Innovation Archives - Agri-EPI Centre

Innovation

Tag Archive for: Innovation

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.”

Agri-EPI’s Farm Tech Circle

Last summer Agri-EPI Centre launched the Farm Tech Circle, a new platform for farmers, growers and producers to discover and connect on topics that focus on enhancing the profitability and sustainability of agriculture.​ 
To learn more and to share this new network with members of the farming community who you think would like to be kept up to date with the latest news in agri-tech, please see below:

Farm Tech Circle

 

FTC Newsletter 1

FTC Newsletter 2

FTC Newsletter 3

Member case study: Earth Rover delivers sustainable weeding technology 

With increasing types of chemical-resistant weeds, a significant downturn in availability of hand labour plus a shift in society towards more organic options, now more than ever there is a need to change the way we farm. A recent report by Rothamsted Research shows weeds “pose an unprecedented threat to our food security” and highlights the need to diversify weed control as an urgent priority.

Earth Rover has developed the CLAWS rover (an acronym for Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding and Scouting), with funding from Innovate UK as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways industrial research, and in collaboration with project partners Pollybell Farms and Agri-EPI Centre. The rover uses AI and robotics to accelerate crop growth by removing weeds, including herbicide-resistant weeds, without disrupting the soil, generating a more sustainable and effective alternative to other weeding techniques in the agriculture industry.

Read the full case study here

 

Watch CLAWS video

 

 

Presenting your agri-tech product

By: Amber Barton, Market Insight & Proposals Lead

Agri-EPI Centre helps develop precision tech solutions to empower more sustainable farms. But once the solution has been trialled and tested, how do we communicate the benefits and enable uptake of the tech? Amber Barton provides tips on what’s important when presenting about your agri-tech product.

Tip number 1. Too much background, waffle, and unnecessary information is not required, nor desired. Focus on you and your product

Keep your presentation direct and to the point.

Use real life examples from trialling your tech on-farm – admit what worked well and what didn’t and how this has been addressed.

Provide video footage to demonstrate your technology in action. Video phone footage would be fine.

Use photos and importantly, remember to introduce yourself, your team, and your backgrounds.

Tip 2: Presentation structure should centre around the product, cost, and application

What is your product/ service?

This should be one slide. It should be direct and easy to understand for someone unfamiliar with the subject matter.

What does your product/ service do?

This is your use case and should be a call to action. It should still be explained simply and directly but it’s your chance to appeal to them in a more emotive way. Use facts and figures, but only if they are strong enough to make someone think “WOW”.  Do you know your facts and figures if questioned?

How much does it cost?

You have told the farmers what your product/ service is and now they want to know if it is worth investing any more time listening to you. They will do this by assessing what the cost is to them. You could present something to them that is pure magic, but if it’s not financially viable then you are wasting their time (something they do not have a lot of). Make use of this valuable opportunity. If you are at this stage, then you should already be confident that your product is being produced at a cost that is agreeable to them so it shouldn’t need to be hidden. More on presenting costs can be found further down the page.

How is it practically applied?

You have told them you have something that will make their life easier/ save them money etc. Now decision makers  need to know how this will practically fit into their system. You may not know what kit they use or how they farm, but they do, and if they want to use what you’re selling then they will be open to making it fit or speaking about the possibilities. You just need to tell them the requirements. Is it sprayed? If so, how? Is it pulled behind something? If so, what are its power requirements? Is it robotic? What are the power/ connectivity requirements? Does it require mapping in advance? What is the timeframe needed for this to take place? Give them the facts and figures to help them see how this could fit into their own set up.

Is there training need?

Who is going to be using this? Is it them? Their agronomist? Is it simple enough for anyone on the farm to operate? Have these details to hand and any cost associated with them, including training time. Is it a 1-hour module or a two-day course with top up sessions etc.

How will your solution benefit them?

Round things off by highlighting any direct or indirect benefits your product will have. Think outside the box. Benefits to the bottom line are often at the top of this list but is there anything else that might not be so obvious?  Environmental benefits? Farmers are stewards of the land after all. Work life balance benefits? Will time saving help them get home to their families any quicker? Really put yourself into their shoes and consider the wider picture.

Value of your product

If you can show them this, in real terms, then they are far more likely to get on board and work positively with you.

