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UK-China SmartFarm partnership takes next steps

Utilising UK technology in China

Agri-EPI Centre and one of China’s largest food companies, the Tianjin Food Group, have today signed a collaboration agreement to develop a smart farming project utilising UK technology in China to boost early disease detection and productivity monitoring in pigs.

The project, called “SmartFarm 1.5”, will involve Agri-EPI and UK companies RoboScientific, Greengage Lighting and Innovent Technology, working with pork producers for the Tianjin Food Group in north eastern China. It is being funded by Innovate UK from the UK and supported locally by the Tianjin Food Group.

China SmartFarm partners

China SmartFarm concept

The new project is a continuation of the SmartFarm concept developed in China by Agri-EPI Centre, which seeks to develop international collaboration to support efficient and sustainable approaches to farming and food production.

The first SmartFarm project looked at precision-based approaches to nitrogen application in wheat production. It ran successfully between 2018 and 19, co-sponsored by Innovate UK, led by Agri-EPI and involving UK companies SoilEssentials and RDS, with autonomous and measurement systems contribution from University of Strathclyde. The Chinese partner organisations were NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC).

Following the successful delivery of this inaugural project, Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Group agreed to explore further opportunities, resulting in today’s signing of an agreement at the 4th Tianjin World Intelligence Congress.

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“We are honoured to be taking China SmartFarm to the next level by working with the Tianjin Food Group to deliver this important project. China is the world’s

largest producer and consumer of pork and technology and to support better productivity and earlier disease detection has significant potential economic benefits. Agri-EPI is excited to be building relationships with a range of international partners, in China – as well as New Zealand and Paraguay – in delivering SmartFarm projects.”

Committee Secretary and Chairman of Tiajin Food Group Zhang Yong said:

“Agri-EPI Centre is an important part of UK Research and Innovation. It has the world’s leading level in precision agriculture, the application of engineering technology in the entire agricultural industry chain, and the application of agricultural robots. With the continuous development of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other intelligent technologies, agriculture has entered the era of intelligence. Precision feeding, precise management, real-time disease monitoring, and automatic environmental adjustment are all improving the level of agricultural production. At this critical historical opportunity, we hope to co-operate sincerely with the British side, make full use of their respective advantages, jointly develop and demonstrate the promotion of smart agricultural technology, and contribute to the progress of global agricultural technology.”

Alasdair Hamilton, Head of the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy, Beijing said:

“Partnerships in agricultural technologies that support sustainable, environmentally friendly farming is a priority area for science and innovation cooperation between the UK and China. The production of sustainable food with a low carbon footprint is a global necessity. It is therefore a pleasure to see that the MOU between Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Company will deepen cooperation in data driven technologies that will improve how we farm and produce nutritious food.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead said:

“I am delighted that this SmartFarm 1.5 collaboration agreement has been signed today. It marks the next step for both countries working together under our prestigious Flagship Challenge to address the global challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors. This follows on from SmartFarm 1.0 an initiative that formed a key output of the UK China Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy’s Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge, and which was a direct result of an earlier MoU signed between CRTDC and Innovate UK in November 2016.”

The new SmartFarm 1.5 project builds on a long history of UK-China co-operation in agricultural research and innovation. The relationship was enhanced in 2017 with the signing of the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy. SmartFarm is a core part of one of the strategy’s major deliverables, the Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge.

Food security and increasing farmers’ income remain a primary importance in China’s agriculture and rural policies. Technology plays a key role in the government’s plan to achieve this, with more investment being directed at deploying large agri-tech research programmes and innovation systems.

China’s approach to agricultural innovation overlaps many of the UK’s priorities including those set out in the Industrial Strategy.

On June 30, join Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with 8 Hours Ahead, for a webinar exploring agri-tech opportunities in China. For more and to register, visit: www.agri-epicentre.com/land-and-grow-the-agri-tech-china-opportunity.

For further information, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 0131 239 7030, 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

Young entrepreneur seeks to ‘freeup’ farmers

Agri-EPI Centre and Overbury Enterprises are working with a young entrepreneur and South Wales farmer’s son who has invented an innovative yet simple dial-reading tool which has the potential to save farmers significant time and money.

