sustainable farming

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Cover crops: the route to sustainable farming?

Given the increasing focus on soil health, erosion, and pollution, as a result of current agricultural practice, cover cropping is now being used across all sectors of crop production to save nitrogen and agrochemical inputs, increase yields and boost soil sustainability. Is cover cropping the route to sustainable farming? Agri-EPI Business Development Manager Duncan Ross dives into the topic for us highlighting the benefits to farmers to embrace a cover crop farm strategy:

Cover cropping means different things to different people, and the reasons for adoption of cover crops into a farming regime are very diverse and often specific to a particular farm. The transition from Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as a support mechanism for agriculture to one based on environment and soil management (DEFRA’s Agricultural Transition Plan) will no doubt encourage wider uptake of cover crops.

Cover crops are often referred to as over-wintered, fast growing annuals planted between two cash crops. However, in certain circumstances a cover crop could be considered to cover a complete 12-month cycle due to geographical location, or a short-term grass ley.

The benefits can be many, such as:

  • Increasing levels of soil organic matter, as green manure is incorporated into the soil. increasing biological activity and water retention capacity.
  • Capture of vital nutrients that are made available to the subsequent cash crops rather than lost due to leaching.
  • Improve soil structure as vigorous root activity can be used to break up compaction.
  • Reduce pollution of nutrient and pesticides into water courses and erosion of soil.
  • Habitat creation which can be included in agri-environment schemes to generate additional revenue and can improve pest management by encouraging beneficial insects.

Healthier cropping sequences on the farm

Financially, it may be difficult to quantify the benefit, as any potential reduction of inputs or increase in yield of the following crops are offset by the cost of establishment and destruction of the cover crop. Cover crops, though, should be treated as an integral part of the rotation and good establishment is imperative, drill rather than broadcast, small nitrogen and slug pellet applications will result in a higher level of biomass, more nutrients being captured, more root activity, less pollution/erosion.

Which cover crop should I use?

The correct choice of cover crop will vary from farm to farm and will be dependent on many variables such as: what is trying to be achieved? Things to consider would be:

  • Soil type
  • Geographical location – less likely to get good autumn establishment in Northern parts of the UK.
  • Rotation – not using brassicas in a rotation containing OSR
  • Sowing dates – sooner after harvest of previous cash crop as practical to maximise biomass potential
  • Following plant timings – not to compromise future cash crop
  • Previous herbicide usage – residual herbicide could affect cover crop

Farm Business strategy

Seeking expert agronomic advice is key in making the correct decisions on cover crop strategy and type of seed to be included within the mix. For example, if the aim is the long-term management of arable weeds, where there are fewer active ingredients available, and herbicide resistance is to be considered, the weed challenge must be managed across the whole rotation. The cover crop chosen should be established and then destroyed along with the target weeds before it is able to re-seed, and over time the seed bank can be reduced. This method would rely on use of glyphosate as a control method so as not to disturb the soil as deep cultivation would mix the soil profile and reduce the effectiveness of the strategy.

Putting this into practice, some growers are having success with crimper rollers to destroy the cover crop and do away with the use of chemical control and should glyphosate be banned this may be the best option for conventional no-till farmers.

Transformation of Scottish salmon production

Transformational innovation in aquaculture

Although significant progress has been made in recent years, current salmon production systems still encounter various challenges associated with “open water” production related to water quality, environmental pollution, and escapes. Additionally, threats of diseases, algae, sea lice, jellyfish and other predators persist as a result of unsecure perimeters.

Aqua Innovations, an SME based in Inverness, have secured funding via the UK Seafood Innovation Fund to undertake the detailed design stage of their flagship innovation concept ‘SeaCAP 6000’. Within the next couple of weeks, with the support of partners Agri-EPI, QED Naval, and Sterner Aquatech and an expert industry-led steering group, the innovative group will explore the feasibility of a transformational way of producing Salmon off the Scottish Coast.

The SeaCAP 6000, a new floating contained farm to grow salmon smolts to full harvest weight, will provide the optimum environment for the fish, with control of water quality, exclusion of external biological factors which can impact on fish health and will capture faeces and waste feed. The innovation is aligned with national agendas to supporting sustainable growth of the sector to double production and economic contribution by 2030.

