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Agri-EPI Centre and CIEL delighted to host Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI today.

We took the opportunity to provide insight into work of the Agritech Centres in their role of translation of science into best practice and related agri-food sector benefits

Ottoline visited the Agri-EPI Northern Hub and CIEL-supported LARIF building and met Dr Mark Young of CIEL and Dave Ross of Agri-EPI, who provided examples of work the Agritech Centres are doing to benefit sustainability and commercial impact, leveraging our networks including key academic partners.

We are grateful to the University of Edinburgh for the overall co-ordination of the visit. Pictured are (left to right):

Prof. David Argyll, William Dick Chair of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Professor Moira Whyte, Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh
Dave Ross, CEO, Agri-EPI Centre
Prof. Jonathan Seckl, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh
Helen Dundas, Data Driven Innovation Sector Lead in Agritech, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director, The Roslin Institute
Dr. Thomas Farrugia, CEO, Beta Bugs Ltd
Dr. Mark Young, Head of Innovation, CIEL

NEVONEX announced as Agri-EPI conference sponsor

NEVONEX, powered by Bosch, has been announced as the sponsor of Agri-EPI Centre’s annual conference on 28 October.

The conference, titled ‘The Path to Sustainability’, will focus on the role of agri-tech in the journey towards more economically and environmentally sustainable farming.

The free, online event will bring together farmers and the wider agri-food industry, technology developers and start-ups, investors, and researchers in a series of panel discussions about the role of data and technology in improving productivity and profit while protecting and enhancing the environment. Farmers involved in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm Network will join the conversation.

Bosch supports farmers productivity and sustainability through its NEVONEX platform, an open, manufacturer-independent ecosystem providing seamless connectivity and automation of work processes and machines on-farm. You can find out more and register for the event here.

Green Asparagus Harvesting Robot Successfully Demonstrated in the UK by Muddy Machines

Muddy Machines, a UK agri-tech startup and Agri-EPI member announced that they have successfully developed a prototype robotic harvester for green asparagus, which they’ve named “Sprout”. Working closely with major asparagus grower Cobrey Farms in Herefordshire the company has spent the last year developing and testing their machine on-farm.

Farms require a high volume of seasonal workers for a variety of tasks, primarily for weeding and harvesting. Asparagus is one of the most labour intensive crops as harvesting occurs daily throughout the 12 week season. While other companies have largely ignored asparagus, because by itself it is a relatively small volume crop, Muddy Machines believe that starting with the crop most suited to robotic harvesting is best, before iterating to develop harvesters for more challenging crops.

Sprout uses the latest in deep learning technology to detect and delicately pick asparagus spears according to growers’ specifications. The robot is lightweight and fully electric, avoiding damaging soil compaction and enabling a green, sustainable and resilient future for UK horticulture.

Founded by Florian Richter and Christopher Chavasse in June 2021 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent request from growers to find a solution to their labour supply challenges. Muddy Machines is now seeking additional funding to bring an initial batch of robots to market in 2022.

Muddy Machines are an Agri-EPI member and are backed by Britbots, Robotic Ventures, Entrepreneur First, and a number of fantastic business angels having won several Innovate UK grants and accelerator programs.

Listen to our Seedling Sessions podcast with Florian of Muddy Machines here – episode #4.

UK farmers confident about benefits of agri-tech but unsure of its role in net zero, new research suggests

While most UK farmers are using agri-tech, many are doubtful of its ability to help them meet net zero targets, a nationwide survey by Agri-EPI Centre has revealed.

The Agri-EPI research sought to understand how and why farmers are using agri-tech, shed light on barriers to its use and explore the technologies farmers think will be needed in the future.

The research, conducted through interviews with farmers across the UK, found that 78% are using some form of agri-tech, with the highest adoption rates among younger farmers and those with large farms. The biggest reasons for its use are increased productivity and profitability.

Yet, while the same percentage (78%) of farmers believe that it is important to reduce their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions (rising to 94% of those under the age of 45), only just above a third (35%) are confident that technology will help them reach net zero carbon emissions.

One reason for this could be that farmers need greater skills and support to understand the benefits of technology and to adopt it. The research found only half of farmers rate their skills in using agri-tech as ‘good’, with less than half (43%) of all farmers interviewed feeling well supported in introducing or making better use of existing technology.

Agri-EPI centre’s Chief Executive, David Ross, said: “While the majority of UK farmers recognise that agri-tech has an important role in supporting their priorities of productivity and profit, we are struck by the fact that only around a third felt tech has a role to play in environmental sustainability.

