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Agri-EPI Centre welcomes Defra Automation in Horticulture review

Agri EPI-Centre has welcomed the publication of Defra’s review into automation in horticulture and supports its recommendation that the UK Government lead and fund a mission-led approach to accelerate development in the sector.

The recommendations of the independent review, co-chaired by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, and Professor Simon Pearson of the University of Lincoln include establishing a consortium to bring together government and industry to drive adoption of proven technologies, adopting a mission-led approach to fast-track new technologies, and the horticulture sector setting up working groups to share novel harvest practices.

Agri-EPI Centre, which pioneers agricultural engineering, precision and innovation for UK farming, is working hard to improve collaboration and facilities in the sector and asks that the government use the evidence in the report to help the industry in these efforts. Agri-EPI Centre’s Farm Tech Circle and farm and membership networks bring farmers together with developers to address the high-level issues facing agri-robotics and other technological solutions; it is also working with multiple partners to develop agri-robotics test facilities, subject to funding.

Duncan Ross, Agri-EPI Centre business development manager crops, said:

“We support the report’s recommendations as collaboration and additional funding in this area are needed. Agri-EPI Centre is creating a collaborative framework around agri-robotics and building development facilities so that people can come and build their systems. The UK is not alone in experiencing worker shortages and any solutions we can create will help domestic and global markets.

“Following the success of the Innovate UK automated lettuce harvester led by Grimme – which was funded through ‘Robotics for a more resilient future’ we are also looking at selective harvesting of broccoli with funding from Defra FIP.

“A common theme across our current robotic projects is monitoring to optimise existing processes such as spraying and harvesting. In orchards and vineyards we are developing more accurate ways of monitoring blossoms, pests and disease and potential yield which can also optimise actions, such as where to send staff to harvest. The next stage will be about in-field logistics.

“Dedicated government funding can de-risk technology development, encourage further private investment and speed up technological solutions around areas of harvesting which are harder to achieve but will have greater impact on labour resource availability.”

Edinburgh based start-up leads the way in grain monitoring

A cutting-edge grain analysis project has won £366,000 in innovation funding under the Defra Farming Innovation Programme from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Crover is an Edinburgh-based company creating robotic grain storage solutions for improved and automated monitoring and management of grains.

Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are exceptionally high, above 20% in the UK and worldwide. Pests are to blame, with grain moisture content and temperature being the most significant factors. Cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers, and breweries, experience these challenges, which have high-cost implications in terms of lost revenue and costs to rectify.

Crover is developing a novel non-contact sensor for non-contact grain analysis able to detect specific molecular compounds within a radius of up to a few tens of centimetres, based on a novel miniaturised sensing technology. Crover aims to integrate this sensor onto their CROVER robot, the world’s first ‘underground drone’, which swims through grain bulks, and which is at the core of the CROVER autonomous Grain Storage Management system.

Lorenzo Conti, Founder and Managing Director of Crover says:

“At the moment the only grain bulk parameters that can be measured directly in-situ via sensors, without requiring a sample to be collected, are temperature, humidity/moisture and CO2 – we go into this project with the big ambition to expand that range significantly and to take measurements that are currently only possible in the lab into the grain bulk, while implementing that into the CROVER robot and system – think superman partners with batman, in a grain monitoring sense.”

Down the line, the result of this project is expected to allow for the expansion of the parameters that Crover will be able to measure, including specific nutrient measurements, insect presence and species identification aligned with different customer requirements. The project is being worked on in partnership with Agri-EPI Centre and Dyson Farming (formerly known as Beeswax).

“Having worked with the Agri-EPI Centre on other projects before, they are by now our go-to place for knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement, events and project management in the UK. The project further strengthens the collaboration between our two entities.”

Duncan Ross, Business Development Manager (Crops) at Agri-EPI Centre explains:

“Working with Crover has shown how Agri-EPI Centre can support with the development of innovative, disruptive technologies. The Crover team has expanded both their ambition and number of employees as they’ve developed their robot, from idea formation to on-farm testing towards the creation of a commercial product that will tackle waste issues in bulk grain storage.

Ed Ford, Technical Agronomist at Dyson Farming says:

“We are excited to working with Crover on this project. The potential for this technology is twofold when it comes to gathering sampling parameters instore. Not only will it allow farmers to understand the quality and conditions of the grains they have but will also help improve health and safety around grain sampling”

The project aims to address the arable sector and wholegrain value chain’s need for novel and alternative crop protection solutions, in support of the current push toward holistic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches.

Agri-EPI Centre and CIEL delighted to host Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI today.

We took the opportunity to provide insight into work of the Agritech Centres in their role of translation of science into best practice and related agri-food sector benefits

Ottoline visited the Agri-EPI Northern Hub and CIEL-supported LARIF building and met Dr Mark Young of CIEL and Dave Ross of Agri-EPI, who provided examples of work the Agritech Centres are doing to benefit sustainability and commercial impact, leveraging our networks including key academic partners.