Benefits over current salmon production systems

The main benefits of the closed contained marine farm are:

  • Control of water quality/internal environment
  • Exclusion of water-borne diseases, and algae, sea lice, jellyfish, and predators
  • Prevention of escapes
  • Capture of the waste for removal and treatment, preventing environmental pollution, and potentially recycling or re-use
  • H&S benefits and operational efficiencies within a controlled working environment
  • Durable, low maintenance, emptied and cleaned between crops
  • Unique mooring system which required only 5% of the seabed lease area to grow an equivalent biomass

Transformational innovation in aquaculture

Inventor of the SeaCAP Rodger Taylor is delighted that the potential of this technology has been recognised, after the concept has been in development for a number of years:

“Now that we have both the funding and the support of strong partners, we can take it a step closer to realisation”.

For Scotland-based Agri-EPI, this is an exciting opportunity to get involved with transformational innovation in aquaculture which aims to have an impact close to home.

Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager for Aquaculture & Livestock says:

“We’re thrilled to be supporting Aqua Innovation on their journey to develop the SeaCAP 6000. Salmon producers face major challenges which may be overcome using technology to contain production – essentially eliminating outside threats and giving the farmer more control over their site. This collaborative approach to innovation is at the heart of Agri-EPI’s vision to support productive, sustainable and profitable food production.”

Design of technology prototype

In partnership with Sterner AquaTech and QED Naval, Aqua Innovation will be working on the detailed design of the prototype 6,000m3 closed contained farm to grow smolts from 100g to 1kg for on-growing in traditional sea cages. Agri-EPI will support the project by organising an industry-led expert steering group to ensure the innovation is developed in-line with the needs and challenges of those in the supply chain. Further support comes in the form of business development and knowledge exchange.

About the UK Seafood Innovation Fund

The UK Seafood Innovation Fund supports bold and ambitious tech-driven projects that will enable a step-change in the productivity and sustainability of the UK seafood sector. Administered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK Seafood Innovation Fund supports projects with a long-term vision to improve the UK seafood, fishing and aquaculture Industries. For more information about the Seafood Innovation Fund, please visit their twitter page.

Follow project progress

Be sure to follow Agri-EPI on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep abreast of the progress with this exciting project. To learn more and find out how you can get involved, please reach out to Kasi McReddie, Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or learn about our industry impact around the globe.

New project explores innovative approach to salmon production

An innovative aquaculture project has been launched to prove the engineering for a new way of producing salmon off the Scottish coast that improves fish welfare and is more environmentally friendly.

Aqua InnovationInverness-based SME Aqua Innovation, with the support of several partners and an industry-led steering group, has secured funding via the UK Seafood Innovation Fund to undertake the detailed design stage of the ‘SeaCAP 6000’ – a new floating, contained 6,000m3 pen to grow salmon smolts to full harvest weight.

The SeaCAP 6000 aims to provide the optimum environment for the fish through controlled water quality and exclusion of external biological factors which can impact on fish health. Faeces and waste feed can be captured and disposed of safely.

Transforming UK Seafood industry

The innovation is aligned with national agendas to support sustainable growth of the sector to double production and economic contribution by 2030.

Rodger Taylor, the inventor of the SeaCAP said:

“Although significant progress has been made in recent years, current salmon farming still encounters various challenges associated with ‘open water’ production, related to water quality, environmental pollution, and fish escapes. The unsecured perimeters of current production systems also make the salmon vulnerable to disease, algae, sea lice, jellyfish and predators.

We believe the SeaCAP has the potential to transform both Scottish and global salmon production. It has been in development for a number of years and we’re delighted that its potential has been recognised.”

 

Aquaculture project funders

The funders of the SeaCAP 6000 Salmon Aquaculture project are Cefas, DEFRA and UK Seafood Innovation Fund

The project is funded by the UK Seafood Innovation Fund, which supports bold and ambitious tech-driven projects that will enable a step-change in the productivity and sustainability of the UK seafood sector. Administered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK Seafood Innovation Fund supports projects with a long-term vision to improve the UK seafood, fishing and aquaculture industries.

