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 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.
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!
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.