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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.

Agri-EPI CTO among expert speakers at UK food security forum

The potential of digital innovation to support food resilience and security will be the focus of a keynote speech by Agri-EPI’s Chief Technical officer, Dr Shamal Mohammed, when he speaks at the high-profile Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum on Monday November 30.

Shamal, who is one of the UK’s leading experts on agricultural technology and science, is part of a high profile panel featuring speakers from farming, business and policy and R&D, taking part on the event, titled Food security – UK priorities, supporting domestic production and driving innovation.

Shamal will be discussing the sustainable productivity and the challenge and opportunity for smart technologies to improve food security and environmental sustainability.

Shamal said:

“The shift from a linear model of food production systems to a more circular model can significantly reduce environmental impact and also contribute to a net zero carbon economy by sequestering more carbon in our soils, improving biodiversity and helping to sustain our natural capital.

“Smart technologies play an important role in enabling the transition towards a sustainable production system by increasing monitoring and decision-making power, transparency, and intelligence -driven processes. In my talk, I will be explaining in more detail how such technology can enable more resilience, diverse and integrated food production systems.”

Other keynote speakers at the event include John Ingram, Food Systems Transformation Programme Leader at the Environmental Change Institute and NFU President Minette Batters. David Linden MP, Co-Vice Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Food and Drink and Baroness Osamor, Member of the UK Parliament’s Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, are chairing the event.

For full details of the event and to register, visit the Westminster Forum website.

New animal health report highlights lessons learned Covid-19 pandemic

Lessons learned from Covid-19 pandemic highlighted in new animal health report

The animal health industry needs to be better prepared for disruptions like Covid-19 and have resiliency plans in place to handle supply and demand.

This is the ‘lessons learned’ message from Agri-EPI’s Chief Executive Dave Ross in a new report exploring the impact of Covid-19 on the global animal health industry.

Report Animal Health Industry Response COVID19 - Kisaco ResearchThe production of Animal Health Industry Response to COVID-19 and the Rise of Telemedicine was co-ordinated by Kisaco Research. It seeks to assess the full impact of the outbreak across the sector, and provide insight in the form of industry surveys, data collection, discussions, and interviews with market leaders and emerging companies.

Dave was one of 55 contributing experts from around the world. He comments in the report on labour shortages and the skills gap from COVID and Brexit, the issue of food protectionism and overall lessons learned from the advent of the pandemic.

On the latter point, Dave says that the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the food supply chain when a disruptor comes into the market and highlighted the lack of preparations companies and suppliers had to pivot to other markets.

He cites in the report the example of the UK dairy sector, where 35 million litres of milk were being produced a day, pre-Covid. A significant proportion of the approximately 10 million litres destined for the service sector ended up being wasted when demand stopped abruptly due to lockdown. This led to a subsequent price collapse, with the current system ‘not being able to turn off the tap’ on supply.

Dave also highlights how the crisis has brought a renewed focus on the need to reduce food waste, with 9.5 million tons of food being lost each year in the UK.

The report coincides with Animal Health Investment USA, a large scale event on 12 and 13 October connecting businesses and investors around opportunities in the animal health industry. Dave sits on the event’s Global Advisory Board.

To get hold of the report, please get in touch with Kisaco Research.

Farmers to help identify key agri-tech areas in Scotland

With a survey focused on key agri-tech areas of Scotland, as part of a wider project funded by Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI), beef and sheep farmers, consultants, vets and researchers are being asked for their views on the use of modern technology. Information collected in a new survey will be used to identify key areas for the use of agri-tech to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability in both beef and sheep production systems in Scotland.

Survey agri-tech Scotland

We invite farmers and food producers to fill out the agri-tech survey. The survey should take no more than 5 minutes to complete and can be completed anonymously. This survey can also be completed by respondents outside Scotland and closes on 31st of August.

 

SRUC’s Jenna Bowen, who is leading the study, said:

“The potential benefits of using agri-tech in the beef and sheep sector are far reaching. This survey will help us to understand industry views and experiences with existing systems from participants who use these systems on a regular basis, and help identify where research should be prioritised.”

