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Defra announces new R&D Partnerships Funding opportunities

Defra has announced a new series of funding opportunities to drive on-farm innovation in agriculture and horticulture, supporting the sector to improve sustainability, productivity and resilience.

Following on from the Farming Innovation Pathways competition earlier this year, the new R&D partnerships will bring together farmers and growers with technology, business and research partners to collaborate in developing innovative solutions.

Supporting innovation in agri-tech

This approach of placing farmers and growers at the centre of agri-tech development is something we enthusiastically support at Agri-EPI Centre. Since its inception, Agri-EPI has partnered with a network of farms around the UK to form our Farming Innovation Platform.

Our satellite farm network enables the development, testing, validation and demonstration of agri-tech innovations on commercial, real-world farming settings at scale.  They cover a diverse range of farming types and production systems, both livestock, arable and mixed; conventional and organic.

As a network, the group provides a unique opportunity to gain farmer insight into challenges and solutions, share experience, knowledge and perspectives into technology application and gain vital user feedback.  Highly instrumented, the network also supports all-important ground-truthing and validation of technology.

When is the right time to engage farmers in technology development?

In short: throughout the entire process.  It is never too early to engage farmers and other end-users in R&D.

  1. Understanding the problem: we are often approached by technology developers bringing skills and expertise from outside of agriculture, looking for problems to solve in the sector. Having meaningful interaction with farmers at this early stage helps technology developers to understanding the realities on farm, operationally, commercially and environmentally.
  2. User-centred design, co-development: whatever the buzz-word, involving users of technology in its design and development will ensure it meets their needs and requirements, and ultimately will increase its chances of more rapid adoption. It will also save time and cost in multiple iterations, with faster and more direct user feedback.
  3. Evaluation: there is nothing more exciting that getting a prototype out into a field of a livestock shed and seeing it in action. Getting the farmers’ feedback here as part of a commercial operation will guide how the technology (whether physical hardware or a software / data solution) needs to develop to get from a prototype or beta version towards a commercial product
  4. Knowledge exchange: in laying the foundations for technology adoption, there is no voice more powerful than a fellow farmer or grower who can share their experience with the technology first-hand. Peer-to-peer exchange of knowledge, experience, ideas and impact is far more effective that a traditional ‘show and tell’ led by the developer themselves.

In partnership with our member Innovation for Agriculture, Agri-EPI is co-hosting an interactive online workshop focused on impact-driven farmer-centred technology development, which will explore these principles further and feature case studies showcasing success.  To join the event, taking place on October 12th, please see our events pages or contact us (team@agri-epicentre.com) for further details and to register.

Defra’s R&D Partnerships will fund the following:

Competition Launching Duration and funding Outline
Research Starter October 2021 12 month projects; £28-56k total cost Supporting farmers and growers to build a collaborative team to develop their bold and ambitious early-stage ideas.  For those who have not previously received IUK funding
Feasibility projects October 2021 Up to 2 years;

£200-500k total cost

Test the feasibility of early-stage ideas to inform decision-making on subsequent R&D
Small R&D partnerships October 2021 Up to 3 years;

£1-3 million total cost

R&D for innovative solutions to substantially improve productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector
Large R&D partnerships Early 2022 Up to 4 years;

£3-5 million total cost

R&D and demonstration of solutions to substantially improve productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector

For more information on how we can support your ideas for innovations that will enhance the sustainability, productivity and resilience of agriculture and horticulture, contact the Agri-EPI Centre team today.

 

We recommend getting in touch with our Innovation Support Partner Leyton today for more information: https://agri-epicentre.com/membership/leyton-partnership/

 

Agri-EPI Centre and Gill Jennings & Every LLP announce new partnership focused on IP

Discover UK government incentives for agirtech companies to develop new and existing products, processes and services in agriculture. In partnership with Leyton.

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.

 

 

Innovative agri-tech companies invited to enter inaugural Agri-Tech Excellence Awards

From yield-boosting robotic milkers to disease-detecting arable drones, the rapid growth of on-farm technology is helping farmers around the world boost their productivity, sustainability and profit.

In celebration of the power of innovation, Agri-EPI Centre, is inviting the most forward thinking small to medium-sized agri-tech companies to enter the inaugural Agri-Tech Excellence Awards.

What are the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards?

Sponsored by Leyton, Kubota, Barclays, Syngenta and Marks & Spencer, the awards will recognise the ground-breaking work of agri-tech companies that have had significant impact on sustainable productivity on-farm, in the UK and internationally, between January 2019 and January 2021.

