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Beta Bugs takes flight with Agri-EPI Centre support

  • Agri-EPI Centre supported growth for a sustainable and carbon neutral agri-tech business
  • Membership offered high level networking and exposure for Beta Bugs
  • Friendly and supportive environment for innovation

A specialist UK agri-food supply chain business which is improving insect genetics to tackle one of the world’s biggest challenges has expanded thanks to support from the Agri-EPI Centre.

Beta Bugs has developed a pioneering insect breeding facility at the centre’s Scottish site which is also home to the company’s growing team.

CEO and Founder Thomas Farrugia said the insect farming industry is helping to combat three major areas contributing to the climate emergency: food waste, deforestation, and carbon emissions.

And he says being part of the Agri-EPI Centre has delivered collaboration, funding and access to new market opportunities – as well as space to grow its operations specialising in the genetics of insects destined for feed at the Centre’s Northern Agri-Tech Innovation Hub in Scotland.

The Agri-EPI Centre, part of the UK’s Agri-Tech Strategy and supported by Innovate UK, is a membership organisation which aims to support projects which will generate economic growth and help tackle the global issues of sustainability and feeding the world.

Beta Bugs focus on breeding an improved Black Soldier Fly is part of that mission to generate a sustainable alternative protein source that can be used in aquaculture, pork, and poultry feed.

The growing company is a member of the Agri-EPI Centre, based at the Easter Bush Campus site near Roslin, which offers a host of benefits to members, from employment and lab space to support with funding bids.

Thomas said:

“Agri-EPI provided us with a great office and space for us to be able to grow, both the team and also the space for the bugs. It’s helpful to be on site with other agri-tech businesses because it’s good to be able to build up connections, share peer-to-peer learning and there are collaboration opportunities between us.”

Thomas said being a member of the Agri-EPI had been a huge factor in the growth of the company.

He said:

“It’s great to be able to work with a team that’s so motivated to enable agriculture to innovate further and develop, and to be able to leverage that.

“What I really like about Agri-EPI is the physical space, being able to build connections into the agri-food supply chain. The ability to build relationships with key stakeholders such as Innovate UK and DEFRA has been really important too and one which we accessed via the platforms that Agri-EPI Centre gave us.

“We’ve had assistance with leveraging grant funding and managing building projects, as well as engineering support. Importantly, they’ve helped us expand and helped the company to grow and create jobs.”

Annabelle Gardener, Membership and Events Manager at the Agri-EPI Centre, added:

“Beta Bugs is a great example of a company which has really benefitted from our dedicated support and assistance. The business is growing, creating jobs and developing new products and services to supply other companies in our sector – it is a real supply chain success story.

“By working together, we have shown we can support agri-tech companies to scale and Beta Bugs is just one of 142 different projects we’ve helped since our launch, supporting collaborations providing access to R&D funding of £36 million into the sector.”

3D cameras to save pigs’ tails

A new high-tech solution to the problem of tail biting in pigs has been devised by Scottish scientists and could become an alternative to the controversial last-resort practice of tail docking. The research is a collaboration between Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Scottish farm technology company Innovent Technology Ltd, pig supply chain partners including north-east animal feed firm Harbro, and the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI).

3D cameras

The initiative is designed to drive higher welfare standards on farms and involves a system of 3D cameras which are installed above feeders to detect whether a pig’s tail is up and curly, or held down against the body, which researchers have shown is a sign that tail biting is about to begin.

The work was carried out using 23 groups of weaner-grower pigs which were regularly scored for any signs of tail injury, and tail biting was stopped as soon as an outbreak was detected.

It has been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Lead author of the study, Dr Rick D’Eath from SRUC, said:

“Tail biting results in pain and sickness for bitten pigs and severe economic losses for farmers as infection through tail wounds results in abattoir condemnation of meat. This condemnation alone can cost a producer up to 1% of the carcase value and a loss for the processor of 1% of saleable carcase from the pig. There are also unquantified on-farm costs as a result of the increased labour and veterinary treatments resulting from an outbreak. Tail docking of piglets is partly effective at reducing tail biting in later life, but is seen as an undesirable mutilation and its routine use is banned in the EU.”

He said that automatically measuring tail posture could act as an early warning of tail biting. Dr D’Eath added: “The challenge for us now is to develop this promising technology into a robust on-farm early warning system that works on any pig farm.”

Innovate UK funded

The work is to be developed in a follow-on Innovate UK-funded project called ‘TailTech‘, which will collect data from more diverse pig farms and develop and test a prototype early warning system. Other pig supply partners will also be involved, including pig breeders JSR Genetics, engineers David Ritchie Ltd, pig vets Garth Pig Practice and farmers’ co-operative Scottish Pig Producers.

