Agri-Tech Archives - Agri-EPI Centre

Agri-Tech

Tag Archive for: Agri-Tech

Young company making an asset from farm waste

A young company is working on a new way for farmers to make money from farm waste.Somerset-based BioFactory are developing a modular anaerobic digester which can be scaled to any size of dairy farm. The company has been working with precision engineering and innovation experts Agri-EPI Centre, to develop and refine their system with a view to bringing it to the market.Whereas anaerobic digesters – which ferment organic matter to produce biogas for heat and power generation – are well established in the industry, systems are often too costly and high-maintenance for most family farms.Agri-EPI Centre have helped BioFactory access funding, provided technical assistance, and introduced them to potential funders and advice to help them scale their product and sell it to dairy producers.Having won funding from Innovate UK and Defra for a 12-month feasibility study via the Farming Innovation Programme, BioFactory are now raising working capital to commercialise the company fully, while Agri-EPI Centre continue to provide analysis and consultancy.Charlie Bowyer, business development manager for livestock and aquaculture at Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Slurry is nutrient-rich, and returning it to the soil is a vital part of circular agriculture. Anaerobic digestion is a great way to add value to it whilst retaining nutrients, reducing GHG emissions and becoming more energy-independent.

“Digestate has long been recognised as a high-quality fertiliser, and the heat and power created from biogas can create a meaningful income for farmers or reduce their energy bills. Commercial AD systems are simply out of reach for most dairy farms due to capital and operational costs, as well as barriers such as planning permission and a changed subsidy landscape since the “AD-boom” of the early 2010s.“Working with young companies like BioFactory is Agri-EPI Centre’s bread and butter; helping them develop a good idea into a successful business and providing solutions to farmers at the same time.”

Jon Blake, chief commercial officer at BioFactory, said:

“If you’re a dairy farmer, you will always have slurry, but we can help turn it into an asset rather than a by-product. There is nothing to say that we can’t resolve farming’s impact on the environment as well. Our ethos is to build something simple and reliable for the dairy farmer. Our units are 40’-long shipping containers and easily scaled; if you want to increase your herd, you can simply add another reactor.

“We were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our young company had been waylaid by Covid-19 when we came across a pot of funding for developing technology to help with net zero targets. Agri EPI-Centre helped us get hold of our grant and develop our product in real-life farming conditions.

“Even though the initial 12-month project has concluded, we are so pleased to continue our relationship with Charlie and his colleagues on laboratory analysis of the biodigestate, and with others at Agri-EPI Centre who are helping us with leveraging further funding and sales contracts.”

Agri-EPI’s Farm Tech Circle

Last summer Agri-EPI Centre launched the Farm Tech Circle, a new platform for farmers, growers and producers to discover and connect on topics that focus on enhancing the profitability and sustainability of agriculture.​ 
To learn more and to share this new network with members of the farming community who you think would like to be kept up to date with the latest news in agri-tech, please see below:

Farm Tech Circle

 

FTC Newsletter 1

FTC Newsletter 2

FTC Newsletter 3

Member case study: Earth Rover delivers sustainable weeding technology 

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.

Earth Rover has developed the CLAWS rover (an acronym for Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding and Scouting), with funding from Innovate UK as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways industrial research, and in collaboration with project partners Pollybell Farms and Agri-EPI Centre. The rover uses AI and robotics to accelerate crop growth by removing weeds, including herbicide-resistant weeds, without disrupting the soil, generating a more sustainable and effective alternative to other weeding techniques in the agriculture industry.

Read the full case study here

 

Watch CLAWS video

 

 

Special interest group discusses agri robotics and automation solutions

Photo from L-R (Rebecca Lewis, David Rose, Marc Jones, Eliot Dixon) outside the Southern Crop Technology Hub. 

Agri-EPI hosted a Special interest group focussed on agricultural robotics and automation technologies at their Cranfield Innovation Hub on Tuesday, 18th January. The event brought together farmers, technology developers and academics to discuss the development of robotics and automation solutions for agriculture.