To be eligible for the awards, companies must have taken their innovations beyond the development stage and be supplying their technology commercially on-farm.

The awards have two categories:

  • Category 1: Agri-tech Excellence demonstrated on a UK farm
  • Category 2: Agri-tech Excellence demonstrated on an international farm (based outside of the UK)

Entries will be judged against a number of areas: impact on productivity, health and welfare; impact on environmental protection and enhancement; and business efficiencies.

Judges & winners

The judging panel will comprise experts in the field of sustainable agri-food and innovation. It will include representatives of the awards sponsors and Charles Nicklin, Chief Executive of the Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) and Andy Newbold, Director of Farm Smart Publishing and Farm Smart Events, with more to be announced.

The winners of each category will be announced during Agri-EPI’s national conference on the September 30, which is attended by a large audience of companies and organisations involved sustainable agri-food.

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said: “The UK has a vibrant and dynamic agri-tech sector.  The UK private investment into the agri-food tech sector is also on the march – and we are European leader in this regard. Agri-EPI is pleased to be involved in catalysing new innovations and our awards seek to celebrate the success that agri-tech companies are achieving in all sectors of farming. We’re very excited to have first class sponsors and an expert judging panel supporting the awards and we look forward to receiving what will no doubt be very high quality entries from a diverse range of companies.”

About the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards sponsors

Agri-EPI Centre is delighted to have such fantastic sponsors on board supporting the inaugural agri-tech event and helping to promote the importance of innovation in agri-tech.

Kubota

Kubota, a agricultural machinery manufacturer, also expressed their pleasure at being a part of the Awards. Business Development Manager Daria Batukhtina, from the Kubota Innovation Centre Europe, highlighted the importance of innovation in resolving “the increasingly serious problems faced by agriculture on a global scale” and Kubota’s dedication to “promoting smart agriculture that realizes ultra-labour saving, high-quality and high-efficiency cultivation by utilising robotics technology and ICT.”

Daria added: “We support agriculture throughout the world by working closely with farmers and developing agricultural machinery that meets their needs in the field. There are many partners throughout the world with advanced technologies that will have a tremendous impact on society in the future. Therefore Kubota joined Agri-EPI Centre Awards for agtech start-ups to support those SMEs that have had significant impact on sustainable productivity on-farm.”

Syngenta

Syngenta’s Digital Agriculture Manager, Sam Grimsdell, noted that innovation in agri-tech will be “instrumental in the continued drive to sustainable agriculture that delivers the efficient and profitable production we need, alongside the protection of essential environmental resources.”

“Through the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards we are actively seeking to help and reward inspiring entrepreneurs to develop their ideas that can be practically implemented on farms. As a global business, Syngenta is committed to investing in sustainable agriculture and delivering the key breakthroughs to make that happen in the UK and across the world. We would urge all innovators exploring this incredibly exciting area to get involved in the Awards.”

Barclays

Also supporting the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards is Barclays bank, which has been involved in many agricultural projects in recent years. Oliver McEntye, Barclays’ National Agricultural Strategy Director for Barclays said: “Barclays is proud to sponsor the Agri-EPI Centre Awards, not only to recognise the achievements of the entrants and winners, but also to help inspire the next generation of innovators to bring the technology for the farming of the future.”

M&S

Marks & Spencer described their interest in the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards as a way to “celebrate businesses that have made a significant sustainable impact on-farm” and opening up a wider discussion of UK agriculture: “British agriculture is probably seeing the biggest period of change in generations, as we adapt to new trade deals, agricultural support and consumer awareness of animal welfare and the environment,” said Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing at M&S.

“Success will come from embracing new ways of farming, being more meaningful to consumers, and continuing to produce quality food in a climate-friendly way … We look forward to seeing the entries.”

Leyton

Founded in 2009, Leyton, is the UK’s largest specialist innovation funding consultancy. To date, their teams of highly qualified tax and technical experts have helped thousands of businesses to successfully claim more than £880 million in tax relief. Agri-EPI Centre and Leyton are proud partners working together to connect agri-tech companies with funding, finance and tax relief to help  bring their agri-tech solutions to market – find out more here.

Enter the Agri-Tech Excellence Awards

  • To enter, please complete the online form on the Agri-EPI website. The deadline is Friday 30th July at 12pm.
  • You will be asked to submit evidence for the social, environmental and economic benefits for impact on farm.
  • A shortlist of entries will be agreed, and a representative from each shortlisted company will be invited for a short on-line interview with the judging panel on Thursday September 9 2021.
  • If you have any questions, please contact awards@agri-epicentre.com