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Innovation

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Aquaculture Innovation Centre opens on Scotland’s Argyll coast

An array of aquaculture specialists, academics and industry representatives gathered at Loch Fyne on Scotland’s Argyll coast yesterday, 15th June, to witness the formal opening of Agri-EPI Centre’s new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre (MAIC).

 

Guests of the launch event were welcomed by Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, Alastair Barge, and CEO of Agri-EPI Centre, Dave Ross, who introduced the new centre.

 

“The facility is scaled and configured to bridge gaps identified by industry, including testing of instrumentation and validation of operational welfare indicators, and other trials, under controlled conditions with near market-sized farmed fish. The proposed investment is industry led – responding to industry demand and taking design and direction from that demand.”

 

Guests enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a networking lunch, and the witnessing of the formal opening of the centre.

 

In conjunction with independent aquaculture company, Otter Ferry Seafish (OFS) – and jointly funded by Innovate UK and Agri-EPI Centre – the Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre offers fully serviced research and development facilities to aquaculture producers and technology providers and is aimed at helping to drive sustainable solutions and improve efficiency for the UK aquaculture industry.

 

Alastair Barge, Managing Director of Otter Ferry Seafish, explained:

“Research has been at the heart of the company since day one, but our recent collaboration with Agri-EPI has added new impact and a new species in salmon. We have a great mix of industry and research, and together we can forge the way as innovators in sustainable aquaculture.”

 

Agri-EPI Centre has over 220 industry focused stakeholder members spanning retailers, supply chain associations, and high-tech companies, large and small, and this collaboration helps drive innovation and solutions within the sector.

 

“Enabling assets such as the new Marine Aquaculture Innovation Centre provide industry and academia with bespoke industry-focused facilities to perform development testing, validation and solution-finding.”

 

If you would like more information about Agri-EPI Centre, please visit: https://twc.agri-epicentre.com/

New innovation centre unlocks aquaculture opportunities

Agri-EPI Centre’s latest innovation hub at Loch Fyne on Scotland’s Argyll coast will help to drive sustainable solutions and improve efficiency for the UK aquaculture industry.

In partnership with independent aquaculture company, Otter Ferry Seafish (OFS) – and jointly funded by Innovate UK and Agri-EPI Centre – the Marine Aquaculture and Innovation Centre (MAIC) offers fully serviced research and development facilities to aquaculture producers and technology providers.

For further information on the MAIC facility or to enquire about research collaboration please contact Charlie Bowyer.

charlie.bowyer@agri-epicentre.com

“We’ve been involved in aquaculture innovation and new species development since 1968,” says Alastair Barge, Managing Director at OFS.

“For this initiative, we did market research to see what the sector needed to deliver sustainable solutions – R&D requires facilities, and most businesses can’t afford to run their own research stations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The MAIC comprises a series of replicated small and large land-based tanks, located indoors under programmable lighting.

“The tanks have water capacities of two cubic metres and 20m3, respectively. In the 12 smaller tanks we can test four different regimes or diets, in triplicate, as commonly required for scientific evaluation,” Mr Barge explains. “In the six larger tanks, we can rear salmon and other farmed species to near-harvest weight.”

The tanks have a water flow-through system, incorporating pre-treatment using sand filtration and UV sterilisation. They are fitted with particle separators to measure uneaten food and fish waste.

Eduardo Jimenez, OFS’s Research and Development Manager, says:

“Land-based tanks offer greater environmental control than cages or other sea-based growing systems, improving the reliability of trials data. Interference from environmental factors is minimised because we can control and replicate conditions like lighting, water exchange rate, and oxygen levels.”

And the first trials are already under way.

“At the moment we are running a benchmarking feed trial for a commercial client comparing three diets, to assess which is best in terms of fish growth and feed conversion efficiency.”

As well as helping to improve diets and treatments for farmed fish and shellfish, the MAIC is well suited for evaluating different strains of commercial farmed species and for developing rearing methods for up-and-coming species like seaweeds. It also provides a platform for validating new aquaculture technologies for counting and observing livestock and monitoring water quality.

