Agri-EPI Centre is project managing the innovative Hands Free Farm project at Harper Adams University. Hands Free Farm is the follow-on to the famous Hands Free Hectare project started in 2016 by Harpers Adams and Precision Decisions with the aim to be the first in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground. The automation farm project has been taken through two successful cropping cycles and won a number of awards, including the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Future Food Award.
Now, thanks to funding from Innovate UK, the project has evolved into Hands Free Farm, a three-year-long project, run by Harper Adams and Precision Decisions and the UK division of Australian precision agriculture specialist Farmscan AG.
The project has just got underway and is based at Harper Adams’ campus in Shropshire. Agri-EPI Centre is providing the team with project management support and development space at its Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, located on the university’s campus.
Les Hurdiss, Manager of Agri-EPI’s Midlands Hub, said: “Hands Free Farm is a fantastic, ground breaking project which is truly innovative in taking farming into a new era. We are very proud that the project will be developed in our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub. Robotics and automation are at the forefront of the current transformation of agriculture and Hands Free Farm is one of several projects in which Agri-EPI is involved which are advancing this exciting area.”
Jonathan Gill, Harper Adams Mechatronics Researcher said: “This time, we’re planning to grow three different combinable crops across 35 hectares.
“We’re moving past the feasibility study which the hectare provided us with, to now a vision of the future of farming.
“We want to prove the capability and ability of these systems in reducing the levels of soil compaction and precision application.”
Kit Franklin, Harper Adams Senior Agricultural Engineering Lecturer, said: “We want the farm to become a testbed for agricultural innovation. Once the farm’s established, we’ll be encouraging companies to come and test and evaluate their technologies.”