Project partners

The project team includes Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), The Moredun Research Institute and Agri-EPI Centre.

Agri-EPI Logo Primary Square
Moredun Research Institute

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.

Minimising waste with water sustainability

Water sustainability and agriculture

In recognition of water saving week, Agri-EPI Centre’s Membership and Events Manager, Annabelle Gardner, spoke with member Grant Leslie, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of SEM Energy, an environmentally conscious sustainability partner in waste and water effluent treatment.

SEM Energy Offices

SEM Energy Offices

What does your company do?

We are an environmentally conscious sustainability partner in waste and water effluent treatment. Our team of scientists, engineers and technologists pioneer leading-edge technologies that process co-products from ‘waste’ streams and deliver innovative water treatment solutions.

Our goal is to:

  • Reduce waste
  • Maximise solid matter capture
  • Save on haulage, storage and logistics costs
  • Increase efficiencies
  • Shrink the carbon footprint

What is your company vision?

A waste-free, circular economy in the future, securing our planet’s health and wealth for generations to come. We aim to minimise the impact of waste on the environment and, where possible, create value from its co-product waste streams and ensure compliance with discharge legislation.

Can you provide a case-study or example of the sustainable work you currently undertake in agriculture?

On-site conversion of agricultural animal slurry into organic horticulture products:

  • Aim – a reduction in slurry waste handling (Our client’s slurry production totalled 32,000 tonnes per annum.)
  • Method – using SEM technology to separate the liquid phase and de-water dry matter to create economically and socially valuable by-products
  • Results: water safe to discharge to local watercourse; solids (4% of total volume) used as fertiliser locally; 23% saving in handling, storage and transport costs.

We have been working with a client for the past year, applying our ever-evolving range of technologies and solutions to reduce the handling of slurry waste. Our aim is two-fold: effective separation of the liquid phase for treatment and re-use, and substantial de-watering of the dry matter to create an optimised, valuable by-product which can be re-purposed as livestock bedding, biofuel, fertiliser or growth media.

We implemented our patented MDM technology, which mechanically removes the liquid phase from slurries. It’s so effective that it also captures micro-solids as small as colloidal particles.

We integrated this with our I-DAF unit. An intelligent and autonomous upgrade to most DAF systems on the market today, it’s designed to maximise the removal of: total suspended solids (TSS); biochemical oxygen demand (BOD); chemical oxygen demand (COD) and heavy metals.

Sticking to our environmental guns, we used plant-based coagulant, flocculant and pH correction products that are automatically dosed, based on built in instrumentation readings. This ensured both homogenous, reliable performance and minimal chemical usage. The biodegradable formulations minimise environmental impact, whichever sludge disposal route chosen.

In order to ensure maximum nutrient capture and transfer from the liquid phase into the solids, we used another patented technology of ours – DRAM Filtration – to remove nutrients and heavy metals. DRAM utilises an organic matrix, over 99% of which is comprised of an existing and sustainable, agriculturally produced, grain-based, waste co-product from alcohol distillation.

The filtration process works through sorption, and readily sorbs ammonium nitrate and phosphorous. Combined with an additional proprietary reagent (DRAM+) which provides potassium, these form the essential fertilising elements.

Can you give an example of one of your technologies that focuses on water saving and water sustainability?

H2OPE – our flagship product for the agricultural market:

  • Removes volatile contaminants and de-waters
  • Optimises valuable ingrained nutrients
  • Remaining solid matter can be pelletised for use as fertiliser or as a nutritionally balanced growth media

The environmental benefits:

  • Reduction in application of nutrient rich liquids to agricultural land
  • Decrease in diffuse pollution of waterways due to agricultural run-off
  • Reduced carbon impact due to reduction in transport of slurries off-site
  • Significant reduction in the carbon generated by the manufacture of fertiliser

The social benefits:

  • Fewer greenhouse gases
  • Effluents can be treated on-site
  • Economic savings, as one of the by-products is steam, which can be used for on-site energy generation and distilled water.
  • Less odour emissions

Can you describe the significance of water sustainability in the agricultural industry?

