Agri EPI-Centre has welcomed the publication of Defra’s review into automation in horticulture and supports its recommendation that the UK Government lead and fund a mission-led approach to accelerate development in the sector.
The recommendations of the independent review, co-chaired by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, and Professor Simon Pearson of the University of Lincoln include establishing a consortium to bring together government and industry to drive adoption of proven technologies, adopting a mission-led approach to fast-track new technologies, and the horticulture sector setting up working groups to share novel harvest practices.
Agri-EPI Centre, which pioneers agricultural engineering, precision and innovation for UK farming, is working hard to improve collaboration and facilities in the sector and asks that the government use the evidence in the report to help the industry in these efforts. Agri-EPI Centre’s Farm Tech Circle and farm and membership networks bring farmers together with developers to address the high-level issues facing agri-robotics and other technological solutions; it is also working with multiple partners to develop agri-robotics test facilities, subject to funding.
Duncan Ross, Agri-EPI Centre business development manager crops, said:
“We support the report’s recommendations as collaboration and additional funding in this area are needed. Agri-EPI Centre is creating a collaborative framework around agri-robotics and building development facilities so that people can come and build their systems. The UK is not alone in experiencing worker shortages and any solutions we can create will help domestic and global markets.
“Following the success of the Innovate UK automated lettuce harvester led by Grimme – which was funded through ‘Robotics for a more resilient future’ we are also looking at selective harvesting of broccoli with funding from Defra FIP.
“A common theme across our current robotic projects is monitoring to optimise existing processes such as spraying and harvesting. In orchards and vineyards we are developing more accurate ways of monitoring blossoms, pests and disease and potential yield which can also optimise actions, such as where to send staff to harvest. The next stage will be about in-field logistics.
“Dedicated government funding can de-risk technology development, encourage further private investment and speed up technological solutions around areas of harvesting which are harder to achieve but will have greater impact on labour resource availability.”