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Young company making an asset from farm waste

A young company is working on a new way for farmers to make money from farm waste.Somerset-based BioFactory are developing a modular anaerobic digester which can be scaled to any size of dairy farm. The company has been working with precision engineering and innovation experts Agri-EPI Centre, to develop and refine their system with a view to bringing it to the market.Whereas anaerobic digesters – which ferment organic matter to produce biogas for heat and power generation – are well established in the industry, systems are often too costly and high-maintenance for most family farms.Agri-EPI Centre have helped BioFactory access funding, provided technical assistance, and introduced them to potential funders and advice to help them scale their product and sell it to dairy producers.Having won funding from Innovate UK and Defra for a 12-month feasibility study via the Farming Innovation Programme, BioFactory are now raising working capital to commercialise the company fully, while Agri-EPI Centre continue to provide analysis and consultancy.Charlie Bowyer, business development manager for livestock and aquaculture at Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Slurry is nutrient-rich, and returning it to the soil is a vital part of circular agriculture. Anaerobic digestion is a great way to add value to it whilst retaining nutrients, reducing GHG emissions and becoming more energy-independent.

“Digestate has long been recognised as a high-quality fertiliser, and the heat and power created from biogas can create a meaningful income for farmers or reduce their energy bills. Commercial AD systems are simply out of reach for most dairy farms due to capital and operational costs, as well as barriers such as planning permission and a changed subsidy landscape since the “AD-boom” of the early 2010s.“Working with young companies like BioFactory is Agri-EPI Centre’s bread and butter; helping them develop a good idea into a successful business and providing solutions to farmers at the same time.”

Jon Blake, chief commercial officer at BioFactory, said:

“If you’re a dairy farmer, you will always have slurry, but we can help turn it into an asset rather than a by-product. There is nothing to say that we can’t resolve farming’s impact on the environment as well. Our ethos is to build something simple and reliable for the dairy farmer. Our units are 40’-long shipping containers and easily scaled; if you want to increase your herd, you can simply add another reactor.

“We were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our young company had been waylaid by Covid-19 when we came across a pot of funding for developing technology to help with net zero targets. Agri EPI-Centre helped us get hold of our grant and develop our product in real-life farming conditions.

“Even though the initial 12-month project has concluded, we are so pleased to continue our relationship with Charlie and his colleagues on laboratory analysis of the biodigestate, and with others at Agri-EPI Centre who are helping us with leveraging further funding and sales contracts.”

Dairy welfare and World Milk Day

This world milk day we are highlighting the importance of collaboration and working together to support the development of sustainable and efficient dairy technologies that prioritise animal health and wellbeing.

Agri-EPI Centre recently hosted a dairy research collaboration event with our sister centre, CIEL and member, Westpoint Farm Vets, at our state of the art South West Dairy Development Centre. The event brought together delegates from 13 companies and academic institutions involved in dairy welfare, including Agri-EPI Centre, CIEL, Westpoint Farm Vets, Farm Vets South West, Kingshay, Bristol Vet School, Vet Partners, Innovate UK, Duchy College, Aberystwyth University, Queen’s University Belfast, Steanbow Farms, and University of Nottingham.

Discussions involved the importance for the farming industry to prioritise high welfare, achieved by being compassionate to the mental and physical condition of animals. Dr. Reynolds, a professor of large animal production at California’s Western University, stressed the importance of collaboration across research and industry to address welfare issues, a message which resonated with the participating researchers, vets and farmers.

Matt Dobbs, Managing Director of Westpoint Veterinary Group and close partner of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“I was pleased with Agri-EPI hosting leading dairy researchers from across the UK at the new state of the art Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. With a keynote speaker passionate about animal welfare and the backdrop of the new welfare focused Dairy Centre to stimulate discussion, we were delighted that the group committed to continue collaborating to further enhance the UK’s leading reputation for farm animal welfare. Key to the future will be the application of technology and the group agreed to focus on early detection of farm health and welfare issues.”

Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre is a state of the art dairy facility that demonstrates profitable and resource efficient milk production, uses the latest technology available to optimise animal welfare and sustainable milk production, integrates robotic milking with precision grazing, and provides state-of-the-art facilities for research, development and demonstration.

