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UK-China SmartFarm partnership takes next steps

Utilising UK technology in China

Agri-EPI Centre and one of China’s largest food companies, the Tianjin Food Group, have today signed a collaboration agreement to develop a smart farming project utilising UK technology in China to boost early disease detection and productivity monitoring in pigs.

The project, called “SmartFarm 1.5”, will involve Agri-EPI and UK companies RoboScientific, Greengage Lighting and Innovent Technology, working with pork producers for the Tianjin Food Group in north eastern China. It is being funded by Innovate UK from the UK and supported locally by the Tianjin Food Group.

The new project is a continuation of the SmartFarm concept developed in China by Agri-EPI Centre, which seeks to develop international collaboration to support efficient and sustainable approaches to farming and food production.

The first SmartFarm project looked at precision-based approaches to nitrogen application in wheat production. It ran successfully between 2018 and 19, co-sponsored by Innovate UK, led by Agri-EPI and involving UK companies SoilEssentials and RDS, with autonomous and measurement systems contribution from University of Strathclyde. The Chinese partner organisations were NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC).

Following the successful delivery of this inaugural project, Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Group agreed to explore further opportunities, resulting in today’s signing of an agreement at the 4th Tianjin World Intelligence Congress.

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“We are honoured to be taking China SmartFarm to the next level by working with the Tianjin Food Group to deliver this important project. China is the world’s

largest producer and consumer of pork and technology and to support better productivity and earlier disease detection has significant potential economic benefits. Agri-EPI is excited to be building relationships with a range of international partners, in China – as well as New Zealand and Paraguay – in delivering SmartFarm projects.”

Committee Secretary and Chairman of Tiajin Food Group Zhang Yong said:

“Agri-EPI Centre is an important part of UK Research and Innovation. It has the world’s leading level in precision agriculture, the application of engineering technology in the entire agricultural industry chain, and the application of agricultural robots. With the continuous development of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other intelligent technologies, agriculture has entered the era of intelligence. Precision feeding, precise management, real-time disease monitoring, and automatic environmental adjustment are all improving the level of agricultural production. At this critical historical opportunity, we hope to co-operate sincerely with the British side, make full use of their respective advantages, jointly develop and demonstrate the promotion of smart agricultural technology, and contribute to the progress of global agricultural technology.”

Alasdair Hamilton, Head of the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy, Beijing said:

“Partnerships in agricultural technologies that support sustainable, environmentally friendly farming is a priority area for science and innovation cooperation between the UK and China. The production of sustainable food with a low carbon footprint is a global necessity. It is therefore a pleasure to see that the MOU between Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Company will deepen cooperation in data driven technologies that will improve how we farm and produce nutritious food.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead said:

“I am delighted that this SmartFarm 1.5 collaboration agreement has been signed today. It marks the next step for both countries working together under our prestigious Flagship Challenge to address the global challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors. This follows on from SmartFarm 1.0 an initiative that formed a key output of the UK China Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy’s Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge, and which was a direct result of an earlier MoU signed between CRTDC and Innovate UK in November 2016.”

The new SmartFarm 1.5 project builds on a long history of UK-China co-operation in agricultural research and innovation. The relationship was enhanced in 2017 with the signing of the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy. SmartFarm is a core part of one of the strategy’s major deliverables, the Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge.

Food security and increasing farmers’ income remain a primary importance in China’s agriculture and rural policies. Technology plays a key role in the government’s plan to achieve this, with more investment being directed at deploying large agri-tech research programmes and innovation systems.

China’s approach to agricultural innovation overlaps many of the UK’s priorities including those set out in the Industrial Strategy.

On June 30, join Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with 8 Hours Ahead, for a webinar exploring agri-tech opportunities in China. For more and to register, visit: www.agri-epicentre.com/land-and-grow-the-agri-tech-china-opportunity.

For further information, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 0131 239 7030, 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.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.

Project aims to help transform Scottish aquaculture industry

Increasing fish health, welfare and productivity

A partnership between Agri-EPI Centre and the world’s largest fish manual vaccination company, Stirling-based Aqualife, is set to help increase fish health, welfare and productivity in the aquaculture sector.

With support from Agri-EPI, Aqualife has won £250,000 funding from the Seafood Innovation Fund, awarded by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), to develop and launch a ‘transformational’ fish vaccinating robot by the end of next year.

