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AIA launches advisory service to bridge gap between investors and innovative agri-food start-ups

Tuesday 20 September, 2022

Agri-EPI Centre has launched Agritech Investment Advisory Ltd (“AIA”), a new advisory service to bridge the gap between investors and innovative agri-food start-ups.

AIA combines deep expertise in capital raising transactions with the sector expertise, asset base and network of its parent, Agri-EPI Centre.

AIA aims to serve both start-ups seeking funding and investors looking for attractive opportunities in the sector. For start-ups, AIA offers capital raising and strategic advice, and focuses on early stage (predominantly Seed & Series A) agri-food businesses based in the UK, or with significant UK presence. For investors, AIA offers both deal sourcing and due diligence support, and seeks to support a combination of venture capital firms, family offices and high net worth individuals.

John Grealish, Head of Advisory at AIA, said:

“It’s widely acknowledged that global food production systems need to change fundamentally if they’re to feed a growing population whilst also supporting efforts to avert cataclysmic climate change. This ‘fourth agricultural revolution’ will be driven by the development and adoption of new technology, and many of the critical innovations will come from start-ups. This creates a unique opportunity for investors to back the businesses that will shape the future of our agri-food systems.

“We saw an opportunity to contribute to this critical transition by creating a new specialist capital-raising advisory service, leveraging Agri-EPI Centre’s deep sector expertise and network. We’re phenomenally excited at the prospect of supporting innovative early stage businesses and founders, as well as the investors whose backing will help them grow into the leaders of the future of food.”

Dave Ross, CEO Agri-EPI Centre said:

“In recent years Agri EPI-Centre has had many contacts from investment houses looking to invest in the agri-tech sector as well as from SMEs struggling to find the financial stability they need to grow. Our response has been to create a business model to accommodate this lack in the market and the result is AIA.

“Agri-EPI Centre has a successful track-record of bringing innovative theory to practice via our in-house technical expertise, state-of-the-art facilities and strong network of industry contacts.”

Agri-tech Investment Advisory Ltd is an Appointed Representative of Sapia Partners LLP, an entity which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

AIA Leaflet

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

AIA services include:

For early stage (predominantly Seed & Series A) agri-food businesses that are based in the UK, or have/are building significant UK presence. AIA provides capital-raising and strategic advice, including: a review of business plans and financial models; access to specific technical market expertise; advice on capital-raising strategy; and development of pitch materials.

For investors (VCs, family offices, HNWIs) that are seeking investment opportunities in the markets AIA serve, i.e. early stage agri-food businesses primarily in the UK, AIA can share targeted opportunities based on a detailed understanding of investors’ specific areas of interest, as well as provide technical and commercial due diligence support, drawing on the deep expertise of its in-house team and sector network.

About Agri-EPI Centre

Agri-EPI Centre was established as part of the UK Government’s 2013 agricultural technologies strategy. The company supports and delivers research, development, demonstration and training in precision agriculture and engineering to maximise the agri-tech sector’s contribution to sustainable food production and supply. Agri-EPI Centre’svision is to support the development and growth of innovative with scientifically robust and commercially viable solutions to help farmers and agri-food businesses become more sustainable and profitable. Agri-EPI Centre is funded by Innovate UK.

About John Grealish

AIA senior investment advisor John Grealish’s 18-year career in venture capital and private equity includes direct investment and advisory work; he has advised on over 100 transactions. Prior to Agri-EPI Centre/AIA, John held leadership roles in the private equity practices of Bain and McKinsey as well as investment roles with several PE/VC funds. John holds a BA in History from the University of Oxford.

Paraguay SMART Farm Project: Adapting Origin Digital’s Contour Platform to the South American Climate

Agri-EPI Centre has been leading the Innovate UK-supported SMART Farm project in Paraguay since January 2018. It has involved partnering with a farming business to demonstrate UK agri-tech in the agricultural economy of Paraguay.

The farming business, GVASA in San Pedro, spans 85,000 hectares and incorporates cattle, maize, soybean and rice production enterprises. This phase of the SMART Farm project has focused on implementing Origin Digital’s Contour platform across GVASA’s arable fields, providing the farmer with in-depth soil health information, effective crop growth models, and enabling variable rate application.

Origin has worked collaboratively with Agri-Epi and Innovate UK to gather information on 6927 hectares of field boundaries and cropping information in Paraguay. Management zones were created over 1,661 of these hectares using soil brightness technology, and 589.6 had precision zonal sampling done on them for nutrient analysis.

Using crop growth model rulesets developed for Africa, the team were able to deploy these models in Paraguay with high levels of accuracy. Minor localisation of the models further increased the accuracy confirming the localisable value. These models include crop growth stage and yield predictors.

“The African models showed a strong correlation with actual South American yields , says Dan Wood at Origin Digital.

“And accuracy improved further when adjustments were made to the models to begin localising them further to South America, showing that our crop growth models can be successfully deployed in this geography.”

A particularly useful outcome is variable rate fertiliser recommendations, which can lead to significant cost savings, increased soil health, and improved efficiencies, yield and profitability.