The session was led by Eliot Dixon, Head of Engineering at Agri-EPI, with panel guests Professor David Rose, Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Systems at Cranfield Environment Centre, Marc Jones, Business Director at Antobot, and Agri-EPI innovation farmer Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm.

Rebecca Lewis, New Business and Proposals Manager at Agri-EPI, also provided an update on funding opportunities linked to robotics such as ‘Farming Futures: automation and robotics, industrial research‘ from the Farming Futures R&D fund.

The special interest group was held as part of the centre’s farm research and development offering which includes a network of commercial farms for trialling and validating technology, and a farmer membership aimed at knowledge exchange, the ‘Farm Tech Circle

Rebecca said:

“The farmer input is vital when it comes to talking about developing technology, we need to hear from them about how the tech could impact their business and fit in to their current systems and what their needs are.”

Key discussion points from the session included:

  • Farm infrastructure challenges – particularly around terrain, digital capacity, energy, storage and data.
  • Labour employment and tech development – health and safety, regulation, skills, knowledge, de-skilling, re-skilling, new skills.
  • Performance and technology readiness (repair, reliability, relevance, regulations).

The session lasted over two hours with break-out sessions followed by a networking lunch. From this session we aim to start building consortia for robotics and automation solutions for agriculture. If you are interested in finding out more from this session get in touch via team@agri-epicentre.com.

Useful resources for agri robotics and automation development:

  1. Enhancing the safety and security of autonomous agricultural vehicles
  2. Farm Network
  3. Technical robotics asset
  4. Robotics and automation solution offering
  5. Funding opportunities
  6. Agri-tech Investment Advisory

Agri-EPI is a partner of choice for agri-tech developers (from start-ups through to established companies). Our aim is to help develop profitable and productive solutions to empower more sustainable farms.

Collaboration essential for successful agri-robotics

By: Eliot Dixon, Head of Engineering at Agri-EPI Centre

Robotics has several strong applications in agriculture, especially in scenarios where systems can enhance the productivity of a shrinking workforce or can offer production efficiencies to the farm. However, to be successful in these applications the systems created need be reliable, in terms of long-term physical robustness but also in the ability of their control software to handle the very wide variety of scenarios they will encounter in a farming environment. This means the robots must be both well designed and well tested to meet the needs of farmers. This includes a design which emphasises safety and reliability.

“Understanding user requirements and testing in-field is key”

Good design requires a deep understanding of the needs and requirements of farmers and their farming systems. This extends from the core values held by a farmer, such as safety, which dictate their decisions; through to very specific requirements created by the unique combination of their way of working and the land they work. If this understanding is not achieved for a farming system, then there is a very high chance that the eventual product will be unsuitable, either creating a failed product or a long development timeline to solve the deficiencies. Gaining this understanding should come through working with a wide variety of farms within the target market for the technology, not just a small handful. In many agricultural sectors this design stage is especially important due to the limited testing season and ability to iterate on the design.

Testing is also well understood to be important to creating a reliable product, and in agriculture this does require a close collaboration with farmers to ensure that the robot meets their needs. As these are complex machines, which are also often dangerous if not created with a strong safety process, the testing regime should also be rigorous enough to ensure that the system will function to the desired reliability for all the design requirements. A rigorous testing regime would usually require multiple tests for each requirement across multiple operational scenarios such as different weather conditions, soil types, dangers, failure modes, crops etc. Failure to complete this testing will certainly result in the robotic system encountering situations which it is unable to function within, which may create unfortunate repercussions for the user or manufacturer. Unfortunately, completing this massive number of tests requires a range of test facilities, some of which might be beyond the capability of a company focussing on a small range of agricultural applications.

In our 2021 hackathon we explore safety and security. Outcomes are discussed in our white paper here:

Hackathon white paper

As mentioned, good design and testing is essential to creating successful products, but this unfortunately comes with a high cost. Doing this for the wide range of complex operating scenarios in UK agriculture, as well as the short testing cycles, is driving up the cost of developing agricultural robots. There are a multitude of Agri-robotics companies in the UK creating their systems from almost the ground up, each of which are individually bearing the cost in time and money of this development. This creates barriers to adoption in terms of high costs, a limited set of operations which can be conducted by robots, or low reliability due to poor engineering, and is increasing the amount of time it takes for products to get to market. As in all development the saying “Good, Cheap, Fast. Pick two”, is very much in action here but some very pressing needs mean we must find ways to break that deadlock.

