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World Water Day 2023

Happy World Water Day! Water sustainability is a critical factor in agri-tech, as agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of global freshwater use. As the world population grows and the demand for food increases, the pressure on freshwater resources also increases. Agri-tech can play a significant role in promoting water sustainability by adopting innovative technologies that help conserve water, reduce wastage, and improve efficiency. Some of the technologies that can be used in agri-tech for water sustainability include drip irrigation, soil moisture sensors, rainwater harvesting, precision agriculture, and crop rotation and cover cropping.

Many of our Agri-EPI Centre members are adopting these or other innovative solutions to promote water sustainability and ensure that water resources are conserved for future generations. These include the following:

FESTO Festo is a clean automated water engineering company, offering components and system solutions for the pneumatic automation of water treatment systems. Their experience with industrial companies and in the municipal sector shows that concepts for drinking water and wastewater treatment are most effective when they are implemented consistently and in line with requirements.

Salinity Solutions Salinity Solutions has developed a disruptive technology to dramatically reduce the high carbon footprint of water treatment. ​Their industrial water treatment solution uses half the energy of conventional reverse osmosis systems. Their SAM50 system provides a wide range of solutions for environmental clean-up, water recycling, mineral extraction and Ultrapure Water (UPW).​

Aquapulse – Aquapulse water technology enhances the efficacy of water. They have natural, non-chemical, organic solutions for livestock farming, grown produce, fish farming and energy efficiency. Their solutions deliver environmental, sustainability and commercial benefits to water dependent sectors.

ALVÁTECH ALVÁTECH provides revolutionary eco-friendly water technology that enables farmers to grow more, save water, and improve soil health. Their products allows farmers to use water with higher salinity for irrigation and livestock, grow more and faster and avoid environmentally damaging and costly alternatives.

Oxi-TechOxi-Tech’s technology has unique and disruptive applications for water disinfection. Their environmentally responsible disinfection systems address unacceptable problems facing the Food, Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Horticultural sectors, including health and animal hygiene. Their clean technology is an environmentally responsible solution for the management of clean water within important production processes.

SEM World – SEM is working towards the evolution of a sustainable, waste-free, and circular economy, utilising waste and water treatment solutions. From meter installations to rust removal, SEM’s solutions use the latest technology for outstanding results.

Together we can support a wide range of industries in the effort to solve the emerging global water crisis.

Young company making an asset from farm waste

A young company is working on a new way for farmers to make money from farm waste.Somerset-based BioFactory are developing a modular anaerobic digester which can be scaled to any size of dairy farm. The company has been working with precision engineering and innovation experts Agri-EPI Centre, to develop and refine their system with a view to bringing it to the market.Whereas anaerobic digesters – which ferment organic matter to produce biogas for heat and power generation – are well established in the industry, systems are often too costly and high-maintenance for most family farms.Agri-EPI Centre have helped BioFactory access funding, provided technical assistance, and introduced them to potential funders and advice to help them scale their product and sell it to dairy producers.Having won funding from Innovate UK and Defra for a 12-month feasibility study via the Farming Innovation Programme, BioFactory are now raising working capital to commercialise the company fully, while Agri-EPI Centre continue to provide analysis and consultancy.Charlie Bowyer, business development manager for livestock and aquaculture at Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Slurry is nutrient-rich, and returning it to the soil is a vital part of circular agriculture. Anaerobic digestion is a great way to add value to it whilst retaining nutrients, reducing GHG emissions and becoming more energy-independent.

“Digestate has long been recognised as a high-quality fertiliser, and the heat and power created from biogas can create a meaningful income for farmers or reduce their energy bills. Commercial AD systems are simply out of reach for most dairy farms due to capital and operational costs, as well as barriers such as planning permission and a changed subsidy landscape since the “AD-boom” of the early 2010s.“Working with young companies like BioFactory is Agri-EPI Centre’s bread and butter; helping them develop a good idea into a successful business and providing solutions to farmers at the same time.”

Jon Blake, chief commercial officer at BioFactory, said:

“If you’re a dairy farmer, you will always have slurry, but we can help turn it into an asset rather than a by-product. There is nothing to say that we can’t resolve farming’s impact on the environment as well. Our ethos is to build something simple and reliable for the dairy farmer. Our units are 40’-long shipping containers and easily scaled; if you want to increase your herd, you can simply add another reactor.

“We were so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our young company had been waylaid by Covid-19 when we came across a pot of funding for developing technology to help with net zero targets. Agri EPI-Centre helped us get hold of our grant and develop our product in real-life farming conditions.

“Even though the initial 12-month project has concluded, we are so pleased to continue our relationship with Charlie and his colleagues on laboratory analysis of the biodigestate, and with others at Agri-EPI Centre who are helping us with leveraging further funding and sales contracts.”

