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Moving on up – Innovation Hub at Royal Norfolk Show 2018


Agricultural shows have a strong track record in showcasing innovative thinking, providing an opportunity not only to see new developments but also to talk to the people behind them. The Innovation Hub buzzed with activity during the Royal Norfolk Show 2018, bringing this tradition up to date. We also had a number of special guests and announcements, and among those who visited the Hub were NFU President Minette Batters, RNAA President Ben Turner, and Chris Starkie, Chief Executive of New Anglia LEP.

Champion sugar beet growers

Salle Farms, winner of BBRO Beet Challenge, with Simon Bowen (right)
Salle Farms, winner of BBRO Beet Challenge, with Simon Bowen (right)

“Salle Farms achieved a yield of 121 t/ha representing over 95% of the crop’s potential yield…..phenomenal!” said Dr Simon Bowen, Knowledge Exchange & Crop Progression Lead at BBRO, announcing the first winner of the Beet Yield Challenge. BBRO were also sponsors of the Innovation Hub.

He put Salle Farms’ success down to good soil health and strong management.

The challenge makes an estimate of yield potential based on the farm’s soil capabilities, rainfall and degree days and then compares that with the actual yield achieved. Farms that share similar postcodes can deliver very different yields.

Simon continues: “Good practice is the element that makes the different. We are not looking for the highest yield, but for those that have closed the yield gap.”

The potential yield was calculated by a model based on extensive data sets from different seasons. Crops were monitored very closely, measuring plant establishment, crop canopy cover, weed, pest and diseases levels. The actual yield was calculated on delivery to one of the four British Sugar factories and assessed not just for yield but also for sugar content.

Simon continues: “Last year was record breaking, but this year will be very interesting. Crops were sown late but if we have repeat of the warm, sunny weather from the past few Autumns the sugar content may be on par. This is the type of information that we are hoping to glean from the challenge and the insights will be fascinating.

Proven disease free in hours

Other announcements included funding by New Anglia Capital for PBD Biotech.

PBD Biotech was part of the REAP start-up showcase in 2016 and has just launched its first product – a rapid, sensitive test for mycobacteria, the pathogen responsible for Bovine TB and Johne’s Disease – and has opened a subsidiary in Canada.

The company has benefited greatly from profile and networks gained through involvement with Agri-Tech East and is gaining international interest in its products.

The funding by New Anglia Capital will help fuel its expansion plans.

Read more here.

System to follow the herd

Livestock has recently been added to Agri-Tech East’s sphere of interest and a tracker developed by MoveTech was being shown by the University of East Anglia. The technology has been used to track birds successfully and was being demonstrated at the show for use with livestock. The tracker was attached to a sheep and it was possible to see which parts of the field had been grazed.

By understanding normal behaviour it would be possible also to see when an animal was showing signs of distress caused by illness or other factors.

A practical demonstration of the Movetech system was provided by Mark Nicholas, Director of the Royal Norfolk Show, who wore one of the trackers at the show – you can see his movements around the showgrounds here!

Rapid cropping

John Innes Centre was showing how it is possible to get six harvests a year from wheat by growing it under special lights – creating opportunities for new types of ‘urban farm’ or to grow this staple food in different geographies.

Additionally, gaining multiple harvests will accelerate research allowing knowledge that would previously have needed years of research to be achieved more quickly.

The lighting is also applicable to other crops.

How do plants feel?

Understanding how a plant is responding to its environment can enable you to control the conditions more precisely. For example, strawberries are sweeter if kept slightly short of water, and peppers lose their value if allowed to burn.

30MHz was showing how low cost, easy to use sensors could provide this intelligence. Monitoring multiple factors make it possible to fine-tune controls, reduce inputs and predict harvesting with greater accuracy.

Building resilience to blight

Blight is a serious problem for potatoes; a spell of warm wet weather can decimate the crop overnight. Protecting a crop requires massive amounts of fungicide at a cost to the industry and the environment. Wild types of the cultivated varieties are naturally resistant to blight.

It has been shown that by introducing genes from these varieties into the main crop potato Maris Piper can provide protection against blight. Other genes can also reduce browning, a condition that reduces the value of the potato for processing. The Sainsbury Laboratory was describing how it can developed the blight- resistant varieties.

Robotics on show

No agri-tech show is complete without a robot and Ben Turner, President of the RNAA, was introduced by Ji Zhou to CropQuant and its ‘seeing eye’, a robotic eye that grows with the crop to provide insights into the growing conditions in the field. Other exhibitors included Hummingbird, who showcased their system of collating and analysing aerial imaging from satellites; Innovation Hub sponsors BBRO, with their ‘Beet Eater’ sensor; and NIAB was demonstrating traditional and novel ways to enhance the insurgence of underground microbes and earthworms.

What is the impact of digestate on soil?

