Ground-breaking SmartFarm concept takes shape in Beijing


he exciting collaboration between the UK and China around agri-tech innovation has taken a step forward following a visit to Beijing by an Innovate UK delegation – including Agri-EPI Centre representatives – to progress the ground-breaking SmartFarm concept.

The aim of SmartFarm is to develop a holistic approach to the food supply chain for a more efficient and sustainable approach to farming and food production. Beginning with the Agri-EPI-led pilot ‘SmartFarm 1.0’ in China, the plan is to create a transferable model for utilising a range of technology to gather data on inputs and outputs, in order to measure and reduce variation and increase productivity at all levels of the supply chain.

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead, said:

This concept is easy to talk about but difficult to deliver. We hope to take a radically different approach to the way normal projects work in that we are trying to identify the causes of a problem as opposed to treating the symptoms of it. This approach will give us a better understanding of the efficiency of the entire agri-food system.

UK-China SmartFarm DelegationAgri-EPI Centre will work closely with a variety of Chinese partners to progress ‘SmartFarm 1.0’. The key partner organisations are NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture, who will host the main elements of the Smart Farm 1.0. The other key partner is Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) who will oversee the Chinese delivery partners. The initial focus will be technology associated with arable crops to create a better understanding of productivity from the land resource.

During this visit to Beijing, the SmartFarm Construction Plan was signed by Innovate UK and CRTDC. This plan will enable CRTDC to proceed with the SmartFarm programme on the ground in China. Ian Cox along with Agri-EPI Chairman Willie Thomson and Chief Executive Dave Ross also took part in a number of meetings and workshops with senior Chinese politicians, government officials and scientists.

Dave Ross said:

We are delighted to participate in this brand-new venture, which should develop data combined with a holistic approach, to understand current levels of productivity and provide the insight to deliver improvements.

China is serious in its intent to modernise its agriculture over the next few years and improve the efficiency, productivity and environmental standards. Its 13th 5-year plan on Science and Innovation, adopted in 2016, has agri-tech at the heart of the programme, with a huge £1.5 billion of government investment in this area between 2016 and 2021.

Following on from this, Innovate UK and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2016, in which both parties agreed to explore mutual collaboration covering the following areas:

  • big data in agriculture
  • precision agriculture
  • intelligent agricultural equipment
  • prevention and control of crop and animal diseases
  • agricultural biotechnology to explore improvements in crop health and protection
  • nutrition and health developing high quality nutritious foods which meet the needs of future consumers

SmartFarm is a key component of the Agri-Tech Flagship challenge, one of the major deliverables under the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy signed last December in London.


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