Collaboration enables future opportunities for robotic systems

The obvious solution for this deadlock is to massively increase collaboration between ag-robotics developers. This has been proposed for many years, but we are yet to see a viable solution to this. Direct collaboration is currently difficult for commercial reasons with developers competing for the same money, but also for technical reasons where it is challenging to share components between robots. Perhaps a solution for this is to build an ecosystem of adaptable, compatible, components and platforms which can be used to create a multitude of agricultural robotic systems. This ecosystem of components would also be able to be robustly tested to ensure reliability when integrated as part of a larger system. Thus, the costs of development would be increasingly shared, without any single robotics manufacturer losing income as they are all developing for specific agricultural niches. Using a set of well proven components would allow developers to focus on ensuring good understanding and design for specific problems in agriculture, while also allowing for easier integration and testing of the robots.

Robotics in agriculture is a promising field, and with the right design and testing, as well as collaboration between developers, it could be a great success. By understanding the needs and requirements of farmers and using that to create an ecosystem of components and platforms, robots can be developed which are high value, robust, reliable and safe. With the right approach, agricultural robotics could benefit farmers across the UK and worldwide. Read our robotics and automation article to understand more about how we can support you to develop a robust well tested solution through collaborative R&D today.

Agri-EPI expands robotics and data offering

Agri-EPI has developed its robotics and data offering, including the addition of 4 new members to their engineering team over the last couple of months.

Eliot Dixon, Head of Agri-Tech (Engineering) explains:

“Over the last few months Agri-EPI has been investing heavily in its engineering team, bringing on several new members, enabling us to offer a set of services to assist in the creation of agri-tech products. The team of platform and spectral imaging experts uses our fleet of sensors and specialist software to deliver a range of sensing products such as ground truthing for AI model generation, or the creation of digital twins. We are also now able to offer UAV and UGV platforms as a means to test novel sensors and end-effectors without the need for a bespoke vehicle. And through working closely with our innovation farm network, we are creating a heavily layered source of evidence for developers using our farm network to design and test their innovations.”

Agri-EPI’s new GIS Data Analyst, Yingwang Gao, majored in Agricultural Engineering, and has a PhD degree specialising in Hyperspectral Imaging Applications, as well as postdoc experience working as Research Associate. In addition to a strong academic background, he has accumulated several years of industrial work experience, mainly on spectral imaging systems, R&D, and spectral imaging data analysis in various application domains. He has a strong passion for remote sensing and photogrammetry. At Agri-EPI, he takes care of data acquisition and data processing from different types of sensors, including RGB, multispectral, hyperspectral, LiDAR, and GPR, to identify and map out features of interest in the agricultural sector, to help farmers with better decision-making in agricultural management.

Agri-EPI’s new R&D Equipment Technician, Aditya Jadhav, pursued his bachelors in aeronautical engineering, where he learned various aspects of flying machines. He set up an aeromodelling club with a few of his classmates where they designed, built and tested various configurations of small UAVs. The MSc program for Autonomous vehicle dynamics and control was structured for students to gain a deeper understanding of unmanned systems. Aditya was part of a group project that built a surveillance system with a swarm of autonomous drones, and an individual project sponsored by the Railway Safety and Standards Board which aimed to design and develop an autonomous vehicle which can operate in a station environment. The advancements in robotics and the urgent need of integrating robotics with sustainable agriculture were the driving forces for him deciding to work in the agri-tech sector. As the R&D Equipment Technician, Aditya looks after all the deployable assets that are in service to the company, which includes maintenance, asset tracking and deployment, and organising the logistics.