“This is a great new resource supporting UK aquaculture innovation and we’re going to keep improving the facilities, bringing in new species and trials,” says Dr Jimenez.

Improving aquaculture sustainability is at the core of the partnership and the MAIC.

“I think this centre can be a model for innovation, all with a background of sustainability,” adds Mr Barge.

Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development at Agri-EPI, is excited about the range of R&D projects which the centre can help with.

“It’s one of a kind in the UK. The centre will facilitate a range of trial work that will enable us to really look at efficiencies within the sector. It also opens the opportunity to carry out near-market trials, as well as linking into the long-term sustainability of the sector and wider ecosystem within that supply chain.”

“The partnership is a perfect combination to drive forward change and is a valuable resource to aquaculture businesses that want to initiate and progress R&D projects. If any business is interested in undertaking a project, then we encourage them to get in touch.”

 

Get inventive and take control of tax

The agricultural sector is taking undeniable initiative when it comes to innovation. But many farming and agri-businesses are missing out on a big opportunity to claim tax relief.

R&D is not all white lab coats and PhDs; farmers often carry out activities that are claimable under the R&D Tax Credit Scheme – a retrospective exercise which offers up to 33% of R&D costs as a tax credit.

Financial consultancy Leyton is working with agri-tech enablers, Agri-EPI, to make more UK farmers aware of the scheme and its potential to provide important cashflow, while aiding the improvement of operational efficiencies.

“The scheme can be applicable to work that is happening on farms day to day – but there is huge value underclaimed within agriculture because farmers don’t classify what they are doing as R&D and don’t fully understand their eligibility,” says George Stuffins, Business Development Manager at Leyton.

Broadly speaking, R&D occurs when farmers make improvements based on three key questions: How do they increase the quality of produce? How do they increase yield? And how do they become more sustainable?

Examples range from poultry farmers experimenting with feeding times and lighting concentrations to improve feed conversion or growth rates, to arable farms engineering weed control equipment to reduce reliance on chemicals and improve soil biology. Rewardable R&D is within the realms of every farm business and can be very lucrative, he says.

“Failed projects can qualify too, not everything goes right first time, and in HMRC’s eyes such work can still add significant value to knowledge in the sector.”

So how do farm businesses qualify for R&D tax credits?

Matilda Hayward, senior R&D technical consultant at Leyton, says that conversations with prospective applicants begin on farm with the aforementioned three key questions.

“It drives the project and outlines the business’ main goals, then looks at what R&D is already occurring on the farm and what other R&D strategies could be explored to capitalise on the R&D tax credit scheme.”

Criteria include:

  1. It must seek a scientific or technological advancement,
  2. It must be meeting a scientific or technological challenge to get the results or determine unfeasibility,
  3. It must show a systematic approach and be your own activity.

Eligibility is not exclusive to large scale businesses – it is entirely based on a business’ project meeting the key criteria – nor is there a maximum number of project claims.

So what can farm businesses claim?

As a retrospective scheme, applicants claim back money spent on innovative projects over the past two years at the end of a financial year.

The bulk of an R&D claim covers PAYE salaries but there is a rate for contracted staff like seasonal workers and consultants. A portion of utility costs are also claimable – albeit quite nominal, as are software licences.

However, high value claims come from projects using a lot of consumables like feed, medicines and artificial insemination products and services.

“The claim could also include a proportion of costs in relation to mortality within the R&D trial,” says Dr Hayward.

Businesses can’t claim capital costs under the scheme – but there are still opportunities under the Capital Allowance Scheme and through grants, says Mr Stuffins.

How the tax benefit is received depends on tax position as well as the amount the business is claiming back. But a misconception is that businesses in a loss-making position can’t claim.

“Businesses in this position can actually claim for a higher percentage of qualifying expenditure as cash,” he explains.

Looking forward, if a business decides to move ahead, then they need to treat it like an R&D project, says Dr Hayward.

She recommends keeping all the project details and data in one place, including trial results and analysis, when the trials took place, who was involved and the time spent on each activity.