Farm visit to Godminster Farm

Agri-EPI and Hands Free Farm announce robotic safety hackathon

While the advancement of autonomous farm vehicles offers clear economic and environmental benefits, its future growth also presents the new challenge of ensuring unmanned machines pose no risk to farmers, and the public crossing their land.

During Farm Safety Week (19-23 July 2021) Agri-EPI Centre and the award-winning Hands Free Farm (HFF) project have announced they will hold a hackathon to identify new solutions for robotic farming safety.

As experts in the development of autonomous farm machinery, the HFF team will integrate and evaluate the winning solution at their Midlands plot.

The event is open to any company or individual from any background.

Registration will open on 30 July on the Agri-EPI website.

 

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Director, Lisa Williams, said: “The benefits of autonomous farm machinery are many but as it becomes more commonplace in the future, and while more and more people recognise the mental health benefits of walking outdoors, it’s essential that farm automation poses no threat to the public.

“We’re excited to have Hands Free Farm on board to help us devise the hackathon and look forward to seeing the participants come up with some really innovative ideas.”

Innovate UK-funded HFF is led by Precision Decisions, with partners Farmscan Ag, Harper Adams University and Agri-EPI Centre.  It builds on an earlier project, Hands Free Hectare, in which a hectare of cereal crop was grown without any human entering the hectare of land.

Clive Blacker Clive, Director of lead partner Precision Decisions, said:

“One of the challenges of our project is that, like many typical farms, our 35ha plot includes footpaths and roads with public access.  Safety and security of the operation of autonomous machinery is of paramount importance. Addressing this issue will be critical to implementing autonomous machinery and devices in real-world commercial farming settings in the future, and gaining regulatory, market and public acceptance of the technology. We are very excited to be working with Agri-EPI to develop a robotic safety hackathon and cannot wait to see what new thinking and imagination can be applied to agriculture from any background.”

UK agri-tech experts and growers join forces on salad-saving robot

A robotics solution to horticultural labour shortages is being developed to help secure the availability of the UK’s favourite salad veg – the lettuce. 

Agri-tech and machinery experts at Grimme, Agri-EPI Centre, Image Development Systems, Harper Adams University and The Centre for Machine Vision at the University of the West of England, Bristol have joined forces with two of the UK’s largest lettuce growers, G’s Fresh and PDM Produce, in the new Innovate UK-funded project to develop a robotic solution to automate lettuce harvesting. 

Whole head, or iceberg, lettuce is the UK’s most valuable field vegetable crop. Around 99,000 tonnes were harvested in the UK in 2019i with a market value of £178 million. But access to reliable seasonal labour has been an increasing problem, exacerbated by Brexit and Covid 19 restrictions. Early indications are that a commercial robotic solution could reduce lettuce harvesting labour requirements by around 50%. 

Thom Graham, Vegetable Specialist at lead projects partner Grimme said: “One of the greatest challenges facing the horticulture sector is sourcing sufficient seasonal labour to conduct their harvest commitments in a timely manner. In addition, rising cost of labour with no increase in retail price has squeezed margins. Growers are looking at solutions that can reduce labour input costs and maintain their resilience in the sector and we hope our expertise can help.” 

Dermot Tobin, Managing Director of Farming at PDM said: “For many decades our business has relied on seasonal labour for harvesting lettuce. Nearly all the lettuce you see on UK supermarket shelves is cut by hand. Sourcing labour is getting really challenging and with wage inflation rising far quicker than return to grower prices margins are really tight. Our industry needs to embrace robotic technology to reduce our reliance on labour so being involved in this project is of the utmost importance to our business.” 

Richard Ellis, Innovation & Research Project Manager of G’s subsidiary Salad Harvesting Services Ltd. said: “The process of lettuce harvesting has continuously evolved over the past 30 years, with harvest, packing, date coding, boxing and palletising all completed in the field, within minutes of the crop being cut. The cutting process of an iceberg is the most technically complicated step in the process to automate. We are encouraged to be involved and see the results of this project which offers the potential to reduce reliance on seasonal labour.”   

