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Grain ‘swimming’ robot offers solution to global food loss

New Innovate UK-funded project tackling the global problem of post-harvest grain losses

Poor Autumn planting conditions, a Spring drought and the recent heavy rains have led to a very difficult UK harvest. And the challenges don’t end once grain is in store – uncontrolled temperature and moisture levels can lead to pests and mould which, due to the notoriously difficult task of monitoring the condition of stored grain, contribute to global post-harvest grain losses of more than 20%.

Now, a new Innovate UK-funded project is tackling the problem. Technology start-up Crover Ltd, Agri-EPI Centre and East of Scotland Farmers have teamed up to develop the first robotic robot able to safely sample grain bulks at various depths and while still in storage, where existing methods cannot. Each one of the robotic devices, called the “Crover”, is expected to be able to save a total of 380 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) every year.

Grain robot

Over the next 18 months, the grain robot Crover will be trialled at the East of Scotland Farmers co-operative in Perth & Kinross, at a farm in Northumberland and within Agri-EPI’s network of partner farms. The project is being supported with £250,000 of Innovate UK funding.

Lorenzo Conti, Crover’s Managing Director, explained:

“Post-harvest losses have serious financial impacts for cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers and breweries. But they also have significant social and environmental consequences, which are becoming ever more even more pressing due to threats such as increasing global food demand, intense price volatility, and harvest unpredictability due to climate change. Four and a half billion people per year are exposed to dangerous mycotoxins from grain moulds which contaminate 25% of the world’s food supply. The carbon footprint from cereal storage losses equates to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

“Like a plane’s wings in air, or a boat’s rotor in water, the patented technology behind our Crover robot allows it to fluently “swim” through bulk solids, like cereals and grains, monitoring their condition while they are still in storage and without leaving any grain unchecked. Our aim is to improve grain storage systems, helping to build the resilience of the grain supply chain and the wider global food system.”

Unlike current grain solutions that can only reach near the surface pose a safety hazard to operators collecting the samples, Crover’s remote probing device will be able to autonomously collect samples throughout the whole silo/shed. This gives early detection of potential spoilage allowing steps to be taken to reduce losses and maintain quality.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are significant and high. Through this new and very exciting collaboration, the partners will blend their technological and industry expertise to investigate how grain robot Crover can respond to that challenge by working effectively in commercial grain storage sites, with potentially huge benefits to the agri-food industry and wider society.”

Robin Barron, General Manager of East of Scotland Farmers said:

“We have a special interest in obtaining representative samples from silos and stores full of malting barley, so that we can accurately assess their recovery from dormancy before being dispatched to maltster customers.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centre Policy Lead said:

“Innovate UK is pleased to have been able to support this innovative and exciting project. It has the potential to deliver significant impact in terms of improving food safety and security as well as helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. “

In this video, the project partners explain the technology and project impact:

More information

For further information or interviews, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

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Agri-EPI supports ground-breaking project Hands Free Farm

Agri-EPI Centre is project managing the innovative Hands Free Farm project at Harper Adams University. Hands Free Farm is the follow-on to the famous Hands Free Hectare project started in 2016 by Harpers Adams and Precision Decisions with the aim to be the first in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground. The automation farm project has been taken through two successful cropping cycles and won a number of awards, including the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Future Food Award.

Now, thanks to funding from Innovate UK, the project has evolved into Hands Free Farm, a three-year-long project, run by Harper Adams and Precision Decisions and the UK division of Australian precision agriculture specialist Farmscan AG.

The project has just got underway and is based at Harper Adams’ campus in Shropshire. Agri-EPI Centre is providing the team with project management support and development space at its Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, located on the university’s campus.

Les Hurdiss, Manager of Agri-EPI’s Midlands Hub, said: “Hands Free Farm is a fantastic, ground breaking project which is truly innovative in taking farming into a new era. We are very proud that the project will be developed in our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub. Robotics and automation are at the forefront of the current transformation of agriculture and Hands Free Farm is one of several projects in which Agri-EPI is involved which are advancing this exciting area.”

Jonathan Gill, Harper Adams Mechatronics Researcher said: “This time, we’re planning to grow three different combinable crops across 35 hectares.

“We’re moving past the feasibility study which the hectare provided us with, to now a vision of the future of farming.

“We want to prove the capability and ability of these systems in reducing the levels of soil compaction and precision application.”

Kit Franklin, Harper Adams Senior Agricultural Engineering Lecturer, said: “We want the farm to become a testbed for agricultural innovation. Once the farm’s established, we’ll be encouraging companies to come and test and evaluate their technologies.”

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.

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