We are grateful to the University of Edinburgh for the overall co-ordination of the visit. Pictured are (left to right):

Prof. David Argyll, William Dick Chair of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Professor Moira Whyte, Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh
Dave Ross, CEO, Agri-EPI Centre
Prof. Jonathan Seckl, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh
Helen Dundas, Data Driven Innovation Sector Lead in Agritech, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director, The Roslin Institute
Dr. Thomas Farrugia, CEO, Beta Bugs Ltd
Dr. Mark Young, Head of Innovation, CIEL

NEVONEX announced as Agri-EPI conference sponsor

NEVONEX, powered by Bosch, has been announced as the sponsor of Agri-EPI Centre’s annual conference on 28 October.

The conference, titled ‘The Path to Sustainability’, will focus on the role of agri-tech in the journey towards more economically and environmentally sustainable farming.

The free, online event will bring together farmers and the wider agri-food industry, technology developers and start-ups, investors, and researchers in a series of panel discussions about the role of data and technology in improving productivity and profit while protecting and enhancing the environment. Farmers involved in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm Network will join the conversation.

Bosch supports farmers productivity and sustainability through its NEVONEX platform, an open, manufacturer-independent ecosystem providing seamless connectivity and automation of work processes and machines on-farm. You can find out more and register for the event here.

Green Asparagus Harvesting Robot Successfully Demonstrated in the UK by Muddy Machines

Muddy Machines, a UK agri-tech startup and Agri-EPI member announced that they have successfully developed a prototype robotic harvester for green asparagus, which they’ve named “Sprout”. Working closely with major asparagus grower Cobrey Farms in Herefordshire the company has spent the last year developing and testing their machine on-farm.

Farms require a high volume of seasonal workers for a variety of tasks, primarily for weeding and harvesting. Asparagus is one of the most labour intensive crops as harvesting occurs daily throughout the 12 week season. While other companies have largely ignored asparagus, because by itself it is a relatively small volume crop, Muddy Machines believe that starting with the crop most suited to robotic harvesting is best, before iterating to develop harvesters for more challenging crops.

Sprout uses the latest in deep learning technology to detect and delicately pick asparagus spears according to growers’ specifications. The robot is lightweight and fully electric, avoiding damaging soil compaction and enabling a green, sustainable and resilient future for UK horticulture.

Founded by Florian Richter and Christopher Chavasse in June 2021 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent request from growers to find a solution to their labour supply challenges. Muddy Machines is now seeking additional funding to bring an initial batch of robots to market in 2022.

Muddy Machines are an Agri-EPI member and are backed by Britbots, Robotic Ventures, Entrepreneur First, and a number of fantastic business angels having won several Innovate UK grants and accelerator programs.

Listen to our Seedling Sessions podcast with Florian of Muddy Machines here – episode #4.

UK farmers confident about benefits of agri-tech but unsure of its role in net zero, new research suggests

While most UK farmers are using agri-tech, many are doubtful of its ability to help them meet net zero targets, a nationwide survey by Agri-EPI Centre has revealed.

The Agri-EPI research sought to understand how and why farmers are using agri-tech, shed light on barriers to its use and explore the technologies farmers think will be needed in the future.

The research, conducted through interviews with farmers across the UK, found that 78% are using some form of agri-tech, with the highest adoption rates among younger farmers and those with large farms. The biggest reasons for its use are increased productivity and profitability.

Yet, while the same percentage (78%) of farmers believe that it is important to reduce their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions (rising to 94% of those under the age of 45), only just above a third (35%) are confident that technology will help them reach net zero carbon emissions.

One reason for this could be that farmers need greater skills and support to understand the benefits of technology and to adopt it. The research found only half of farmers rate their skills in using agri-tech as ‘good’, with less than half (43%) of all farmers interviewed feeling well supported in introducing or making better use of existing technology.

Agri-EPI centre’s Chief Executive, David Ross, said: “While the majority of UK farmers recognise that agri-tech has an important role in supporting their priorities of productivity and profit, we are struck by the fact that only around a third felt tech has a role to play in environmental sustainability.

“Technology is one of the solutions to helping farmers reduce their emissions –agri-tech that helps farmers be more efficient and productive usually offers a win-win for sustainability.

“The findings of our research provide important insights for Agri-EPI and our fellow Agri-Tech Centres, as well as for those with a role in developing, evaluating and promoting technology, particularly the agri-food sector, policy makers, agri-tech companies and the R&D community. The farmers we spoke to told us they need accessible training, funding, and more evidence and independent advice to help them make the best use of agri-tech. We want to collaborate with partners across all of areas to ensure the benefits of agri-tech is make clear and the avenues to adoption are easily accessible.”

Of the farmers interviewed who are using agri-tech, popular technologies include machine guidance systems (40% reported they are using this), soil mapping (35%), livestock growth monitoring (30%) and variable rate application (28%).

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm.

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm. The findings of the research will be discussed at Agri-EPI’s annual conference, titled The Path to Sustainability, on 28 October.