Agri-EPI’s Farm Tech Circle

Last summer Agri-EPI Centre launched the Farm Tech Circle, a new platform for farmers, growers and producers to discover and connect on topics that focus on enhancing the profitability and sustainability of agriculture.​ 
To learn more and to share this new network with members of the farming community who you think would like to be kept up to date with the latest news in agri-tech, please see below:

Farm Tech Circle


FTC Newsletter 1

FTC Newsletter 2

FTC Newsletter 3

Member case study: Earth Rover delivers sustainable weeding technology 

With increasing types of chemical-resistant weeds, a significant downturn in availability of hand labour plus a shift in society towards more organic options, now more than ever there is a need to change the way we farm. A recent report by Rothamsted Research shows weeds “pose an unprecedented threat to our food security” and highlights the need to diversify weed control as an urgent priority.

Earth Rover has developed the CLAWS rover (an acronym for Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding and Scouting), with funding from Innovate UK as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways industrial research, and in collaboration with project partners Pollybell Farms and Agri-EPI Centre. The rover uses AI and robotics to accelerate crop growth by removing weeds, including herbicide-resistant weeds, without disrupting the soil, generating a more sustainable and effective alternative to other weeding techniques in the agriculture industry.

Read the full case study here


Watch CLAWS video



Presenting your agri-tech product

By: Amber Barton, Market Insight & Proposals Lead

Agri-EPI Centre helps develop precision tech solutions to empower more sustainable farms. But once the solution has been trialled and tested, how do we communicate the benefits and enable uptake of the tech? Amber Barton provides tips on what’s important when presenting about your agri-tech product.

Tip number 1. Too much background, waffle, and unnecessary information is not required, nor desired. Focus on you and your product

Keep your presentation direct and to the point.

Use real life examples from trialling your tech on-farm – admit what worked well and what didn’t and how this has been addressed.

Provide video footage to demonstrate your technology in action. Video phone footage would be fine.

Use photos and importantly, remember to introduce yourself, your team, and your backgrounds.

Tip 2: Presentation structure should centre around the product, cost, and application

What is your product/ service?

This should be one slide. It should be direct and easy to understand for someone unfamiliar with the subject matter.

What does your product/ service do?

This is your use case and should be a call to action. It should still be explained simply and directly but it’s your chance to appeal to them in a more emotive way. Use facts and figures, but only if they are strong enough to make someone think “WOW”.  Do you know your facts and figures if questioned?

How much does it cost?

You have told the farmers what your product/ service is and now they want to know if it is worth investing any more time listening to you. They will do this by assessing what the cost is to them. You could present something to them that is pure magic, but if it’s not financially viable then you are wasting their time (something they do not have a lot of). Make use of this valuable opportunity. If you are at this stage, then you should already be confident that your product is being produced at a cost that is agreeable to them so it shouldn’t need to be hidden. More on presenting costs can be found further down the page.

How is it practically applied?

You have told them you have something that will make their life easier/ save them money etc. Now decision makers  need to know how this will practically fit into their system. You may not know what kit they use or how they farm, but they do, and if they want to use what you’re selling then they will be open to making it fit or speaking about the possibilities. You just need to tell them the requirements. Is it sprayed? If so, how? Is it pulled behind something? If so, what are its power requirements? Is it robotic? What are the power/ connectivity requirements? Does it require mapping in advance? What is the timeframe needed for this to take place? Give them the facts and figures to help them see how this could fit into their own set up.

Is there training need?

Who is going to be using this? Is it them? Their agronomist? Is it simple enough for anyone on the farm to operate? Have these details to hand and any cost associated with them, including training time. Is it a 1-hour module or a two-day course with top up sessions etc.

How will your solution benefit them?

Round things off by highlighting any direct or indirect benefits your product will have. Think outside the box. Benefits to the bottom line are often at the top of this list but is there anything else that might not be so obvious?  Environmental benefits? Farmers are stewards of the land after all. Work life balance benefits? Will time saving help them get home to their families any quicker? Really put yourself into their shoes and consider the wider picture.

Value of your product

If you can show them this, in real terms, then they are far more likely to get on board and work positively with you.

So how can you help to “Onboard” farmers through considered costings?

First you need to understand their operating environment and their cost of production (COP). Most farm enterprises don’t have huge profit margins. As such, your product needs to either save them money in an existing area (e.g., labour saving) or enable them to increase the value of their product in a significant way. That is tricky in most farming sectors.

If you have a product that saves labour, then you need to know what the labour cost element of the total COP is and ideally you need to show that your product fits within that, or even reduces it. I will use labour costs in tabletop strawberry growing as an example:

Redman, G., 2022. The John Nix Pocketbook for Farm Management 2023. 53rd ed. Published: Melton Mowbray: Agro Business Consultants

Using this example from John Nix we can see that the costs for labour are mostly in the fieldwork, harvesting and grading/ packing areas which comes to between £31,676/ ha for low output and £54,129/ ha for high output production.

If you can show how your product offsets cost in actual figures, then there is a tangible benefit.

If your product costs £50,000 but provides a labour saving of 25%/ ha then you can show the benefit to the bottom line, the payback period etc. In this example a high performing farm would see the payback within one year across less than 4 hectares. You can then discuss the other benefits, such as not having to manage as many people (something that often causes the farm manager the most headaches) or helping to overcome the struggle to secure the labour in the first place.

