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Agri-tech hackathon seeks solutions to Covid’s impact on farming

Registration now open for an agri-tech Hackathon aimed at developing technological solutions to problems posed by Covid-19

Winners will receive a year of product launch support from experts at Agri-EPI Centre. 

The Hackathon will focus on the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors. Participating teams will be challenged to explore solutions in two areas: the shortage of labour supply for field operations in horticultureand the restrictions on how vets can travel to conduct farm diagnoses and prescription.  

They will have the 12-hour duration of the Hackathon, on 23 and 24 September 2020, to come up with proposed technical solutions within their chosen stream which, if deemed by the judges to have winning market potential, will become the focus of the year-long ‘product launch programme’ delivered by Agri-EPI. 

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Director Lisa Williams explained:

“We invite any businesses, organisations and academic institutions with an involvement or interest in agri-tech to take part in what promises to be a really exciting event, with the aim of delivering new products that address some of the serious impacts of Coronavirus on the farming industry. Collaboration is key to innovation and we look forward to working with the participating teams, and the winners, to develop new ideas. 

“The winning teams will have 12 months of access to Agri-EPI’s technical and project management expertise, our world-class research and innovation facilities, testbeds and research assets, and our extensive network, which includes a membership of more than 120 companies across agriculture, technology and the supply chain. 

The Hackathon is supported by the European Horizon 2020 project Smart AgriHubs. The Challenge partners for the veterinary Hackathon are Vet Partners, ZoetisKnowledge Transfer Network and Landmark Systems. For the horticulture Hackathon, the challenge partners are Bardsley, Grimme, NFU and Knowledge Transfer Network. 

To find out more and register, visit: www.agri-epicentre.com/hackathon-2020.

Hackathon launch webinar

If you’re a business or academic institution with an interest in agri-tech, join us today (18 August) at 2:00pm to hear more from Agri-EPI Centre’s CEO, Dave Ross, as he goes into more detail about the Hackathon and challenges faced by many in the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors. Register now at register.gotowebinar.com/register to secure your space!

Covid-19 will drive digital transformation for livestock vets

The Covid-19 crisis is a catalyst for increasing the rate of digital adoption by UK livestock vets, according to Agri-EPI Centre Board member Matt Dobbs.

Writing for the Animal Pharm website, Matt, who is practice lead for digital technology at Stonehaven Consulting, suggests coronavirus has led the already-challenged veterinary industry to question the ways it works and identify areas for improvement.

Factors already indirectly influencing the livestock veterinary industry, including the increasing focus on domestic food production, have come even more to the fore because of the crisis. As food production responds and adapts, says Matt, livestock vets must consider how they can stay ahead of the game.

Digital solutions for monitoring livestock health and welfare have become more varied and more affordable over the past 10-15 years, while also becoming of greater interest to the big processors and retailers. Matt believes the rise of digital technology could very well revolutionise the types of services offered by livestock vets.

Citing the move by the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to respond to Covid-19 by legalising the remote prescribing of medications to farms, Matt suggests, that should this happen across Europe, we will reach a point where the majority of medicines are dispensed by just a few companies.

Loss of revenue in this area means farm vets will have to look at new streams, very likely involving tech solutions. This could see ruminant vets becoming consultants looking after larger animal populations remotely, like their pig and poultry counterparts already do.

Matt said:

“The future is going to be very different. You will see different business models, such as dedicated farm consultant working from the back of their car. Do they really need an office and all the expense that goes into having a clinical practice? All they really need is a decent laptop, access to health and production data and a car.”

Unlocking new funding for agri-food innovation

Agri-EPI Centre can help

Agri-EPI is seeking to lend its expertise to businesses in the agri-tech space to help them access the UK Government’s £1.25 billion government coronavirus support package.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the new package this week to protect firms driving innovation in the UK. It includes a £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector. SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans.

Agri-EPI has the expertise to help de-risk both the financial and technical aspects of accessing and utilising grants from the new support package.

Chief Executive Dave Ross explained:

“Agri-EPI works to develop partnerships and provide support to UK businesses seeking to develop, evaluate and market technical and engineering products which support efficiency, profitability and sustainability across the food supply chain. We work closely with academia and science and have a portfolio of publicly-supported facilities and assets which are open for use by our partners.

“With a strong track record of success in supporting businesses of all sizes to successfully access funding and to invest in opportunities, we are primed to offer our expertise to any businesses seeking to access this new UK Government funding and we urge those in the agri-food sector with an interest accessing the funding to contact us so that we can lend our expertise to making it happen.”

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

For further details on the new fund, visit the UK Government’s website.

To discuss collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre, please contact Business Development Director, Lisa Williams.

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.