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Calling all ‘astropreneurs’!

Agri-EPI Centre and its fellow UK Agri-Tech Centre Agrimetrics are taking part in a webinar on Tuesday 19th May for start-ups and SMEs interested in the role space technology can play in sustainable agriculture.

The Centres are teaming up with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the European Horizon 2020 Astropreneurs Space Startup Accelerator, which seeks to turn space-related ideas into viable businesses. Due to finish at the end of December 2020, the programme provides successful applicants with business, commercial and technical mentoring and training.

Agri-EPI Project Manager, Freddie Reed, will talk about how satellite imagery is current being utilised within the organisation’s network of 28 innovative farms. Agri-EPI works with this network to develop, evaluate and share information about new technologies and techniques.

Agrimetrics’ Chief Product Officer, Matthew Smith, will discuss the commercialisation of space data through the data marketplace.

Nick Trigg is Innovation Manager at the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UK manager for the Astropreneurs programme.  He will give a rundown on the space data that is available, and how it can be accessed.

Nick said:

“The space sector has a huge amount of technology that is useful for other sectors and this webinar will show how far sighted and technology driven the agriculture sector really is.  Both Agri-EPI and Agrimetrics are at the forefront of agriculture’s drive into these new technologies and it is great to have a them talking at this webinar.”

The webinar takes place at 10am (BST) on Tuesday May 19. Sign up here.

Minimising the impact of waste on the environment

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 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 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?

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.

Agri industry driving R&D

Claiming tax relief

Paul Crooks of CATAX, an Agri-EPI member, explains how those in the agri-tech sector can make a claim for the Research and Development (R&D) tax relief available.

“The demands on farmers and the agri-tech sector, driven by requirements for increasing efficiency, minimising or mitigating environmental threats, reducing energy use, waste management etc are significant and are driving an enormous research and development effort within the industry. However, farmers and the agri-tech sector are missing out on hundreds of thousands of Pounds in unclaimed Research and Development (R&D) tax relief.

“We know not enough farmers and agricultural businesses are coming forward because the numbers reaching Catax’s door are dwarfed by those in other industries such as engineering and manufacturing. As one of the UK’s leading specialist tax companies, that finding is meaningful.”

Areas where R&D is most likely to be found in agriculture include:

  • Development and use of new technologies and processes in farming
  • Reductions in the environmental impact of the sector
  • Use of data and the internet of things to aid crop or animal management
  • Robotics and AI
  • Monitoring, satellite imagery and remote sensing
  • Increasing yield
  • Improving labour productivity through robotics and machines
  • Resource management
  • Biotechnology
  • Drone technology
  • Soil management and smart irrigation.

The project doesn’t have to be successful to qualify and claims can be back-dated two years.

“Many businesses do not realise that much of what they are doing can be categorised as R&D under the government’s rules, making them eligible for the valuable tax relief that was designed to reward and encourage innovation. The HMRC criteria for genuine R&D is whether an appreciable improvement can be shown, addressing a scientific or technological uncertainty.

“Catax worked with a leading UK equipment manufacturer who wanted to develop their own range of manure spreaders and trailers and the technological uncertainty came about in meeting new mechanical, construction and design parameters to produce a new series of equipment which had increased functionality. Our twelve years of experience in specialist tax relief enabled us to identify and, importantly, maximise the qualifying costs in this innovative project and the tax benefit to the engineering business amounted to £30 000.

“Another client wanted to develop an automatic gas purging system in his potato store and a lot of work was carried out in determining the optimum location and frequency of gas sensors which linked to the automatic purging pump. The total tax saving for this business was over £60 000.

“The average tax relief benefit for farmers and agritech businesses we have worked with has amounted to £50,000 – a significant sum which could be reinvested in the business to fuel further innovation and growth. If your business profits from products you hold a patent on, then the Patent Box Tax Relief can also help retain more of those profits in your business.”

Many businesses in receipt of public grants from Innovate etc have been advised that they cannot claim R&D Tax Relief on grant aided projects. This is untrue, although the claim is processed through a different HMRC programme to the normal one available to SME businesses and can amount to a benefit of nearly 10% of the entire R&D project.

As in most disciplines, the results achieved by specialists can differ significantly from that achieved by many generalists and the same principals apply in the field of R&D Tax Relief. Most good R&D tax specialists will work on a commission basis so cost considerations can be dismissed as no fees will apply unless a significant benefit is achieved for your business.

Catax have developed a highly efficient system which maximises your tax benefit but minimises your time involvement while we collect and process the information required.

For more information, visit: www.catax.com.

