for safety and security

The development and utilisation of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence to grow and harvest food is gathering traction across the agriculture sector. Automation has become a critical element in sustainable food production, and robots and AI are now advanced enough to be used for non-standardised tasks such as weeding, crop sensing, and fruit picking. Many jobs are able to be improved, if not replaced, by robots.

Farming is complex and many stakeholders across the agriculture sector are involved in running the business, from farm managers and agronomists to supply chain representatives, insurers and policy makers. When developing any agricultural technology, innovators must think holistically about how the tech will be used on-farm, who will be involved in its use, and who it might impact more broadly.

Agri-EPI Centre’s 2021 Agricultural Technology Hackathon sought to identify solutions to enhance the safety and security of autonomous farm machines. Agri-EPI ran the initiative with Innovate UK-funded Hands Free Farm, a testbed for autonomous farm machinery and drones. The teams which took part came from a range of disciplines, including robotics, AI & machine learning, drones and computer vision. They came together to address the following challenges:
• Detecting people entering and exiting operational areas
• Communicating about the operation of unmanned vehicles
• Providing safety and other information and advice
• Managing human-machine interaction

This industry paper has been released in collaboration with stakeholders from across the agri-tech sector to offer recommendations around the future development of autonomous agricultural solutions. It raises a series of considerations around agriculture’s readiness for large scale adoption of autonomous vehicles and offers recommendations around maximising safety, improving connectivity, and combating future technology threats.

 

Read the full report here:

Hackathon whitepaper

 

GrowUp Farms secures £100m in funding for vertical farm

Agri-EPI member, GrowUp Farms, has secured £100m from US green investment firm Generate Capital to fund the construction of a major new low-carbon farming facility in Sandwich, Kent.

GrowUp, which describes itself as a “pioneer in controlled environment farming”, previously supplied salads to wholesale, Foodservice and the likes of Wholefoods and Farmdrop via its now defunct urban farming ventures, The GrowUp Box and Unit 84.

The investment will deliver a new low-emission Kent farm bringing “fresher, longer-lasting leafy salads to supermarket shelves year-round”, grown using GrowUp’s proprietary “high-efficiency renewable energy system”, the company said.

The facility is said to use 95% less water than conventional growing methods, while the salads grown on the farm could save up to three million lorry miles per year by avoiding imports.

The site is expected to begin delivering its first harvest of ready-to-eat salad leaves by the end of the year. The crops are grown without pesticides or chlorine washing and are powered directly by renewable energy.

GrowUp said the facility would be the first in a series of large, low-carbon indoor farms planned by the business that would service the retail and wholesale markets in the UK.

“Our farms can deliver fresh, long-lasting salads consistently, and withstand the mounting environmental and economic pressures from inflation in transport, labour and commodity costs that have challenged the fresh produce sector,” said GrowUp co-founder Kate Hofman.

The business said it had spent nine years building its expertise and developing the “industry-leading” technology used in the new facility. That tech drove down the cost of vertical farming, while also cutting down on food waste in both the fruit & veg supply chain and at home, it added.

“A great salad is the original plant-based meal, but for a long time it’s been hard to get shoppers excited about what’s out there,” said Kate Hofman, GrowUp co-founder. “We’re passionate about getting people to rethink their salads and excited by this opportunity to deliver healthy, affordable, British-grown food to more customers, with a lighter environmental footprint and a more resilient year-round supply chain.”

“Our team has worked hard to solve the challenges that kept vertically farmed salads from being cost-competitive and sustainable,” added GrowUp MD Marcus Whately. “We partnered with Generate Capital because of their long-term focus on both sustainability and economic efficiency, and together we can now bring this model to scale.”

Generate Capital is a US Public Benefit Corporation that builds, owns, operates and finances over 2,000 sustainable infrastructure projects globally. As part of the £100m investment package, it will also support a series of vertical farms that benefit from GrowUp’s expertise and renewable energy model.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the expert and innovative team at GrowUp to accelerate sustainable vertical farming infrastructure in the British market,” said Dr Erich Becker, head of Generate Europe. “Low-carbon vertical farming is a much-needed development and we are pleased to be working to accelerate it across Europe and North America.”

“As we expand in Kent and at other sites, we look forward to becoming a long-term supply partner across multiple categories – helping supermarkets solve environmental and supply chain problems,” Whately added.

GrowUp plans to extend its range beyond salads and is developing future crops and products at its R&D farm at the Agri-Epi Centre at Harper Adams University.

Vertical farming is a growing sector in the UK with the country soon to be home to two of the world’s largest facilities, respectively owned by JFC in Gloucestershire and Fischer Farms in Norfolk.

For further information on GrowUp Farms, Agri-EPI’s membership network, and Agri-Tech innovation solutions contact the team at team@agri-epicentre.com

New tech to transform global agriculture – 2021 Excellence Awards winners announced

New technology is set to transform global agriculture, and two agtech companies recognised for their importance in animal health and environmental protection are making rapid progress.

The first – awarded for its contribution to British agriculture – focuses on animal health. Pruex is using non-infective bacteria to improve air quality in poultry units, reducing ammonia emissions and the requirement for antibiotics..

ALVÁTECH Water – awarded for its global impact – has developed a clean, sustainable way to desalinise soil, enabling farmers to irrigate with saline water, reduce water use and even restore salinized soil to healthy, productive farmland.

Both companies were recognised at Agri-EPI’s inaugural Agri-Tech Excellence Awards in October 2021, and are now reaping the rewards of their success by extending their commercial reach around the globe.

“Last year we grew very fast, and we’re now planning a large funding round to further expand worldwide,” explains Zac Gazit, CEO at ALVÁTECH. “We started working with Agri-EPI in December 2020 as we realised they could help with several key things. They know the industry and trends in technology, and we were looking to work with farmers and governments.”

One of the biggest benefits of winning this important award – aside from the global prestige – is an introduction to the formidable judging panel, comprising Syngenta, Kubota, Leyton, Barclays and Marks & Spencer.

“M&S is buying fresh produce from farmers using our devices, and we’re having good, constructive conversations with the whole panel; there are synergies in our ethos and business and we hope to be able to work with all of them.”

ALVÁTECH is now working in 24 countries across six continents, both with government and non-governmental organisations as well as directly with 1000s of farmers.

“Our technology dissociates salt into its components which enables farmers to immediately use less water and fertilisers,” says Mr Gazit. “It is a life-changer for entire regions and millions of farmers in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.”

Farmers are using 20-60 less water, 30% less fertiliser, and are reducing soil salinity by 30% on average. As a result, yields are boosted over 20% – although the more degraded the soil the greater the scale of improvement farmers see.

“Our farmers are reducing costs while improving the soil for the next generation. This is an important green legacy for our planet.”

Pruex is in a similar position; it’s working with 1000s of farmers across the UK, Europe and South Africa, and looks forward to having discussions with M&S following the award.

Using beneficial bacteria to compete with disease-causing strains is a relatively new concept, but Pruex’s game-changing idea is an automated spraying system to apply the bacteria throughout the sheds. This not only benefits the chickens themselves, but also reduces ammonia emissions. This improves air quality for workers and birds, boosting productivity and the birds’ immune systems, and many farms are able to reduce their use of antibiotics; reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance.

“It’s proving very popular,” says Sarah Dusgate, research and development manager at Pruex. “We’ve been working with poultry farmers from the start of the business, but we have developed a new technology that will help to deploy our bacteria products more effectively and easily.”

· For more information visit https://agri-epicentre.com, www.alva-water.com or www.pruex.co.uk.