So how can you help to “Onboard” farmers through considered costings?

First you need to understand their operating environment and their cost of production (COP). Most farm enterprises don’t have huge profit margins. As such, your product needs to either save them money in an existing area (e.g., labour saving) or enable them to increase the value of their product in a significant way. That is tricky in most farming sectors.

If you have a product that saves labour, then you need to know what the labour cost element of the total COP is and ideally you need to show that your product fits within that, or even reduces it. I will use labour costs in tabletop strawberry growing as an example:

Redman, G., 2022. The John Nix Pocketbook for Farm Management 2023. 53rd ed. Published: Melton Mowbray: Agro Business Consultants

Using this example from John Nix we can see that the costs for labour are mostly in the fieldwork, harvesting and grading/ packing areas which comes to between £31,676/ ha for low output and £54,129/ ha for high output production.

If you can show how your product offsets cost in actual figures, then there is a tangible benefit.

If your product costs £50,000 but provides a labour saving of 25%/ ha then you can show the benefit to the bottom line, the payback period etc. In this example a high performing farm would see the payback within one year across less than 4 hectares. You can then discuss the other benefits, such as not having to manage as many people (something that often causes the farm manager the most headaches) or helping to overcome the struggle to secure the labour in the first place.

There are a few places to find COP information – John Nix Pocketbook and ABC’s “The agricultural Budgeting and costing book” are a good place to start for a comprehensive guide. The AHDB also does a lot or work on farm economics and their Farmbench programme has a lot of good data.

Showing farmers you have a good understanding of what you are trying to help them achieve will go a long way to helping you achieve success in this sector.

R&D in Automation and Robotics for agriculture

By: Eliot Dixon

Agri-EPI, the centre for precision innovation in farming, is a first choice for agri-tech developers, from start-ups right through to established companies, to help with creating robust and commercially viable agricultural solutions.

I am Eliot Dixon, the Head of Engineering at Agri-EPI. I have a technical background in automotive engineering which has taught me the importance of good systems engineering,  but also am lucky enough to be part of a family with an active farming business. These dual backgrounds have shown me that it is vital that agri-tech solutions are built on well described initial design goals created from a strong understanding of the needs of farmers and their operations. If that is not done, then there will be delays in the development of the product and eventually quality, which will have ongoing negative effects on the trust of farmers in the product.

This is especially necessary in agricultural robotics, where highly complex technical systems and operating environments coupled with a very short testing season gives very little room for mistakes or iteration.

Precision innovation aim

Our aim is to guide developers through the innovation process of understanding their design requirements and creating and testing their new technology. This ensures that farmers gain access to profitable and productive solutions to empower more sustainable farming.

Our offer

As a company we do this through a wide-ranging set of facilities, equipment, and services that cover data, spectral imaging, data analysis and modelling, real world testing facilities and robotic platforms for validation and trials.

Key resources include:

  • Academic links with leading agri-robotics universities
  • A commercial farm network to develop system requirements and conduct in-field testing
  • Project management
  • Consortia building
  • Development services and equipment services for developers
  • Delivery Team

My technical background is in intelligent robotics, enabling robotics to understand and react to their environment, which I see as a key component in a robust agri-robotics system. The offering of the team and wider organisation is shaped by this to enable us to deliver many of the needs of developers working with intelligent robotics.

Our team is a resource that can be accessed as a service for any UK organisation who would like to join us in a commercial or research collaboration. We help in the development process through a combination of a strong team and a world class set of equipment and facilities.

My team is made of specialists from multiple technical domains. Between us we have academic backgrounds in ground robotics, aerial robotics, computer science, physics, mathematics and spectral imaging, and have employment experience in academia, defence, automotive, aerospace, agri-tech and manufacturing. The engineering team works as part of the wider technical team, delivering on our promise of development support from ideation right through to commercialisation.

Our farm network is a key part of this, enabling the testing spaces and long-term interaction with farmers which we rely upon. The team also works outside of the farm network with our deployable equipment, which is the major topic of this article. We will take a closer look at our farm network data offering in a future article.

Whilst I’m very proud of the skills of the team, we do also have an extremely exciting set of resources at our disposal which we are very keen to share. When looking at this from a robotics point of view, our services can broadly be split into two categories: platforms and sensors. Both sets of services are operated from our hub at Cranfield University.