The robot, named Incubot 2 will be able to vaccinate fish at sizes below 20 grams, as opposed to the common weight of between 30 and 120 grams, allowing producers to increase productivity by growing their fish out of hatcheries far sooner. It will be capable of vaccinating most species of farmed fish, in large numbers.

Incubot 2 will be a mobile platform, allowing Aqualife to offer automated vaccination to smaller fish farms which cannot afford to invest in large scale immobile systems.

The robot will also help to improve fish quality using artificial intelligence and ‘deep learning’ algorithms to increase vaccination accuracy and improve fish grading.

Aqualife Chief Executive, Gordon Jeffrey, said:

“The aquaculture industry in Scotland aims to double its economic contribution from an estimated £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6 billion by 2030. To achieve this, it must develop solutions to reduce fish losses, most of which result from disease.

“Health and welfare issues have also attracted public attention. Aqualife wishes to play a key role in transforming the industry by embedding engineering excellence within our company to offer a range of truly innovative products and services. This grant ensures we will be able to do that.

“Agri-EPI Centre has played a key role in us winning this grant. From initially pointing us in the direction of the competition to hands on helping us to prepare the application, Phil and the Centre have been crucial.”

Agri-EPI Project Manager, Phil Cassidy, said:

“Agri-EPI aims to stimulate collaboration and innovation to support sustainable food production and this project is a fine example of this. We look forward to managing the project to develop Inocubot 2.”

 

Aqualife and AEC

Kiwi alliance speeds innovation development

Global collaboration plays a vital role in developing solutions for our farming industries – so in September we were delighted to receive 20+ visitors from New Zealand on an innovation-led agri-tech mission. The visit followed our own expert mission to New Zealand in March this year: our nations have many farming similarities, so agri-tech innovators are uniquely placed to share challenges and opportunities.

Farmers across the UK and Ireland already use technology from New Zealand companies like LIC, Gallagher, Waikato and Tru-Test, and there is plenty that our own innovators can do to help farmers across the globe. The challenges are the same whether you farm in New Zealand or the UK: achieving greater productivity and efficiencies, labour availability, environmental pressures and changing consumer preferences. Smart technological solutions can help answer those challenges.

With the help of the Department of International Trade, Innovate UK, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, the Callaghan Innovation-led mission visited the Irish National Ploughing Championships and UK Dairy Day, as well as our Agri-EPI hub in the Midlands and the South West Dairy Centre in Somerset.

Les Hurdiss, Operations Manager at the Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, explains:

“Agriculture is New Zealand’s number one industry, so their government really promotes innovation. But the domestic market is small, so they need to expand globally.”

By creating ‘landing pads’ in the UK, employing British staff, receiving British investment and developing new innovations for the British market, everyone stands to benefit.

In addition, having a straightforward entry to the New Zealand market helps our own investors and innovators, while having a presence on opposite sides of the world speeds up technological advances due to the ability to squeeze two seasons of testing into one 12-month period.

Having returned to New Zealand, Peter Wren-Hilton, Executive Director of Agritech New Zealand, has already drafted actions and initiatives to submit to Government ministers. Times are moving rapidly ahead: watch this space.

Logo KTNMission report

Earlier this year, Agri-EPI Centre took part in Agri-Tech Expert Missions to Australia and New Zealand respectively. KTN has delivered two separate publications that summarise the opportunities for UK organisations in both areas and insights gathered during the delegation’s time. Don’t miss out on these insightful documents and download them here.

Innovate UK’s Global Expert Missions, led by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network, play an important role in building strategic partnerships, providing deep insight into the opportunities for UK innovation and shaping future programmes.

Agritech Catalyst Round 9

What is the Agritech Catalyst Round 9?

The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Global Challenges Research Fun (GCRF) are offering funding opportunities to those who are at the early-stage of their feasibility studies, mid stage of industrial research or at the late experimental development stage.

Funding opportunities

Due to launch soon, the funding available will be for collaborative projects that will deliver innovation in the agriculture and good systems in eligible African countries.

What is available?

£5 million

Sector specific webinars

Webinars were held on 6 November 2019. All slides are available below:

Find out more about these funding opportunities here.