“It has been a pleasure to manage the Paraguay SMART Farm project, particularly facilitating Origin Digital’s successful adaption of the Contour platform to the South American climate,” says Emily Laskin, farms technical coordinator at Agri-EPI.

“Seeing British technology provide efficiency and sustainability benefits to farming practices internationally shows us how we can make a difference and is a source of pride for the entire team at Agri-EPI.”

The economic outcome of introducing UK technology means more profitable farming systems, reduced environmental footprint and improved economic sustainability.

 

Read more:

Paraguay case study

Agri-tech expertise yields results for robotics firm

An agri-tech company from Essex is helping farmers overcome labour shortages and practice precision agriculture, thanks to support from the Agri-EPI Centre.

Antobot is developing two robots which will help farmers target valuable resources in the most productive areas, as well as taking some time-consuming tasks off skilled workers.

The Agri-EPI Centre has supported Antobot with knowledge and their network in agriculture, increasing understanding of the sector and facilitating connections with growers, research organisations and other companies.

They have collaborated on multiple grant funding applications with successful joint bids to develop agri-tech innovations. The Agri-EPI Centre’s invaluable knowledge and networking has helped Antobot to develop their business and market potential, contributing to their successful £1.2m seed round in 2021.

Antobot business development manager Zoë Stockton said:

“We first started working with the Agri-EPI Centre in 2020 and have built a great relationship with the team.

“One of the greatest benefits of our relationship with Agri-EPI Centre has been the expert knowledge they have, particularly about funding streams to help us innovate. As a result of that help, we were awarded Project Insight in UKRI and Defra’s Farming Innovation Pathways program which we are working on with Agri-EPI.

“The development of our Insight robot is the focus of this 24-month project, and Agri-EPI are involved as project managers and knowledge experts.

“They were really useful when we were going through that funding application. The relationship has also directly delivered new business for us, helping us to grow and create sustainable jobs. The assistance has been invaluable.”

Agri-EPI Centre, part of the UK’s Agri-Tech Strategy and supported by Innovate UK, helps develop profitable and productive solutions to empower more sustainable farms and aims to support projects which will generate economic growth and help tackle the global issues of sustainability and feeding the world.

There are four centres across the UK, dedicated to innovation.

Antobot has created a modular robot system which can be adapted for different purposes. The first two applications being developed are Insight, a scouting robot, and Assist, which is used for logistics.

Insight is currently in field trials on partner farms, primarily with strawberry and apple crops. It can collect and process data about crop growth and ripeness so precious worker resources can be directed to the areas where yield is likely to be higher.

 

Read more:

Antobot case study

Robotriks RTU v4. Light Agricultural Robot

Key benefits:

Sustainable
• Fully electric
• Lightweight for low damage

Autonomous
• Simple pre-planned autonomy with object detection
• High-level autonomy with ROS compatibility

Extendable
• Open architecture for adding new sensors and end effectors

Adjustable
• Interchangeable truss frame for multiple scenarios

Agri-EPI is excited to have invested in the Robotriks RTU v4. Light Agricultural Robot. Designed as an adaptable autonomous agricultural platform, this robot aids in developing agri-robotics components. It is fully open for developers to test their new technologies in the field without needing to develop their own robotic platform. This capability will help open the doors for a vast range of novel agricultural systems which maximise the benefit offered by robotics.

As a lightweight agricultural robot, the RTU represents a new approach to the farming cycle. Rather than having the size and power to pull up an entire field, light robots can conduct per-plant farming operations with minimum soil damage, maximising yields whilst minimising environmental impact.

Agri-EPIs RTU fleet have three control methods available depending on the need of the developer. At its simplest, the units can be manually controlled using an intuitive remote-control system. As a middle ground, they include an advanced autopilot system meaning the robots can drive themselves around using pre-planned routes with collision avoidance. Finally, the systems also include a powerful on-board computer running ROS, which has been configured to send control commands allowing intelligent autonomy to be quickly integrated.

These robots have also had a range of sensors integrated with them to allow for high level autonomy, mapping and collision avoidance. This includes RTK-GNSS for initial localisation, a Velodyne LiDAR for 3D point mapping and front and rear facing ZED 3D cameras for local obstacle detection.

Built almost entirely out of aluminium with mounting surfaces on the top, front and rear of the traction units, the RTU was built to last when out in the
elements. Featuring a low centre of mass and a wide footprint thanks to its tracked design, the RTU can drive in any orientation on surfaces up to a 54-degree incline.

Connecting the traction units is a truss frame made entirely out of 48.3mm scaffolding pipes. By using such a standard material, it means the robot becomes very easy to configure for multiple agricultural scenarios. If a wide wheelbase is needed to cover more rows or tall frame to navigate vineyards, the truss can be simply adjusted to the requirement. With this flexibility it also broadens the realm of modularity.

These robots have been created for the needs of Agri-EPI Centre and our partners as a highly flexible and modular platform and will be gradually improved over time as a collaboration between ourselves and the manufacturer.