Seafood innovation partners

SeaCAP 6000 Salmon Aquaculture Innovation partners | Agri-EPI, Aqua Innovation, Sterner AquaTech, Lloyds Register, QED Naval and Northern Light

Agri-EPI is supporting the project by organising an industry-led expert steering group to ensure the innovation is developed in-line with supply chain needs and challenges. Business Development Manager for Aquaculture & Livestock, Kasi McReddie, said:

“New technology can offer salmon producers solutions to major challenges by essentially eliminating outside threats and giving the farmer more control over their sites. This collaborative approach to innovation is at the heart of Agri-EPI’s vision to support productive, sustainable and profitable food production.”

QED Naval, responsible for the Naval Architecture and Hydrodynamics, said:

“We have had a long-standing relationship with Aqua Innovation and its associated company, Concrete Marine Solutions (CMS), we have a similar innovative approach to the manufacturing of large marine structures, which is the case of CMS is based on 40+ years of experience and ingenuity. We are delighted to be involved in the development of this innovative SeaCAP concept and help bring this revolutionary idea to the market where it can have a dramatic impact on fish wealth fare in an environmentally sensitive, and commercially viable way.”

Sterner AquaTech, who are designing the Water Quality and Life Support systems, said:

“Sterner are delighted to be continuing our involvement with this project having been working since 2019 on concept designs with Aqua Innovations. Our ethos has always been to seek to innovate and improve on our equipment and methods in the industry, and to be involved in a project such as this is a natural progression. Environmental pressures are only going to increase in our industry, and SeaCAP is a unique answer to many of those concerns and could be the model for sustainable farming in the near future.”

Another partner, Lloyds Register, will be undertaking validation of the design in a subsequent stage of the project, with consultants Northern Light providing project management and cost estimation.”

An Introduction to the new Agricultural Transition Plan

As a member of the British Agri-Tech community, Kasi McReddie has literally been on the edge of her seat waiting for DEFRA’s announcement which sets out Government’s plans for the transition from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The announcement, of which details can be found at The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, lays out plans for adaptation in the English farming community over the next seven years. Kasi is Agri-EPI’s Business Development Manager Livestock and Aquaculture and has formulated what this means for farmers and the agri-tech community and what opportunities there are for agri-tech companies going forward.

Farmers in England will see a phased-out reduction in Direct Payments over 4-years starting in 2021, with money saved in reduced BPS payments being used to fund grant and schemes to boost farmers’ productivity and reward environmental improvements.

What does the announcement mean for the agri-tech community?

One of the main barriers to the uptake of technology on farm is cost. In my experience, farmers are very good business people and, quite rightly, are rarely convinced to purchase a novel or innovative piece of equipment. The Agricultural Transition Plan gives us more details of some schemes which aim to financially incentivise farmers to look towards technology to improve the sustainability of their production.

Looking forward, the Environmental Land Management (ELMs) will include the Sustainable Farming Incentive (beginning 2022), which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

Future plans will also include the Farming Investment scheme, which is aimed at improving productivity in agriculture, addressing the underlying causes by supporting businesses to invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure.

This will include:

  • Farming Equipment Technology Fund – small grants to contribute towards the purchase of a list of specified items
  • Farming Transformation Fund – larger grants towards the cost of more substantial investments in equipment, technology or infrastructure

The Farming Investment Fund for Equipment and Technology and Transformation will be open for applications in autumn 2021. From 2022, farmers will also benefit from an increased investment in agricultural Research & Development that will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to drive innovation.

What does the announcement mean for farmers?

Under the new plan, farmers will be encouraged and incentivised to embrace changes to production techniques and practices which will reduce any negative environmental impacts. Significant emphasis is being put on innovation over the several years ahead. Farmers will be incentivised to explore how technology can be used to improve productivity whilst simultaneously delivering for the environment.

Agri-EPI have a unique network of 27 ‘Satellite Farms’ – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Satellite Farm network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

How can Agri-EPI support tech companies?

The report states that, by 2028, all farmers should be “managing their whole business in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, fusing the best modern technology available today with the rediscovery of the traditional art of good farm husbandry”.

As an example, technology to improve animal health will be eligible under the new Farming Investment Fund. Agri-EPI are working with a number of innovators to enable the development of solutions for monitoring the health of calves, adult cows and pigs using motion sensors, 3D imagery, augmented reality and more. Such solutions allow ‘early detection’ of health issues before a farmer could with the naked eye, thereby enabling early intervention leading to improved animal welfare, improved productivity, and efficiency. and cost savings on-farm.