Tom McNamara

Tom McNamara demonstrating FreeUP

Tom McNamara’s device, called a ‘FreeUP’, can be mounted onto any kind of equipment or machinery to read and record their analogue dials, instantly making them ‘smart’.

Tom’s FreeUP is currently being tested on three farms including Overbury, which participates in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme. Tom has established his own company to develop and sell the FreeUP, and he is on the hunt for additional farms willing to take part in trials of the device.

Tom’s simple invention can read the value on any dial, as frequently as needed. Readings are recorded on a webpage and, if they move outside the parameters set by the operator, they will be notified via text message.

The ability to review the data gathered over time supports better informed decision-making. The data can also be exported for use in any other software.

Tom, who is also an academic researcher in farmer-led innovation, explained:

“It is not realistic for most farmers to replace their expensive analogue equipment with digitised versions. The FreeUP offers the solution by making any piece of equipment with a traditional dial ‘smart’. It doesn’t matter what the dial measures, when it was built, what brand it is – the FreeUP will automate it.”

After discussing the device with Agri-EPI Centre, Tom was invited to trial his FreeUP at Overbury Enterprises, where it is mounted on the water irrigation system. The FreeUP is also being trialled at Stackpole Farm in Pembrokeshire for monitoring water pressure in a bore pump and Cheshire’s Reaseheath College where it is being put to various uses in the milking parlour.

Overbury Farm Manager Jake Freestone said:

“Whilst irrigating, we use the FreeUP to monitor water pressure on the irrigation reel which alerts us to significant changes in pressure, allowing us to react quickly to any problems. We are now looking at other applications across the farm and estate.”

Agri-EPI’s Head of Farm Network, Gavin Dick said:

“We are keen to help Tom develop the FreeUP because it fits perfectly with our aim of helping farmers to gather and understand data simply and cost-effectively. It supports good decision making to help improve efficiency, productivity and profitability.”

Tom’s goals are to go on developing his FreeUP by trialling new farm applications, increasing the type of data it can gather and, of course, increasing sales. His overall ambition is to produce a suite of ‘FreeUP’ products in response to needs identified by farmers which automate tasks using simple and affordable equipment that ‘just works’.

Any farms interested in trialling the FreeUP can email Tom at or, for further information, visit www.freeup.world.

FreeUP

British technology to improve efficiency at large farm in Paraguay

Agri-EPI Centre has been awarded funding to establish a pilot Agri-Tech demonstration facility in Paraguay. The facility will be used to demonstrate the benefit of UK developed technology to improve the efficiency and productivity of agriculture in Paraguay. Once up and running, the facility can provide an excellent launchpad for UK Agri-Tech to be deployed in other key South American markets.

Paraguay commercial business

Paraguay business and trade regulations are attractive for businesses wishing to trade within the South American trade block (Mercosur). The collaboration with one of Paraguayan leading farmers, was developed from a recent UK Department of International Trade visit to Paraguay with support from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The Agri-EPI Centre team has built upon this relationship and is active in developing the pilot.

The team has identified opportunities to manage cattle nutrition more precisely by installing systems to monitor cattle. It may be possible to reduce calf losses from scan to wean and increase gross profit margin. This could lead to win-wins for Paraguayan farmers and UK companies. Next steps include the installation of solutions, kick start Proof of Concept and gather baseline data.

Want to know more about this project? Please contact Project Management Team by email enquiries@agri-epicentre.com.

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.

Collaboration with China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC)

An Agri-EPI team, led by Agri-EPI Chair (Willie Thomson) CEO (Dave Ross) and Business Manager (Claire Lewis), have recently returned from a Science and Innovation Network facilitated visit to China. The visit marked the start of an Agri-EPI Centre and the China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) demonstration project that will bring together both Chinese and UK farming technology.