Agri-tech partners support Covid-19 food security

Cutting-edge crop monitoring solution

A collaboration involving Agri-EPI Centre and leading agri-tech start-up Mantle Labs is offering a cutting-edge crop monitoring solution for UK food security during the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent surge in consumer demand and potential trade disruptions caused by the virus pose a real threat to uninterrupted food supply. To avoid this, retailers, supermarkets, food processors and government departments need to have visibility of what is happening across UK agriculture and be able to quickly monitor food supply chains for forward planning.

Mantle Labs is offering its unique ‘Geobotanics’ platform to retailers and others involved in the supply chain, free-of-charge for a period of three months. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) – based platform mixes imagery from multiple satellites to assess current agricultural conditions and provides early warning of potential supply issues.

The platform works seamlessly even in cloudy conditions to give a clear indication of potential problem hotspots around the country and provide projected crop yields. The Geobotanics platform runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which enables Mantle Labs to scale its platform quickly and easily to analyse very large volumes of high resolution crop satellite imagery across large surface areas.

Agri-EPI is supporting Mantle Labs in promoting the technology. Discussions are at an early stage with a key organisation within the agri-food industry.

Jon Pierre, Mantle Labs’ Chief Business Officer, said:

“The information provided by our dashboard can be factored into retailers’ procurement and inventory planning. They can work closely with their supplier farmers to tackle problem spots early, determine if issues can be remedied and therefore provide additional resilience and certainty to supply chains of individual items. Government departments can utilise the platform to flag issues relating to national food security.

Analysis can be farm-level, regional and country level; thereby allowing for constant monitoring and forward planning for a variety of procured produce.”

The Geobotanics platform identifies all standing crops on the ground and indicates crop health for all fields including any anomalies likely to impact the production. The total acreage under cultivation by crop type can be quickly accessed which helps in identifying any shortfall in production at a very early stage.

The platform also identifies fallow land, allowing decisions to be taken to bring this under immediate cultivation to fill the gaps in overall demand.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Innovation and collaboration are vital to identifying solutions to the issue of potential supply chain disruption and we are doing all we can to support our members, working with Mantle Labs and Amazon Web Services to deliver this offer to retailers and UK Government.”

Those interested in discussing this opportunity with Mantle Labs should in the first instance contact Agri-EPI Centre Project Manager, Freddie Reed.

Agri-EPI Centre launches Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

A multi-million-pound hub for the development, testing and sharing of technologies to boost productivity in farming and the food supply chain has opened in the Midlands following Innovate UK investment.

Agri-EPI Centre has developed the £4.4 million research & development facility in close partnership with Harper Adams University. 

Located on the University’s campus in Shropshire, the hub will bring together researchers, technology and engineering companies and food businesses, from farmers right through to retailers.

A priority for the new hub is to encourage farmer uptake of innovative technologies to increase the overall benefits to UK agriculture.  Experts will explore how robotics, lasers, sensors and satellite technology may benefit farmers, such as robots which can pick soft fruit or lasers which can target individual weeds in a field without pesticides or damage to the crop.  Such technologies are being researched by Harper Adams and others in conjunction with industry partners, to be tested further through the Agri-EPI Centre network.

The hub was officially opened today by Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, who said:

“From picking soft fruits using robots, to treating crops using lasers and avoiding harmful pesticides, the innovations being considered by Agri-EPI Centre will revolutionise farming as we know it and make it more profitable than ever before.

Our agricultural sector is the biggest industrial sector in the UK and our farmers are multi-skilled – they are investor, environmentalists and scientists. We need to make sure these skills keep pace with the growth of new technologies which is why we have invested £90 million through our modern Industrial Strategy to put the UK at the forefront of these innovations and boost productivity.”

Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“The Midlands hub is one of four ground-breaking facilities we will be running across the UK to really push forward new thinking and technologies that can boost the productivity, sustainability and profitability of the agri-food industry.”

Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Llewellyn, said:

“There are considerable opportunities to grow the agri-technology sector through the work of the Agri-EPI Centre and the facilities being formally opened today.  The Government has recognised the importance of this new sector by designating nearby Telford as a High Potential Opportunity area for inward investment in agri-technologies, and our Local Authority and the Marches LEP have identified agri-tech as a strategic priority, based on our activities and those of the Agri-EPI network.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres said:

“Ultimately, this is about the successful transfer of new technologies, and the skills for their use, into farming practice to improve productivity, profitability and environmental performance in food production.  Working with the Agri-EPI Centre team we are committed to achieving these objectives.”

In addition, the state-of-the-art Midlands Dairy Research Centre, developed by Agri-EPI in partnership with managed by Harper Adams, will focus on the use of next generation dairy technology to understand dairy cow behaviour and welfare. Its 50-cow robotic milking shed was designed specifically for trial work, complementing Harper Adams’ 380-strong commercial dairy herd. The Centre is sponsored by DeLaval, Easyfix and IceRobotics.

Partners Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

Partners Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub