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Boosting the uptake of Precision Agriculture in Serbia

The limited adoption of precision agriculture is causing a lag in productivity in the sector – something which Agri-EPI is trying to alter through its involvement with the DRAGON project in Serbia. 

The three-year project aims to increase the adoption of precision agriculture technologies, practices and strategies by upskilling and educating young researchers in both hard and soft skills. Funded by H2020, it’s a consortium of four partnersBioSense, a Serbian University that cross-fertilizes two most promising sectors in Serbia: ICT and agriculture, recognising that ICT today plays a pivotal role in ensuring sustainable, smart and inclusive growth of agriculture. The other partners in the project are Agri-EPI Centre, Strathclyde University and Wageningen University in The Netherlands. 

At the end of November, Agri-EPI’s CTO, Shamal Mohammed, attended a four-day training school at the BioSense Institute in Serbia, to sit on the B2B panel. He was joined by Jim Wilson at SoilEssentials, who delivered a talk on online precision farming platform KORE, and Ben Scott-Robinson at the Small Robot Company, who spoke about AI driven robotic services for farming. 

The training school has presented students with technical information about innovation in agriculture, agri-tech and applied science solutions on farm, while also demonstrating how to present and profile research. 

Through further organised trips to the Netherlands and the UK over the course of the project, it is expected that skills and expertise will be transferred to BioSense researchers. The longterm outcome of the project will help them improve their capability to communicate practical big data knowledge across the supply chain and to the non-scientific community.  

For more information about DRAGON, please visit the website: www.datadragon.eu/.  

World-class agri-tech in Africa

Establishing trust between farmers and investors

GRID tool

An innovative digital farming system is helping to increase yields across thousands of hectares of farmland in southern Africa while also creating new jobs locally and in the UK.

AgSpace Agriculture’s new GRID system gives farmers access to the most advanced agricultural satellite mapping and analysis available, backed by independent agronomic advice. The information helps producers to make better management decisions and allows them to offer evidence of their crops’ performance to financial providers to gain access to credit and insurance.

Partners GRID

GRID was developed under a two-year European Space Agency-backed project involving AgSpace, Agri-EPI Centre and Rhiza. It is the first tool on the market specifically allowing farmers and financial providers to track crop performance.

There has been rapid uptake of the product following its launch earlier this year. It is now operational in nine African countries, and involves financial providers including Standard Bank. Further expansion is predicted to create up to 775 jobs between the UK and Africa by 2024.

AgSpace Director, Vince Gillingham, said:

“Some 80% of the African workforce makes a living from agriculture but many are crippled by a lack of access to financial products to develop their businesses. Price fluctuations for inputs and products, along with crop failure, due to pests, diseases, temperature or variable rainfall, hold the entire agricultural ecosystem back. 

“It is very difficult for credit providers to measure risk in the face of such variables without good data from farmers. GRID offers a precision data-driven opportunity for overcoming this barrier, giving providers the evidence and confidence they need to support farmers in increasing yields, growing their farms and ultimately contributing to wider economic development.”

GRID uses high resolution satellite data to monitor crop performance while providing local weather data for every farm on an hourly basis. It provides soil mapping and soil health monitoring, supports fertiliser planning for increased efficiency and higher yields and calculates yield predictions.

Farmers access agronomy advice by smart phone to improve production while financial providers use the same satellite data to monitor crop performance and build a clear picture of each farm, whatever its size and however remote.

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre CEO said:

“We are delighted to have contributed to the emerging success of the GRID product. By using our company assets, including our database of high-resolution earth observation data, combined with analytics, this has enabled the optimal refinement of the system, which has now moved rapidly to a commercial offering. We are particularly pleased that Agri-EPI has assisted in the near-future prospect of up to 1000 jobs shared between the UK and Africa. This makes a valuable contribution from Agri-EPI input and continues to show evidence of world-class agri-tech solutions from the UK being exported around the globe.”

Francesco Feliciani, Head of the Commercial Applications Section of ESA, added:

“We are proud for having hosted the development and validation of the GRID service as part of our Integrated Applications Programme. We are convinced that GRID is a game changer in supporting farmers and associated financial services to understand the performance of farming businesses virtually everywhere in the world. This is key especially in times challenged by extreme weather events.

We have directly witnessed how the GRID service is used by farming companies in Africa, and we are fascinated by its capability to turn complex datasets and analytics into easy to understand information through a very intuitive and appealing user interface.”

More information

For further information about GRID, please download the GRID information brochure or contact Vincent Gillingham, AgSpace Director.

Agri-Tech Catalyst funding to support agricultural and food systems innovation in Africa

Competition opens: April 2019

Deadline: June 2019

There is up to £3 million of funding available from the Department for International Development (DFID) for early-stage feasibility studies, mid stage industrial research and late-stage experimental development. Projects must work on agri-tech and food chain innovations with partners in eligible African countries.

The aim of this competition is to increase the pace of development and scale of uptake of agricultural and food systems innovation by farmers and food systems actors (such as manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors or wholesalers) in Africa. All projects must be collaborative and must include at least one partner from the UK and one from an eligible African country. All funding for businesses and research organisations will be sent through the administrative lead organisation.

You can find out more on the competition page, which will be published here in due course.

KTN is hosting a briefing and consortia building event for Round 8 of the Agri-Tech Catalyst on Friday 22nd March in Birmingham and a series of online webinars on Friday 5th April to provide more tailored support to applicants focussing on projects involving crops, livestock and aquaculture, or food systems and nutrition.

  • Friday 22nd March – Free Briefing & Consortia Building Event – Birmingham. Places are limited and a registration of interest system is being used. Register your interest here
  • Friday 5th April 9.30 – 11.00 Crop Webinar. Register here.
  • Friday 5th April 12.00 – 13.30 Livestock and Aquaculture Webinar. Register here.
  • Friday 5th April 14.00 – 15.30 Food Systems and Nutrition Webinar. Register here.

Further information can be found on the KTN website here.  Please contact a member of the KTN Agri-Food team on agrifood@ktn-uk.org if you would like to discuss a potential application or need help finding a project partner.

 

Innovate UK Smart Grants Funding Competition NOW OPEN

Smart is the new name for Innovate UK’s “Open grant funding” programme.

  • Competition opens: Monday 18 February 2019
  • Competition closes: Wednesday 24 April 2019 12:00pm

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £20 million in the best game-changing or disruptive ideas with a view to commercialisation.

All proposals must be business focused, rather than pure research. Applications can come from any area of technology (including arts, design, media or creative industries), science or engineering and be applied to any part of the economy.

Costs and project duration

Project duration between 6 and 18 months: total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000 (single company or collaboration).

Project duration between 19 and 36 months: total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million (collaboration only).

Eligible projects with costs over £2 million (but not exceeding £3 million), may be considered subject to the process set out under ‘Eligibility’.

To apply, and for more details on the competition click here. 

Technology meets farming for better management

Partners beef monitors:
Partners Beef Monitor: Agri-EPI Centre, Ritchie Ltd and Scotbeef

As UK farmers face huge changes in their business environment, making precision all the more critical, Agri-EPI Centre is working with them to develop technologies that help to banish guess work from management decisions.

One of the four Centres for Agricultural Innovation established by Innovate UK through the UK government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, Agri-EPI has teamed up with 28 innovative farms, covering commodities including beef, dairy, sheep, arable, pigs, potatoes and root crops. The purpose of these ‘satellite’ farms is to allow new technologies and techniques to be developed and trialled in commercial farming environments.

One of the farms is Bielgrange in East Lothian, owned and run by Niall Jeffrey, AgriScot’s 2018 Scotch Beef Farmer of the Year. Niall has been at the forefront of trialling new Beef Monitor crates developed by Ritchie Agricultural in conjunction with Agri-EPI. 

These are effectively modified handling crates with an integrated water trough, which cattle enter voluntarily to drink, indoors or outdoors. As they do so, the crates’ inbuilt sensors record the daily live weight of each animal. With the correct analysis, this daily data can be hugely beneficial in helping a farmer make speedy decisions to reduce costs and ensure animals are delivered to Scotbeef in-spec. Scotbeef monitors the impact of using beef monitor units on carcass specifications. 