The visit, superbly co-ordinated by the FCO in Beijing, included visits to Shunyi National Agricultural Science and Technology Park, Xiaotangshan National Precision Agriculture Research, Yanqing National Agricultural Science and Technology Park, China International Technology Transfer Centre /Beijing Science and Technology Commission, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (where Theresa May visited the week prior).

We (jointly and) formally launched the concept of SMARTFARM 1.0, as an exemplar and direct focus for measuring and understanding agricultural productivity in China. This farm-based initiative (near Beijing) is also intended to be a base from which UK companies can show and market products for the vast Chinese market, as well as view Chinese technologies.

You can find out more about the smart farm approach here.

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.

Workshop Emerging imaging technologies in Agri-Food

Imaging technologies are developing rapidly and their increased use in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality. A recent workshop organised by Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) brought together the Agri-Food and Imaging communities to explore opportunities for innovation using emerging imaging technologies across the agri-food sector.

Agri-EPI Centre CEO Dave Ross set the scene for the day, showing the amount of food that will have to be produced in the coming years to feed a growing world. The power of imaging technologies in agri-food is one of the key ways yields can be increased. The future of farming was hinted at with a video showing the ‘Hands Free Hectare’ at Harper Adams University.

Event synopsis

You might be interested in the blog that was written of the event by KTN, written by Charlie Winkworth-Smith, Knowledge Transfer Manager – Emerging Technologies, KTN. Posted on 5 February 2018:

‘Emerging imaging technologies in agri-food’

Increased use of imaging technologies in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality.

Imaging technologies are developing rapidly and their increased use in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality. The event highlighted how emerging imaging technologies are vital for continued innovation in the agri-food industry. Professor Simon Pearson from the University of Lincoln, who chaired the workshop, commented that imaging technology is the backbone of precision agriculture as DNA is to bioscience.

Dave Ross from the Agri-EPI Centre set the scene for the day, showing the amount of food that will have to be produced in the coming years to feed a growing world. The power of imaging technologies in agri-food is one of the key ways yields can be increased. The future of farming was hinted at with a video showing the Hands Free Hectare at Harper Adams University.

Dr Martin Whitworth from Campden BRI showed how imaging technologies are being implemented in the food industry, with ovens being placed inside medical X-Ray CT scanners to monitor the structure of cakes during baking, hyperspectral imaging used to map the composition of food and thermal imaging being used to validate cooking instructions.

Dr Dorian Parker from M Squared Lasers showed how imaging technologies originally developed for the defence sector are now being adapted to detect the whisky escaping from casks. Optical fingerprinting is now able to differentiate whiskies by brand, age or even type of cask used. The first use cases of single pixel quantum imaging were also discussed, from methane imaging to seeing through tinted glass.

Opportunities for the space sector in precision agriculture were highlighted by Mark Jarman from the Satellite Applications Catapult. Hyperspectral imaging, thermal imaging and synthetic aperture radar are all technologies that are now being utilised to give farmers more information about their crops to help increase yields.

The use of imaging in the ruminant sector was explored by Dr Carol-Anne Duthie from SRUC. Time of flight 3D cameras can be mounted on water troughs which automatically capture images of animals to monitor the health of the animal. Thermal imaging can be used to identify inflammation, bruises or tendon injuries days before they will be visible to the farmer. After slaughter, visible and near infra-red spectroscopy is a non-invasive technique that can help predict cooking loss, composition, mechanical tenderness and sensory traits.

Dr Wenhao Zhang from the Centre for Machine Vision at the Bristol Robotics Lab showed that facial recognition of pigs is now possible. He also showed that 3D imaging can be a valuable tool for plant phenotyping as it will help indicate plant health and reveal gene induced traits. Imaging technologies are beginning to be used for weed detection in fields which could potentially reduce herbicide use by in excess of 90%.

Dr Simon Plant from Innovate UK and Dr Katherine Lutteroth from BBSRC updated the audience on all the funding opportunities available, in particular, the Emerging & Enabling and Health & Life Sciences competitions that are currently open, as well as the LINK scheme and Industry Partnership Awards. Dr Russ Bromley also highlighted the extra funding for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships that is currently available.

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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