The project will adapt existing leek harvesting machinery to lift the lettuce clear from the ground and grip it in between pinch belts. The lettuce’s outer, or ‘wrapper’, leaves will be mechanically removed to expose the stem. Machine vision will then identify a precise cut point on the stem to separate lettuce head from stem.  

A prototype robotic harvester will be developed for field trials in England towards the end of the 2021 UK season, in around September, then at G’s Espana.  

Lettuce is also a valuable crop in Europe and the US. 123,000ha of lettuce and chicory was grown in the EU in 2018ii with similar areas in the US. These areas have similar issues of access to seasonal labour, offering a significant potential market for the lettuce robot. 

Agri-tech Innovation Support for future funding

Are you an agri-tech innovator developing solutions that improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of agriculture? You may not realise that your new systems or processes on farm are real-life examples of agri-tech innovation – and therefore could benefit from research and development relief.

To encourage companies to invest in R&D the UK government provides incentives to companies and farm businesses that develop new products, processes and services, or enhance existing ones.

The R&D tax credits scheme allows companies to reduce their corporate tax bill or receive a tax refund based on a proportion of their R&D expenditure. The scheme can be used by any organisation liable for corporation tax in the UK and meets the necessary R&D criteria and it can even be used on unsuccessful projects. The work that qualifies for R&D tax relief must be part of a specific project which aims to make an advance in its field.

Examples of R&D in agriculture  

  • Optimisation of irrigation systems and water treatment
  • Agricultural trials involving seeds, soils and pesticides
  • Development of crop species with enhanced properties
  • Design of agricultural machinery, equipment, and agricultural structures
  • Food Engineering and the processing of agricultural products
  • Feeding trials: developing new feeds, type of feed, timing of feed, ration timing
  • Improving animal health and welfare: reducing mortality/tail biting

Agri-EPI recognises that innovation support such as the R&D tax incentive can provide businesses with a cash injection to fund further R&D and reward innovation. We are pleased to have partnered with Leyton, the UK’s largest innovation funding consultancy. to provide support and advice to Agri-EPI members and farmers to find out how their agri-tech innovations can qualify for the research and development scheme.

Matilda Hayward, Technical R&D Consultant at Leyton commented that there is a lot of misconception surrounding the types of projects which qualify for the scheme, which has resulted in a lot of companies only claiming back a small portion of what they are eligible for. The government is actively looking to support company’s investing in process and product improvements, which is a big part of running a business within the agricultural sector.

Sector examples of what can qualify

Arable

Trialling new varieties to improve yield or disease resistance | New methodologies to optimise yield | The investigation into hydroponic, aeroponic or vertical growth systems | Improving ground quality or reducing environmental impact | Modification of fertilisers to improve the absorption of minerals and nutrients | Optimisation of harvest and sorting line • Innovative use of technology – drones, sensors, scanners, software etc

Pig

Improving animal health and welfare: reducing mortality/tail biting | Reducing antibiotic usage | Feed trials or improvements to feed conversion ratio | Improvements to number of sows per litter and farrowing rate | Improvements in muscle to fat ratios/ average daily gain | Selective breeding to improve genetic trials

Poultry

Feed trials to increase egg quality / quality | Light / ventilation trials to affect outputs | Housing improvements around poultry welfare | Trialling different breeds | Improving water quality to the farm | Reducing the use antibiotics: trialling vaccines/water treatment | Delaying in maturation |Increasing the FCR (feed conversion rate) |Improvements to egg harvesting (reducing wastage / automating processes)

Dairy

Selective breeding to improve genetic traits | Reducing mortality rates and improving the health of the cow | Reducing antibiotic usage | Investigating alternative ways to reduce the risk/rate of disease | Developing new feeds to enhance milk production | Feeding trials: type of feed, the timing of feed, ration timing | Improving sustainability and decreasing environmental impact

Can you see any examples of your R&D on the list? If so, get in touch to discuss how you could qualify for R&D Tax relief, or  talk to one of Leyton’s technical team, to see how and Leyton’s expert innovation funding services can support your agri-tech innovation full details here.

 

 

Tag Archive for: Dairy

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