At Agri-EPI we see the need to develop a UGV or UAV platform for a specific agri-tech product as something which slows down development of new applications of those technologies. Therefore, we have invested in manufacturer-independent development platforms which allow sensors and end-effectors to be created without needing to create a bespoke system or work directly with a platform developer. This allows collaboration with platform providers to happen only when the requirements of the sensors/end-effectors are fully understood. Our most interesting offers here are our UGVs, Sam and Frodo, and our multi-purpose UAV platform. These can be quickly adapted to almost any agricultural scenario and have the onboard processing power to unlock their full capabilities as a platform. Members of the team have extensive experience working with platforms such as these.

We are also aware that some sensing technologies which might be extremely useful for robotics development, especially in the domain of spectral imaging, are a very large investment in terms of equipment cost and personnel, and can be  difficult for developers to justify even if the returns can be large. For this reason, we continue to invest in our sensing capabilities and our ability to analyse that data, and we share that resource as a common capability for UK Agri-Tech. We provide high quality sensing across a broad range of technologies, including hyperspectral, SIF imaging, multi-spectral, ground penetrating radar and LiDAR. Almost all these sensors are airborne and are useful for creating data sets used in machine learning training, agronomy, simulations, and system validation. They are particularly useful for the arable domain, but we can modify the way we deploy them for most other agricultural domains.

For both services (platforms, and sensors) we offer a service provision from creation of the initial testing plans right through to a delivery of analysed data. Planning of operations is conducted in-house, especially in the case of our UAV mounted systems, and we also undertake post-processing of sensor data using the spectral imaging expertise of the team and a suite of industry leading software.

If you are an agri-tech developer who has a particular interest in robotics, or you require assistance in using some difficult sensors, then we would love to hear from you. Get in touch here or fill out this form.

 

Agri-EPI network explores data needs for farmers online

Agri-EPI Centre hosted a member community online special interest group titled What has data ever done for you, that brought farmers and tech developers from across the agri-tech sector together online to discuss data needs, successes and challengers for farmers.

The event was chaired by Eliot Dixon, Head of Agri-Tech (Engineering) at Agri-EPI Centre, and discussions were led by David Smurthwaite, Head of Dairy at Mackie’s of Scotland, and Jose Chitty, COO of Smartbell.

Jose Chitty began the conversation with an overview of his Smartbell project, an animal health monitoring and management system that provides unique data insights, focused on detecting health issues in calves. Smartbell makes it easy to gather data and present insights directly on a phone, and allows for farmers to spot problems faster and more easily, and create benchmarks for tracking changes and improvements on farm. This kind of data gathering can help to improve profitability, improve animal health, justify spending, and help to access funding.

David Smurthwaite, one of Agri-EPI’s innovation farmers, then took over the discussion to comment on the farmer perspective for using data and tech on farm. He uses Smartbell on his farm, and though he was cynical and had a hard time believing in the data at first, the app has improved and the system is working well for his team. For David, data needs to be user friendly, as implementing changes and getting an older team on board to use tech can be a challenge. He would like for the information to be more accessible but has very much started to rely on tech to aid him and his team in improving the welfare of their animals.

Discussion followed, where a number of questions were posed to the audience, and an array of thought-provoking answers were shared:

 

Q: What is the ultimate destination for this technology in the future?

A: Data transfer across the industry for benefit and joined up decision making, data that drives actions to help business, and a hand holder for farmers improving sustainability and profitability.

 

Q: What data sources are already vital for farmers?

A: Data associated with productivity, data that mitigates known risks, data that enables yield to be optimised, and data that provides efficiency on farm.

 

Q: What are specific challenges on farm that could be solved with data and information now?

A: Yield forecasting, connecting environment with individual animal performance, prediction rather than just alerting, investment, storing data, and statistical analysis for data.

 

Q: What is stopping farmers from getting the most information out of the data they have?

A: The data isn’t always the farmers but rather the equipment manufacturers, the data is too complex, farmers may lack certain skills or digital knowledge needed to understand the data adequately, farmers may not have enough time or have inoperable systems on their farm, and a lack on interoperability.

 

Q: What are disadvantages of using information and data?