There are a few places to find COP information – John Nix Pocketbook and ABC’s “The agricultural Budgeting and costing book” are a good place to start for a comprehensive guide. The AHDB also does a lot or work on farm economics and their Farmbench programme has a lot of good data.

Showing farmers you have a good understanding of what you are trying to help them achieve will go a long way to helping you achieve success in this sector.

Collaboration essential for successful agri-robotics

By: Eliot Dixon, Head of Engineering at Agri-EPI Centre

Robotics has several strong applications in agriculture, especially in scenarios where systems can enhance the productivity of a shrinking workforce or can offer production efficiencies to the farm. However, to be successful in these applications the systems created need be reliable, in terms of long-term physical robustness but also in the ability of their control software to handle the very wide variety of scenarios they will encounter in a farming environment. This means the robots must be both well designed and well tested to meet the needs of farmers. This includes a design which emphasises safety and reliability.

“Understanding user requirements and testing in-field is key”

Good design requires a deep understanding of the needs and requirements of farmers and their farming systems. This extends from the core values held by a farmer, such as safety, which dictate their decisions; through to very specific requirements created by the unique combination of their way of working and the land they work. If this understanding is not achieved for a farming system, then there is a very high chance that the eventual product will be unsuitable, either creating a failed product or a long development timeline to solve the deficiencies. Gaining this understanding should come through working with a wide variety of farms within the target market for the technology, not just a small handful. In many agricultural sectors this design stage is especially important due to the limited testing season and ability to iterate on the design.

Testing is also well understood to be important to creating a reliable product, and in agriculture this does require a close collaboration with farmers to ensure that the robot meets their needs. As these are complex machines, which are also often dangerous if not created with a strong safety process, the testing regime should also be rigorous enough to ensure that the system will function to the desired reliability for all the design requirements. A rigorous testing regime would usually require multiple tests for each requirement across multiple operational scenarios such as different weather conditions, soil types, dangers, failure modes, crops etc. Failure to complete this testing will certainly result in the robotic system encountering situations which it is unable to function within, which may create unfortunate repercussions for the user or manufacturer. Unfortunately, completing this massive number of tests requires a range of test facilities, some of which might be beyond the capability of a company focussing on a small range of agricultural applications.

In our 2021 hackathon we explore safety and security. Outcomes are discussed in our white paper here:

Hackathon white paper

As mentioned, good design and testing is essential to creating successful products, but this unfortunately comes with a high cost. Doing this for the wide range of complex operating scenarios in UK agriculture, as well as the short testing cycles, is driving up the cost of developing agricultural robots. There are a multitude of Agri-robotics companies in the UK creating their systems from almost the ground up, each of which are individually bearing the cost in time and money of this development. This creates barriers to adoption in terms of high costs, a limited set of operations which can be conducted by robots, or low reliability due to poor engineering, and is increasing the amount of time it takes for products to get to market. As in all development the saying “Good, Cheap, Fast. Pick two”, is very much in action here but some very pressing needs mean we must find ways to break that deadlock.

Collaboration enables future opportunities for robotic systems

The obvious solution for this deadlock is to massively increase collaboration between ag-robotics developers. This has been proposed for many years, but we are yet to see a viable solution to this. Direct collaboration is currently difficult for commercial reasons with developers competing for the same money, but also for technical reasons where it is challenging to share components between robots. Perhaps a solution for this is to build an ecosystem of adaptable, compatible, components and platforms which can be used to create a multitude of agricultural robotic systems. This ecosystem of components would also be able to be robustly tested to ensure reliability when integrated as part of a larger system. Thus, the costs of development would be increasingly shared, without any single robotics manufacturer losing income as they are all developing for specific agricultural niches. Using a set of well proven components would allow developers to focus on ensuring good understanding and design for specific problems in agriculture, while also allowing for easier integration and testing of the robots.

Robotics in agriculture is a promising field, and with the right design and testing, as well as collaboration between developers, it could be a great success. By understanding the needs and requirements of farmers and using that to create an ecosystem of components and platforms, robots can be developed which are high value, robust, reliable and safe. With the right approach, agricultural robotics could benefit farmers across the UK and worldwide. Read our robotics and automation article to understand more about how we can support you to develop a robust well tested solution through collaborative R&D today.

Tag Archive for: technology

Midlands Agri-Tech Coffee Hour (MATCH)

Agri-EPI invites you to attend our networking coffee hour including breakfast at the Midlands Agri-Tech Hub on the 7th of June.

Use this opportunity to chat and get to know each other, fostering new connections and opportunities for collaboration within Agri-Tech.

Joining us will be Industrial camera manufacturer IDS Imaging Development Systems- They are offering the chance to see their latest technology and products as well as future developments that could be used in your application.

They will be showing their latest AI image processing platform NXT ocean, the Ensenso 3D cameras and a broad range of industrial OEM cameras and accessories. They are really looking forward to meeting you there and discussing your applications to see how they can help.

This event is open to member and non-members and includes a breakfast roll!

Members free of charge.

Non-members first attendance free, there after £12 per person.