“Technology is one of the solutions to helping farmers reduce their emissions –agri-tech that helps farmers be more efficient and productive usually offers a win-win for sustainability.

“The findings of our research provide important insights for Agri-EPI and our fellow Agri-Tech Centres, as well as for those with a role in developing, evaluating and promoting technology, particularly the agri-food sector, policy makers, agri-tech companies and the R&D community. The farmers we spoke to told us they need accessible training, funding, and more evidence and independent advice to help them make the best use of agri-tech. We want to collaborate with partners across all of areas to ensure the benefits of agri-tech is make clear and the avenues to adoption are easily accessible.”

Of the farmers interviewed who are using agri-tech, popular technologies include machine guidance systems (40% reported they are using this), soil mapping (35%), livestock growth monitoring (30%) and variable rate application (28%).

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm.

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm. The findings of the research will be discussed at Agri-EPI’s annual conference, titled The Path to Sustainability, on 28 October.

Defra opens its Farming Innovation Partnership competitions – how can we support your application?

This week, Defra opens its Farming Innovation Partnerships Feasibility and Small R&D competition strands. With just six weeks to go until the closing date, we want to ensure we are best able to support our members build their project collaborations and funding applications.

We have identified a number of challenge themes, in consultation with our farmer network, which we will use to guide our thinking in supporting and developing projects. These are:

Create tools to track and manage environmental impact
Improve data exchange to track productivity and impact
Develop higher resolution farm management information
Automate processes for creating management information
Automate processes for targeted actions
Improve health and welfare of plants and animals

Agri-EPI can provide access to our farmer network, testbeds and other facilities; help with building up your project and consortium; technical and project management expertise; or support with writing an application, as appropriate.
If you are considering applying to these competitions and would like support from Agri-EPI or to find out how we can help, please complete this form, with as much information as possible. This will help us best understand how we can help and where we can add value. If your idea is still quite early-stage and you don’t have all the information, or if you are looking to join a collaboration that fits into one or more of the themes above, just send us what you have. We will then direct your enquiry to the member of our team best able to advise how to take your idea further.

Your information will be dealt with in confidence and we won’t approach any additional partners without consulting you first.

Please get back to us by 29th October at the latest, but the sooner we hear from you, the better position we will be in to provide support.

A winning solution for autonomous farming safety 

Agri-tech company Agribot AI has won the Agri-EPI and Hands Free Farm (HFF) hackathon tackling safety and security concerns around autonomous agricultural vehicles.  

A hackathon funded by Smart Agri-Hubs, Agri-EPI Centre in collaboration with Hands Free Farm tasked participants to “hack” a safety solution for unmanned machinery.  The teams which took part came from a range of disciplines, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, drones and computer vision. 

Agribot’s winning concept brought together cutting-edge AI and vision technology to provide a cost-effective, anonymised human and animal detection system that could work with notoriously patchy rural connectivity. The company is now in conversation with the Hands Free Farm team on developing and implementing their technology on the HFF site.

Agribot were joined by five other teams that included Epitomical Limited, Continental Industry, NextGenAgri Limited, GMV NSL, MNB Networks Ltd

Agri-EPI Chief Executive Dave Ross said: “The quality of ideas and solutions from the teams that took part in the hackathon has blown away everyone at Agri-EPI, the team at Hands Free Farm and our judges – Clive Blacker, Kit Franklin, Andy Newbold and Sarah Walton. We were particularly impressed with Agribot AI’s proposal which has very real potential, and we are excited to see how it develops at Hands Free Farm.” 

Autonomous vehicles offer arable farmers a wide range of benefits, such as better utilisation of farm staff and increased precision and reduced inputs, all of which combine to improve farm economics. 

However, to ensure the implementation of agri-tech can keep pace with the rate of innovation, the safety, security and reliability of new technologies must be guaranteed. 

The lack of formal safety regulations, codes of practice and other legislation pose a potential barrier to the widespread use of cutting-edge agri-tech, hindering the progress of the entire agri-food sector. 

Hands Free Farm partners with Precision Decisions, part of the Map of Ag group. Clive Blacker, Head of Arable Produce at Map of Ag said:  

“The diverse nature of agriculture and robotics operating in off-road and on-road environments poses many challenges. Our aim with the hackathon was to bring great ideas from any background into agriculture that have the potential to support robotic safety. We have been delighted and inspired by the solutions put forward.”