Our goal is always to clean water well enough for re-use and re-purpose at source, whether that is for washdown water or perhaps irrigation. An absolute must for us, this aligns not only with our aims, but those of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Goals.

The sector has been, and will continue to be, paramount to the global economy. By protecting our ecosystems from potentially harmful co-products, we are sustaining not just the agriculture industry, but also the evolution of a circular economy.

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.

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.

UK delegation scopes next generation sustainable farming in USA

What does the farm of the future look like? Increasing automation and big data promise to revolutionise every industry, including the agricultural countryside with a tech sector that will be worth more than £136 billion globally by 2025. The UK Government recognized this early on and launched an Agri-Tech strategy in 2013 to lead on innovation breakthroughs in the face of a transforming global agricultural sector. The strategy established four novel Centres for Agricultural Innovation, including the Agri-EPI Centre to accelerate precision methods across all major agricultural sectors.

To share best practices and promote the UK as a leader in precision agriculture innovation, the Science and Innovation Network (SIN) organised a delegation from the Agri-EPI Centre to visit the US. The delegation was comprised of Agri-EPI Centre leadership and included the CEO of Agri-EPI and several Directors from academia (Cranfield University and Harper Adams University) and from companies (AgSpace and Precision Decisions). As the US has a growing demand for precision methods because agriculture is a significant contributor to many state economies, the aim of the scoping mission was to learn and explore partnerships with the full gambit of stakeholders driving next generation sustainable farming.

In the Washington, D.C. area, the delegates learned about cutting-edge government research at USDA ARS in Beltsville, MD. They chatted with researchers working on the latest technology in hydrology and remote sensing, postharvest technology, microbial food safety, and animal genomics. In Washington DC, the group met with representatives from ARPA-E (DOE), Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR), and USAID to discuss leveraging global partnerships to bring transformative technologies to farms around the globe.

At UC Davis, they met with top faculty to discuss emerging technologies in precision agriculture targeting the high value crops of California agriculture. In addition, experts working in agricultural engineering from Washington State University, University of Arizona and Texas A&M joined the discussion as well as faculty from UC Santa Barbara reflecting an added breadth of regional agriculture and demonstrations/collaborations with agricultural extension centres or growers.

SIN also hosted the delegates, experts from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) and UC Merced and the universities mentioned above at the British Consulate in San Francisco to discuss their leading edge research on precision agriculture solutions. The roundtable led to a robust discussion, reflecting the diverse groundbreaking projects of the group – from the LBL AR1K Smart Farm project in Arkansas to the Harper Adams’ Hands Free Hectare project. Immediate connections were made between Agri-EPI Centre member and world-class institutions Harper Adams and Cranfield Universities with the US research institutions present.

In Silicon Valley the delegates met with Fall Line Capital, an agricultural investment firm to discuss the hottest food and agriculture technology trends. At Planet Labs, a US satellite company already working with UK’s AgSpace to deliver agronomy tools to UK farmers, the group brainstormed on how to further leverage satellite data for academic and business endeavours. Directors from Cranfield University and AgSpace highlighted their use of satellite data to create a UK-wide precision soil map. In true Silicon Valley fashion, the meeting wrapped up with warm chocolate chip cookies!

On the last day, the delegation met with the innovation ecosystem stakeholders working closely with growers in Salinas, an agricultural region in CA, also known as the ‘salad bowl,’ where high value crops like strawberries and leafy greens are grown. Meetings with leadership at Thrive AgTech and Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, an accelerator and incubator, respectively, showed how the Agtech pipeline in Silicon Valley has an increasing global footprint innovation by bringing together corporations, universities, growers, and startups. At the centre, they spoke also with Taylor Farms, the world’s largest processor of fresh-cut vegetables, to discuss opportunities and challenges in adoption of precision agriculture technology.

With support from Innovate UK, UK Research and Innovation, and the Department for International Trade, the delegation had a week of great meetings to explore bringing new technologies to the UK and US countryside.

Source:

Science and Innovation Network USA
Carmen Schicklberger
Head of Science and Innovation – San Francisco
Guest blogger for Science and Innovation Network USA
Part of UK in USA

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.