A: Becoming over-reliant on certain companies and pieces of tech, the lack of accuracy of some data, or getting landed with the wrong application. Trust in the system needs to be ensured.

 

Q:Who should own the rights to the data from farms?

A: Farmers should own the data and be able to have a say on what is done with it, but secondary information could be owned by third party. Both parties should understand contractual laws and come to their own agreements, since data sharing is extremely important for the agriculture sector.

 

Agri-EPI will host their next member community special interest group in person at Cranfield University on 17th January, entitled Accelerating robotic systems for agriculture. Find out more here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/special-interest-group-accelerating-robotic-systems-for-agriculture-tickets-464983296557

Tag Archive for: Innovation

Midlands Agri-Tech Coffee Hour (MATCH)

Agri-EPI invites you to attend our networking coffee hour including breakfast at the Midlands Agri-Tech Hub on the 15th of February.

Use this opportunity to chat and get to know each other, fostering new connections and opportunities for collaboration within Agri-Tech.

This free event is open to member and non-members and includes a breakfast roll!

Agri-EPI Crop Technology Hub tour

Agri-EPI invites you to attend a tour of their Crop Technology Southern Hub based at the Agri-Informatics Building at Cranfield University.

Delivering academic rigour, data analytics and agri-tech expertise, our Crop Technology Southern Innovation Hub is home to world-class collaborative research within state-of-the-art facilities, including the Glasshouse Phenotyping Platform and Postharvest Storage Facilities.

This showcase event will provide an opportunity to view technical assets and facilities that could support your innovations linked to soil, crop health and sensor development for sustainable solutions for the arable and horticulture sectors. Our technical data, robotics and automation team will be on-hand to discuss how Agri-EPI can support you.

The facility is also home of the National Reference Centre for Soils and associated land information system, LandIS. In 2017, Cranfield University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research and education in large-scale soil and environmental data for the sustainable use of natural resources in the UK and worldwide.

There will be complementary networking lunch and arrival drinks.

Agri-EPI Farm Walk: Newton Farm

Agri-EPI invites you to attend an on-farm day at Newton Farm in Brecon, Wales on the 11th May 10AM-2PM. There are a limited number of tickets available, and we will be accepting registration on a first-come, first-serve basis

This event will be hosted by Richard Roderick, Farmer at Newton Farm and will include an introduction to the farm, a farm walk, and a networking lunch for all attendees.

About Newton Farm:

Owners Richard & Helen Roderick, along with their son Tudor, farm 850 acres including 200 acres they’ve recently rented and plan to farm regeneratively. The Roderick’s manage a diverse business, including an impressive outwintered herd of stabiliser cattle, a flock of 800 ewes, and an arable enterprise. The Roderick’s are passionate about a number of farming topics, including carbon sequestration, grassland management, and animal health.

Richard and Helen’s vision is for Newton Farm to be a profitable mixed farm, which maximises the use of its own resources, while increasing biodiversity and conserving the wildlife and historical features of the farm. To achieve this, their strategy is to focus on sustainability, genetics, and maximizing the use of forage and root crop.

Agenda:

10am- Arrival teas, coffees, and breakfast baps

10.30am- Introduction from Ross Robertson, Head of Mixed, Agri-EPI and handover for a welcome from Richard Roderick, Farmer, Newton Farm and an overview of the farm.

Explanation of the work taking place on Newton Farm as part of the Beacon Water Group from Nigel Elgar, BBMC Project Manager at Welsh Water

10.45am-Walking farm tour to include…

Demonstration of Beef Monitor and Combi Clamp from Carwyn Davies, Sales Manager for Wales at Ritchies. Ritchie were established over 150yrs ago, and specialises in the design and manufacturing of innovative high-quality agricultural and industrial equipment.

Explanation from John Smout, Sales Manager for UK & Ireland of NoFence who created the world’s first virtual fencing for livestock.

Explanation from Jose Chitty, Chief of Operations at SmartBell who provide automated monitoring solutions for animal health and management decisions and WellCalf which is a digital assistant for calf rearing.

The tour will also include a tour of the wider farm via tractor and trail.

1pm- Lunch and networking at the shed

2pm-Event ends

If you are interested in sponsoring the event please contact members@agri-epicentre.com.