Agri-TechE Article

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is becoming an increasingly attractive technology for farmers, as it adds value to waste material by converting it into biogas. Digestate, the by-product generated through the AD process, is a rich source of nutrients and has emerged as an alternative to chemical fertilisers.
Some of Agri-Tech East’s farmer members have AD plants and regularly apply digestate on their fields. However, nutrient losses, particularly that of Nitrogen, are a common problem and can lead to leaching through the soil or to ammonia gas emissions.

Setting up field labs on a working farm

Having encountered those issues on farm, a group of seven farmers from the East of England, including five Agri-Tech East members, decided to join the Innovative Farmers’ Network to set up a Field Lab and investigate how to maximise the nutrient value of their digestate. From sandy black soil to sandy clay loam, soil types vary greatly from one farm to the next and this is likely to have an impact on the efficiency of the digestate in supplying nutrients.

Anaerobic digester
JF Temple & Son is one of the farms in the project that manages an AD plant as part of his business

Based on their experience of managing an AD plant and utilising its organic output, farmers in the group were keen to focus on nitrogen stability and availability as key areas of investigation in the project. Nitrogen stability is being tested by adding acid to the digester to generate a more alkali digestate. A mix of deep-rooting and mycorrhizal-friendly cover crops (buckwheat, vetch, radish and black oat) and the addition of organic fibre were selected as treatments to increase the nitrogen readily available for crops from the digestate. Overall, these treatments are expected to not only capture more nutrients but also to have a positive impact on soil health, by improving soil structure and living conditions for the proliferation of beneficial micro-organisms.
With support from NIAB and Cranfield University as research partners, farmers opted for a simple split-plot design where a field is ‘split’ into two, with the treatment on one side and the control on the other. This type of design works well with on-farm trials since they can accommodate different soil types and fit around the already busy schedule of a working farm business.
Another area that farmers would like to explore and one that is not often directly considered is the economic impact on each of their farms of applying digestate. Do the costs of production and storage outweigh the agronomic benefits? A cost-benefit ratio analysis will be undertaken to answer this important question.

From challenges to answers

Following digestate application and cover crop drilling in the Autumn of 2017, the first set of results from soil sampling all the different treatments came in earlier this year. Although it is too early to draw any conclusions, differences in nitrogen content was observed amongst farms. The benefits from the digestate and cover crop combination should be observed when harvesting the following cash crops this summer, which will be maize and sugar beet.

NIAB training session at Cereals 2018
The training session on soil measurements attracted a larger crowd than expected

Farmers will be undertaking the next set of measurements, including assessment of soil structure (VESS) and counting worms. To facilitate this, Agri-Tech East organised a training session, delivered by NIAB at Cereals. Although we could not get our spades in the ground, the Soil Pit provided the perfect backdrop for David Clarke and Lydia Smith to explain differences in soil structure under different conditions.
A year into the Field Lab, one of the highlights has been the challenges of undertaking soil research across different farms, with all the environmental variations that this implies. But mostly, it has been fantastic to see farmers engage in all stages of the process, from designing the field trials to accommodate the project around their business, to interpreting and discussing the significance of the results with other farmers and researchers in the group. Now is the time for the next round of soil sampling, if the weather will let us.
If you’d like to learn more about this project, join us in September 2019 for an event covering the outcomes and findings of the project. Find out more about the event.
Agri-Tech East has been coordinating the Innovative Farmers digestate group, in collaboration with the Soil Association and research partners NIAB and Cranfield University. Farms involved in the project are Allpress Farms, Boxford Suffolk Farms, Euston Estate, Holkham Estate, JF Temple & Sons Ltd, JH Walter Energy and Upton Suffolk Farms. To find out more about the Innovative Farmers Network, visit the website.

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit focuses on global consumer


World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit 2018 logo (web)The World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit (WATIS) has again selected Agri-Tech East as a partner for its London event, to be held this year on 16-17th October. Agri-Tech East members benefit from a £300 discount.
Held in both London and San Francisco, the summit is an international networking and deal-making event for global agribusinesses, solution providers, entrepreneurs and investors. The goal of the summit is to accelerate the commercialisation of advanced agricultural technologies by generating global partnerships and collaborations.
An important element of the conference is the acclaimed Pitch Day event and this year Tesco has partnered with WATIS to add its ‘T-Jam’ to the event. Entry submissions will be open from early July and close on 10 August
‘Building Agri-Food Systems Fit for the Global Consumer’ is the key theme for the 2018 agenda with the following session topics below:

  • Smart Farming: Low Cost Outcome-Based Models for Precision Ag – Tackling the Adoption Barrier
  • The Power of the Microbiome in Restoring Soil Health
  • Microbes, New Chemistry & Integrated Platforms: Farming’s New Approaches to Crop Protection
  • How Small Companies are Leading the Revolution in Gene-Editing
  • Putting Robotics and AI to Work in Agriculture
  • Supply Chain Traceability: Tech-Enabled Food Quality from Seed to Table
  • Scaling Agri-Tech in Ukraine, Russia, India and Africa
  • Indoor Farming: Hyper-Efficient Horticultural Production to Nourish the Cities of Tomorrow
  • Investment Opportunities in Animal Health

Click here to see more information