“HMRC now looks for better audit trails so it’s about making sure it’s documented in the right way to make the most of tax credits,” she says. “And it also benefits the business because it can better justify claimed costs.”

Farmers often have a bank of information that can be used, like health monitoring, soil analysis, and data from audits and surveys.

“A consultant can help a business collate the retrospective data for work they didn’t even consider as an R&D project, as well as the best way to collect and collate data going forwards,” she explains.

“Farmers can claim directly. But involving a consultant takes the pressure off the farmer and gives them the security that the claim is compliant and includes all possible business improvements for maximum return.”

Investbridge Capital launches specialised Agricultural Technologies fund

Agri-EPI member, Investbridge Capital, has launched a specialised Agricultural Technologies (AgTech) fund with the goal of creating a market leading VC fund investing in the most scalable and innovative technology companies revolutionising global food production.

Unity Technologies Founder, Nicholas Francis, has made a career predicting how software will develop in the face of massive hardware and societal changes and sees another tremendous investment opportunity in AgTech. To this end, he has committed $10 million as a cornerstone investor. Working alongside the Investbridge team, Francis will use his experience in entrepreneurialism, VC and the global tech market to help the portfolio companies flourish and reach their full potential, and deliver exceptional outcomes for investors.

Agriculture is the least technologically developed of any major industry, whilst food production needs to advance at a much faster pace than it has over the past 100 years. A rising population, worldwide food and labor shortages, and supply chain issues, are all presenting significant challenges for agriculture. By 2050, it’s estimated that the earth’s population will reach nine billion and global food production will need to jump by 70%-100% to feed everyone.*

Innovation will be the key to addressing these issues, and with the farming sector already seeing an influx of start-ups looking to use data analysis and technology such as robotics and AI to improve processes, the AgTech market is primed for significant growth and subsequent investment returns.

Nicholas Francis, AgTech Investment Committee Member, said: “We are standing at the crossroads of two megatrends. On one hand, software is eating the world, and agriculture is one of the last hold-outs. On the other hand, there is a global push to mitigate the climate impact of one of the most important industries of our planet, an industry which contributes almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse emissions. Over the next decade, we will see tremendous investment influx into the sector, making this the perfect time to help these nascent companies grow.

“Climate change is perhaps humanity’s biggest challenge and the stakes are enormous. Thankfully throughout our history, humanity has always risen to such challenges and we are proud to be at the forefront of this transition. We are not alone, agricultural stakeholders and climate investors are realising the scale of the challenges — and are looking to technologies from end to end, in order to improve their production.”

Oliver Hogg, CEO, Investbridge Capital, commented: “Welcoming Nicholas to the team marks a significant new venture for us. With his unrivalled experience in the tech market and his leadership of our new fund, we are extremely well-positioned to capitalise on the investment opportunities within AgTech. I look forward to working closely with Nicholas as we grow our offering in this space.”  

The AgTech market has already grown rapidly in recent years. The sector experienced a six-fold increase in deal flow between 2012-2018 and a 370% increase in investments from 2013 to 2019. In 2020 alone, it raised over $26 billion in investments, compared to around $12 billion just three years prior. **

Alongside Francis, the wider team includes Keith Norman, who brings 40 years’ experience in agriculture and AgTech, and Kelvin Au, a VC investor with 15 years’ experience in tech investment and managing high-growth operations.

Investbridge Capital is a leading alternative asset manager that specialises in real estate, private credit and venture capital. Founded in 2004, the company has offices in Dubai and London and has advised and transacted on deals in excess of USD 5billion.

“At the Agri-EPI Centre, our mission is to bridge the gap between agri-tech innovators, academics and farmers to drive sustainable and profitable food supply chain solutions. The launch of this new fund is a phenomenal opportunity for our members and the wider agri-tech startup community in the UK to scale and help us together to achieve our mission.” Lisa Williams, Director of Business Development, Agri-EPI Centre

For further information on the fund and Agri-EPI’s membership network and Agri-Tech innovation solutions contact the team at team@agri-epicentre.com

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 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.”

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