Agri-EPI combines technical expertise, technology, and on-farm ‘test beds’ to provide a unique offering to support tech developers and farmers alike to co-develop solutions to some of farming’s most prominent challenges. The Government have now clearly laid out plans which will underpin our mission, by providing grants to farmers to purchase innovative solutions.

Agri-EPI also provide business support, project management and access to world-class research and innovation facilities and research assets, and builds links between research, agri-tech innovation, industry and the value chain, through its membership of >150 companies across agriculture, technology and the value chain.

The announcement should be welcomed by the farming and agri-tech community alike, with shifting policy clearly focussed on incentivising the use of innovation on-farm.

The industry faces unprecedented challenges, the likes of which some will only experience once in a lifetime. During the coming period of change, Agri-EPI will continue to support innovation in agriculture.

More information

If you want to learn more about how we you can get involved in R&D, learn more about our Satellite Farm network, or simply contact us to find out more about how we can support your own business.

New Agri-Tech Enabler campaign demonstrates innovations

As agriculture faces its greatest ever demands, data-driven technology is crucial to sustainable and profitable food production

The changing global economic environment is going to mean that farmers must change their approach to how they manage their business. By the year 2050, the world population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion, two thirds of the global population will live in urban areas. To meet increasing demand, the annual world agricultural production would need to increase by 60%. Technology has an important, if not vital, role to play in the transformation of the UK’s farming industry.

Together with the UK government and as one of UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation, Agri-EPI Centre works on facilitating the creation of profitable and sustainable agri-tech businesses.

Agri-Tech Enabler

In the next couple of months, as part of the ‘Agri-Tech Enabler’ campaign together with our wide partnership network, Agri-EPI Centre will demonstrate the practical and commercial benefits of farm technology innovation, applied across all major commodities. We invite technology companies to bring forward new ideas that have the potential to directly, or indirectly, impact UK Farming and result in sustainable food production. Be sure to look out for #agritechenabler related news on social media in the weeks to come! For more information about the Agri-Tech Enabler campaign, please visit our campaign website.

As the leading agri-tech enabler, Agri-EPI Centre supports all kinds of businesses to help maximise their innovative ideas. Unlocking the potential of agritech innovation, if you would like to discuss opportunities for your business, big or small, or have something to contribute, please contact team@agri-epicentre.com. We will be delighted to talk to you.

Agri-EPI Centre DairyTech webinars July 2020

DairyTech webinars

One of the sectors currently being challenged, where innovative technologies are key to improve efficiency, sustainability and resilience is dairy farming. We would like to invite you to a series of webinars where we highlight the use of novel technologies and management systems designed to improve dairy herd health, wellbeing and sustainably increase milk yields. Read more about the different webinars held in July and how to register:

The webinars give an insight into a range of projects rolled out on our various UK dairy facilities, which are operated in conjunction with our partners Kingshay, SRUC and Harper Adams University and our Satellite Farm Network.

New film highlights technology for sustainable dairy production

Dairy Production technology

Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre (SWDDC) in Somerset and one of its satellite farm, Parkend Farm in Fife, are featured in a new film highlighting the development of technology in sustainable dairy production.

The video was produced as part of the Horizon 2020 ‘Internet of Food & Farm’ project. It explores the work of the project’s Dairy Trial Team at Strathclyde University, led by Professors Ivan Andonovic and Craig Michie.

The team is looking at sensors and Artificial Intelligence-based solutions for helping farmers increase their herds’ milk yields, based around a new platform called Herdsman+.

Lots of data about a cow’s health, fertility and performance can be collected using tools such as internet-connect collars, leg tags and milking robots. The key to generating the most accurate picture of each cow in the herd is to be able to integrate this data. Herdsman+ does exactly that, analysing the information to allow the farmer to make well-informed management decisions for optimising each animal’s health, welfare and milk yield.

Sustainable dairy

Agri-EPI has supported the Dairy Trial Team by providing data from the SWDDC and Park End dairy farm. The two dairies have also hosted events for farmers to consult them about new and future tools which may support their businesses’ sustainability during these challenging times for the dairy sector.

 


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Science Animated

This video has created by Science Animated is a scientific communication agency who develop engaging and accessible animations based on specific researcher’s work. For more information: https://sciani.com