For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com

Edinburgh based start-up leads the way in grain monitoring

A cutting-edge grain analysis project has won £366,000 in innovation funding under the Defra Farming Innovation Programme from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Crover is an Edinburgh-based company creating robotic grain storage solutions for improved and automated monitoring and management of grains.

Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are exceptionally high, above 20% in the UK and worldwide. Pests are to blame, with grain moisture content and temperature being the most significant factors. Cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers, and breweries, experience these challenges, which have high-cost implications in terms of lost revenue and costs to rectify.

Crover is developing a novel non-contact sensor for non-contact grain analysis able to detect specific molecular compounds within a radius of up to a few tens of centimetres, based on a novel miniaturised sensing technology. Crover aims to integrate this sensor onto their CROVER robot, the world’s first ‘underground drone’, which swims through grain bulks, and which is at the core of the CROVER autonomous Grain Storage Management system.

Lorenzo Conti, Founder and Managing Director of Crover says:

“At the moment the only grain bulk parameters that can be measured directly in-situ via sensors, without requiring a sample to be collected, are temperature, humidity/moisture and CO2 – we go into this project with the big ambition to expand that range significantly and to take measurements that are currently only possible in the lab into the grain bulk, while implementing that into the CROVER robot and system – think superman partners with batman, in a grain monitoring sense.”

Down the line, the result of this project is expected to allow for the expansion of the parameters that Crover will be able to measure, including specific nutrient measurements, insect presence and species identification aligned with different customer requirements. The project is being worked on in partnership with Agri-EPI Centre and Dyson Farming (formerly known as Beeswax).

“Having worked with the Agri-EPI Centre on other projects before, they are by now our go-to place for knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement, events and project management in the UK. The project further strengthens the collaboration between our two entities.”

Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre explains:

“Working with Crover has shown how Agri-EPI Centre can support with the development of innovative, disruptive technologies. The Crover team has expanded both their ambition and number of employees as they’ve developed their robot, from idea formation to on-farm testing towards the creation of a commercial product that will tackle waste issues in bulk grain storage.

Ed Ford, Technical Agronomist at Dyson Farming says:

“We are excited to working with Crover on this project. The potential for this technology is twofold when it comes to gathering sampling parameters instore. Not only will it allow farmers to understand the quality and conditions of the grains they have but will also help improve health and safety around grain sampling”

The project aims to address the arable sector and wholegrain value chain’s need for novel and alternative crop protection solutions, in support of the current push toward holistic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches.

Small family business becomes market leader in hoof health

An innovative project leading the way in hoof health has won nearly £250,000 in innovation funding.

Hoofcount is a 10-year-old family business, focusing on how to keep cows’ hoofs clean and healthy. Their project is aimed at using vision to develop an early detection lameness monitoring system. It has won funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, for feasibility studies combining innovation with research and collaboration with farmers and growers.

Hoof health is a prevalent issue in agriculture, particularly in the dairy industry, as it is one of the main factors leading to poor milk production. Dairy cows are susceptible to a range of hoof issues including Digital dermatitis, sole ulcers, white line disease and overgrown hooves. These often show a visual change in the underside and back of the hoof. These issues can develop initially without the animal showing visual signs in its gait.

John Hardiman, Software Engineer at Hoofcount explained:

“Lameness is a key issue in dairy herds, with conservative estimates of 25% of dairy cattle suffering from lameness and each lame cow costing more than £300 in loss of production and treatment. The Hoofcount footbath is trusted and recommended by farmers, vets and hoof trimmers internationally as they are seeing a continuous fall in lameness on farms using the Hoofcount Automatic Footbath.”

Detecting and treating these issues at an early stage is beneficial to the animal in keeping the hooves healthy and preventing severe lameness which leads to a lower production, increased veterinary and treatment costs, reduced animal welfare, a higher Carbon footprint, and many other issues. Developing a system that can visualise these changes daily and detect any potential issues early will be of huge benefit to the national herd. Utilising computer vision and machine learning is Hoofcount’s preferred method for monitoring and detecting these issues.

“Collaboration with farmers is core to Hoofcount’s continued innovation and leading reputation in reliable foot-bathing for herd hoof health. Agri-EPI Centre has bolstered our collaboration, with the introduction of The Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) at University of the West of England Bristol and successful application for Innovate UK funding (IUK). CMV has a track record of successful computer vision within agriculture. Agri-EPI has been instrumental in the project funding application and continues to support the project organisation with its network of research farms.”

“As with our automatic footbaths, we know that we will never get rid of Digital dermatitis and hoof health issues completely, however we want to do everything we can to minimise the effects of them and reduce the spread.”

Duncan Forbes, Head of Dairy at Agri-EPI Centre said:

“This is a great example of the sort of practical collaborations we seek to create, bringing together innovative companies like Hoofcount with leading research experts like the team at CMV at UWE Bristol. Early detection of lameness is vital to meeting the challenge of delivering a substantial reduction in lameness prevalence in dairy herds. UK milk producers will very much welcome the benefits to cow welfare and cost reduction that this emerging technical solution will deliver.”