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Agri-TechE Innovation Hub 2023 at the Royal Norfolk Show

Agri-TechE Article

The 9th Innovation Hub at the Royal Norfolk Show saw sun, showers and engaged farmers descend on the Hub to learn more about the latest innovations in agriculture. The Agri-TechE team were on-hand to support members and were delighted to welcome a number of special guests…

The Innovation Hub 2023, curated by Agri-TechE and sponsored by BBRO, showcased technologies to increase resilience in food production. From using resources more efficiently to identifying issues early – innovation was the word of the day!

Farming Minister Mark Spencer MP talks to Movetech / UEA about its tracker for sheep (and birds).

The small device would enable farmers to gain insights into animals behaviour, such as detection of lameness or unusual heart movements. It can also be used for tracking in threat of inclement weather or crime, or in pairing mothers and babies after farmer intervention (a job that otherwise requires hours of binocular-monitoring!).

Tom Bradshaw (NFU Deputy President) and Meurig Raymond (former NFU President) with FOTENIX.

FOTENIX uses a patented spectral camera and light setup to provide early warning of disease in oilseed rape and wheat crops. The monitor can be mounted on a tractor or robot.

President of the Royal Norfolk Show John Cushing talks to TSL
President of the Royal Norfolk Show John Cushing talks to Professor Jonathan Jones of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich.

PiperPlus is a game changing variety of potato; its resistance late blight greatly reduces the need for chemicals. It also has traits that make it easier to store without compromising on quality.

Anna Hill (BBC Farming Today) talks to Gardin.

Gardin’s technology provides an early indication of plant stress by measuring ‘photosynthetic performance’. The system, designed for plants grown in vertical farms or greenhouses, uses a robotic sensor to monitor the crop in real time.

GrowPura® Exhibition Stand.

GrowPura® has developed the world’s first automated conveyor system for vertical farming that operates in a patented ‘Clean Room’ environment. Plants receive the optimum light for growth and 95% of the water used is recycled.

BBRO showcasing its own innovation.

Certain foliar diseases and pests may prove a major headache to the sugar beet industry in one year, and then not to be seen for a number of ensuing years. BBRO are developing new tools to monitor actual in-field environments alongside the early detection of pests and spores to ascertain how the two correlate.

FOTENIX talks to ITV, the company is looking for farmers to trial the system.
CeraPhi Energy specialises in Geothermal heat exchange technology.

Unlike solar or wind power, which is variable, geothermal energy can be used on-farm to provide consistent, 24/7 sustainable energy for heating, cooling and power. CeraPhi argues that it is an energy solution that will enable UK farming to significantly reduce the amount of imported food.

NIAB and Norfolk Broads Authority discuss paludiculture.

Paludiculture is the production of profitable crops on rewetted peat. The team has just won government funding (announced 29 June) for a project to promote the production of fibre products such as reeds for sustainable construction.

Space East uses virtual reality specs to show the applications for satellite enabled technologies.
Kroptek provides bespoke, quality LED grow lights that are fully customisable, tailored to the crop and environment to ensure cost-effective, optimal growing conditions.
Mark Spencer MP with TSL
Mark Spencer MP is shown the latest PiperPlus potato developed by The Sainsbury Laboratory.
LGC Genomics‘ technology enables farmers to determine which of the varieties they are growing are more resilient to local conditions and accelerate breeding programmes for breeders of all sizes.
Liz Truss MP with Belinda
Liz Truss, MP South West Norfolk with Agri-TechE’s Belinda Clarke.
Mark Spencer MP (second right) with Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE (middle) and Mark Stevens, Simon Bowen and Vicky Foster of BBRO in the Innovation Hub at the 2023 Royal Norfolk Show.
Mark Spencer MP (second right) with Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE (middle) and Mark Stevens, Simon Bowen and Vicky Foster of BBRO in the Innovation Hub at the 2023 Royal Norfolk Show.

Food, Farming and Nature Conservation consensus at Groundswell

Agri-TechE Article
Rothamsted Research Rothamsted Research

“Producing for food, nature and climate” was the phrase frequently used by Janet Hughes of Defra as she gave a pragmatic presentation to a packed tent at Groundswell 2023. Once a fringe event, the topics discussed at the regenerative agriculture festival have become increasingly mainstream with a greater consensus growing over key issues.

Flex and adapt approach

Janet was keen to reassure farmers, and others in the Big Top, that a less prescriptive approach will be adopted with the new Environment Land Management schemes (ELMs) – offering greater flexibility to pick and mix and to create a tailored scheme that works for the farm.

In particular, she talked about the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, reiterating that this is to continue since its improvement through farmer input, and is now considered efficient. Defra aims to deliver its outcomes through this scheme.

For the Sustainable Farming Incentive, the learning points from over 4000 farm trials are being incorporated to expand the scope. The standards will not be ‘bundled’ as first devised but instead offered as a portfolio for farmers and their advisers to select from.

Janet Hughes, Defra
Janet Hughes, Defra

She says: “We are testing and learning as we go, balancing the need for ‘certainty’ that farmers require for planning with a ‘flex and adapt’ approach to make the schemes good and fit for purpose.” Her vision is to develop a farming system with feedback loops that deliver productivity and prosperity while delivering on food production and the environment.

She reassured the audience that 530 schemes had been accepted for the higher tier Countryside Stewardship and the standard had been good. There are plans to increase access and also to offer a hybrid approach to allow smaller projects within a wider mid tier scheme to be eligible for support under the higher tier.

She also acknowledged that there was a plethora of grants and schemes and Defra is looking at ways to make it easier to find the relevant support and make an application.

Growing consensus

The next session looked at how there is a growing consensus over the direction of travel for farming.

The Food, Farming and Nature Consensus had evolved from discussions at the Oxford Farming Conference, it aims to bring all stakeholders together to find common ground to tackle systemic issues.

All signatories to the pledge agreed upon three shared principles:

  1. A healthy natural environment underpins food security.
  2. Farming has a vital role in producing food but also in tackling the nature, climate and health crises.
  3. Diversity in all its forms will enable resilience and innovation in the face of growing economic and environmental challenges.

Helen Browning, Katie Lo Luxton, Lord Benyon, Stuart Roberts
Helen Browning, Katie-Jo Luxton, Lord Benyon, Daniel Zeichner, Stuart Roberts

After a scene-setting by Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Director for Global Conservation, three political figures – Rt Hon Lord Benyon (Con), Daniel Zeichner MP (Lab) and Stuart Roberts (Lib Dem) – gave their views of the way forward. Again, there was a consensus, with the panel reassuring those in the room that whatever the outcome in the general election, the road towards Net Zero will accelerate not deviate.

Measure to manage

Daniel discussed the importance of establishing baselines for measuring progress and to ensure that the community is doing the right things in the best way. He stressed the importance of a Land Use Framework that would build consensus on how land use is optimised.

The panel also discussed the need for trade deals that did not allow UK farmers striving for high standards in animal welfare and environmental stewardship to be undercut by overseas competitors operating in a less regulated landscape.

A number of Agri-TechE members were exhibiting at Groundswell, including:

Rothamsted Research encouraged visitors to test the ‘Cow Burpometer’ to understand more about methane emissions.
On the Barenbrug display plots there was an opportunity to see grass, forage and herbal leys.
NIAB’s trial plots demonstrated a range of novel crops that could support diversification.
Hutchinsons soil pit demonstrated clearly how shallow the top soil is on this part of the farm. Soil and cost mapping provides support for decision-making.
Groundswell 2023