The Beef Monitors have gone through several phases of development as a result of the on-farm trials and this will continue during 2019, with a view to increasing the type of data that can be collected. The important element, says Agri-EPI Centre’s Farms and Commercial Manager Gavin Dick, is that the beef monitor concept has been shown to work. Gavin explained:

“Farmers are having to adapt to huge changes in their business operating environment, meaning there is now a much greater need for live and detailed management information that allow them to better-informed decisions. The Beef Monitor has already proven to be an ideal vehicle for starting the process of gathering such information, potentially giving beef farmers key information significantly earlier than the best stockperson could identify using their eyes and experience.”

“Now we know the cattle will happily enter the crates voluntarily and stress-free to drink, and we have had really important feedback from Niall and the other farmers trialling the Beef Monitors, this is where Agri-EPI really comes into its own. We are now assessing which of the many available sensor technologies – such as boluses, collars, anklets and even breath analysers – could further enhance data collection and analysis. Such tech is already being used on robotic milkers in the dairy industry so it’s time to see the beef sector catch up.”

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive said:

“The satellite farms are a core element of our activities to bring productivity-boosting technology to UK farmers across all of the key farming sectors. Crucially, we work hard to create and enhance connections between the farming industry, science and commercial developers of new technologies. This is a critical time for UK farming and this multidisciplinary approach is the best means of identifying novel solutions.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres added:

“In their short lifetime the four Agri-Tech Centres have engaged in a major capital build programme developing new high technology assets to drive forward the applied R&D capability in the UK to develop solutions to real world problems that the farming community face.

“The Agri-EPI satellite farm network is a good example of this, providing a unique environment where new technology can be trialled on farms, and the benefits demonstrated to farmers. Apart from the build programme, the four Agri-Tech Centres have to date already engaged with over 35,000 UK farmers, secured 46 projects worth £14.2 million to the research consortia, and £3.1 million to the Centres, created 98 high tech jobs, involved 192 organisations and several high-profile Government initiatives. These include Rural 5G Broadband. The success of the Agri-Tech Centres is being noticed overseas and already attracting a lot of interest from countries as far afield as Paraguay, New Zealand and China.”

Analysis for Innovators (A4I) – Future funding competition

Do you want to solve an analysis or measurement problem within your existing business?

Innovate UK expects to open a fourth round of the popular Analysis for Innovators (A4I) programme in late February worth up to £4m.  KTN is running roadshows at various venues in the UK to outline the details of A4I in advance of the next round of the competition opening.

A4I is a programme that gives UK businesses of any size access to cutting-edge R&D expertise and facilities to help boost productivity by solving analysis or measurement problems that they have been unable to tackle using standard technologies and techniques.

A4I is an investment from Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, alongside funding partners the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the National Measurement Laboratory at LGC (formerly known as the Laboratory of the Government Chemist), the National Engineering Laboratory (NEL) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Together the funding partners run some of the most advanced facilities, techniques and technologies available in the world.  A4I matches the best UK scientists and facilities with companies that have analysis or measurement problems.

Targeting competitiveness and productivity head on by offering cutting edge R&D, expertise and facilities to UK companies that want to solve an analysis or measurement problem from within their existing business, the A4I programme differs from other funding competitions.  The KTN roadshows will explain A4I as well as highlighting some of the successes from previous funding rounds.

Roadshow events are being held at the following locations:

29 Jan – Oxford, Harwell.  Register here.

31 Jan – Bristol, Engine Shed.  Register here.

4 Feb – Teddington, London, National Physical Laboratory. Register here.

5 Feb – Wales, QED Centre, Treforest.  Register here.

7 Feb – Glasgow, thestudio. Register here.

12 Feb – Belfast, NIACE Centre. Register here.

15 Feb – Huddersfield, NPL North. Register here.

27 Feb – A4I round 4 competition briefing. Register here.

All the events are free to attend.

Events

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