Panagis Tzivras, Agri-EPI’S new GIS Software Engineer, is a GIS expert with strong technical skills who is highly invested in programming. In his previous roles working with startups and the commercial sector, he was involved in data collection and extraction, maintaining data pipelines and building geospatial processes and automation updates. At Agri-EPI Centre he is helping to leverage the measurement resources of the centre to create high quality dataset and support systems. He is working on creating tools and code to enable the automation of data collection from a wide variety of sources available to Agri-EPI Centre.

Lastly, Aidan Robertson has joined the Agri-EPI Engineering team as their new Graduate Data Analyst. Aidan’s background is in mathematics, which he studied at University of Warwick for four years before looking for jobs related to data science. He is very pleased to be part of the Agri-EPI team in quite a varied role; so far, he has been working on projects related to the health and wellbeing of cows, specifically by reformatting farm datasets to be sent out for analysis. Soon, there are plans for him to begin a more ambitious project to develop a costings estimator for RAS in agriculture. This is a long-term task, but the ultimate goal would be to offer it as a service for farmers looking to introduce robotic systems into their farms. The most interesting part of agri-tech for Aidan is the data, and what it actually says about the performance of a system, as well as what can be done to help the problems being faced by the agri-tech sector at present.

Tag Archive for: Agri-Tech

Midlands Agri-Tech Coffee Hour (MATCH)

Agri-EPI invites you to attend our networking coffee hour including breakfast at the Midlands Agri-Tech Hub on the 15th of February.

Use this opportunity to chat and get to know each other, fostering new connections and opportunities for collaboration within Agri-Tech.

This free event is open to member and non-members and includes a breakfast roll!

Agri-EPI Crop Technology Hub tour

Agri-EPI invites you to attend a tour of their Crop Technology Southern Hub based at the Agri-Informatics Building at Cranfield University.

Delivering academic rigour, data analytics and agri-tech expertise, our Crop Technology Southern Innovation Hub is home to world-class collaborative research within state-of-the-art facilities, including the Glasshouse Phenotyping Platform and Postharvest Storage Facilities.

This showcase event will provide an opportunity to view technical assets and facilities that could support your innovations linked to soil, crop health and sensor development for sustainable solutions for the arable and horticulture sectors. Our technical data, robotics and automation team will be on-hand to discuss how Agri-EPI can support you.

The facility is also home of the National Reference Centre for Soils and associated land information system, LandIS. In 2017, Cranfield University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research and education in large-scale soil and environmental data for the sustainable use of natural resources in the UK and worldwide.

There will be complementary networking lunch and arrival drinks.

Agri-EPI Farm Walk: Newton Farm

Agri-EPI invites you to attend an on-farm day at Newton Farm in Brecon, Wales on the 11th May 10AM-2PM. There are a limited number of tickets available, and we will be accepting registration on a first-come, first-serve basis

This event will be hosted by Richard Roderick, Farmer at Newton Farm and will include an introduction to the farm, a farm walk, and a networking lunch for all attendees.

About Newton Farm:

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.

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 crop.

Agenda:

10am- Arrival teas, coffees, and breakfast baps

10.30am- Introduction from Ross Robertson, Head of Mixed, Agri-EPI and handover for a welcome from Richard Roderick, Farmer, Newton Farm and an overview of the farm.

Explanation of the work taking place on Newton Farm as part of the Beacon Water Group from Nigel Elgar, BBMC Project Manager at Welsh Water

10.45am-Walking farm tour to include…

Demonstration of Beef Monitor and Combi Clamp from Carwyn Davies, Sales Manager for Wales at Ritchies. Ritchie were established over 150yrs ago, and specialises in the design and manufacturing of innovative high-quality agricultural and industrial equipment.

Explanation from John Smout, Sales Manager for UK & Ireland of NoFence who created the world’s first virtual fencing for livestock.

Explanation from Jose Chitty, Chief of Operations at SmartBell who provide automated monitoring solutions for animal health and management decisions and WellCalf which is a digital assistant for calf rearing.

The tour will also include a tour of the wider farm via tractor and trail.

1pm- Lunch and networking at the shed

2pm-Event ends

If you are interested in sponsoring the event please contact members@agri-epicentre.com.