Grant Walling, director of science and technology at JSR Genetics, said:

We recognise that tail biting impacts on animal welfare, farm productivity and pork quality. Any tool that can help reduce or eradicate the problem is a benefit to the whole supply chain. This technology has the potential to predict future victims so offers opportunities to update and include information within our selection strategies to reduce the incidence of tail-biting in future generations.

 

Source: This article has been published on The Press and Journal at 14th April 2018 (author Nancy Nicolson)

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Tell-tail signs: using technology to combat tail biting in pigs

A high-tech system involving 3D cameras could help UK farmers spot the early warning signs of tail biting in pigs – a health and welfare concern in affected pigs and an economic concern for industry.

New research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has revealed that pigs hold their tails down against their body when tail biting is about to begin. Experiments saw 3D cameras placed above feeders to automatically measure whether their tails were up and curly, or held down.

The research was carried out using 23 groups of weaner-grower pigs which were regularly scored for any signs of tail injury. The animals were closely monitored and tail biting was stopped as soon as an outbreak was detected.

Tail biting

Outbreaks of tail biting have no single cause – there are a number of contributory factors that could include elements of the pig’s genetics, nutrition, environment and management. Outbreaks can occur unpredictably and quickly spread. Tail docking can be used as a measure to control tail biting, however this is no longer seen as an acceptable routine solution to prevent against outbreaks.

The research, which has been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, was the result of a collaboration between SRUC animal behaviour and welfare experts, Scottish farm technology company Innovent Technology Ltd, pig supply chain partners including feed company Harbro and Sainsbury’s supermarkets, and the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI).

Lead author Dr Rick D’Eath from SRUC said:

“Tail biting results in pain and sickness for bitten pigs and severe economic losses for farmers as infection through tail wounds results in abattoir condemnation of meat. This condemnation alone can cost a producer up to 1 per cent of the carcase value and a loss for the processer of 1 per cent of saleable carcase from the pig.

There are also unquantified on-farm costs as a result of the increased labour and veterinary treatments resulting from an outbreak. Tail docking of piglets is partly effective at reducing tail biting in later life, but is seen as an undesirable mutilation and its routine use is banned in the EU.

This research has achieved everything we hoped for. We can automatically measure tail posture, and we’ve proved it can act as an early warning of tail biting. The challenge for us now is to develop this promising technology into a robust on-farm early warning system that works on any pig farm.”

This ‘proof of concept’ will now be developed in a follow-on Innovate UK-funded project called “TailTech”, which will collect data from more diverse pig farms and develop and test a prototype early warning system. It strengthens the consortium with additional pig supply chain partners: pig breeders JSR Genetics, engineers David Ritchie Ltd, pig vets Garth Pig Practice and farmers’ co-operative Scottish Pig Producers.

Dave Stephenson, head of Pig and Poultry at Harbro, said:

“TailTech is another example of a key initiative from the British pig industry designed to drive higher welfare standards on farm.

We’ve been delighted to partner fellow organisations from across the supply chain in seizing the vast opportunities that technology can bring to improve conditions for the animals we feed on a daily basis.”

Grant Walling, director of science and technology at JSR Genetics, said:

“We recognise that tail biting impacts on animal welfare, farm productivity and pork quality. Any tool that can help reduce or eradicate the problem is a benefit to the whole supply chain.

This technology has the potential to predict future victims so offers opportunities to update and include information within our selection strategies to reduce the incidence of tail-biting in future generations.”

Innovent Technology Ltd already produces a camera-based pig weighing system Qscan (sold internationally through SKOV as ProGrow), and the tail-biting detection system will be developed as an add-on to that technology.

Video about Tall-tail signs

Source: SRUC

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Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Improving farmers’ livelihoods through better rice varieties

Agri-EPI Centre is working together with LGC, international leader in the extended life sciences sector, Bangor University and partners in Nepal (Anamolbiu and NARC) and Pakistan (NIBGE) on the improvement of food security and livelihoods for international development focused on rice productivity.

Rice varieties

For about half a billion people in Asia, most of them poor, rice provides over 50% of the caloric supply so the size and stability of the rice harvest is crucial. The simplest way to increase yields is by the breeding of new rice varieties with greater resistance to diseases and pests and improved tolerance to stresses.

The project is developing LGC’s proprietary molecular technologies (KASP) to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the developing world through better rice varieties. As a single improved rice variety can increase harvest value by millions of pounds a year, this has the potential to have a great impact in Asian countries where rice is the basis of their diet. The project started in August last year and is due to finish January 2021.

For more information, please contact our Project Team at enquiries@agri-epicentre.com or visit the UKRI website.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.