Agri-TechE is bringing together some of the country’s leading innovators in agriculture, technology and engineering. These reports provide a digest of some of the key points that have emerged from these discussions and cover a range of topical issues.
The REAP reports and ‘From Grass Roots to Blue Skies’ are available for everyone to view – click below to open them.
The event reports are available to all members for free, and non-members can purchase a report for £20+VAT; to request or purchase a report please use this form. We will send the requested reports to you within two working days.
A new era of decision support tools is making it possible to understand the complexity of food production for the first time and to begin to see how the system can be improved at every level to provide both incremental improvements and disruptive change. Speakers at REAP discussed the developments in tech and on-farm that are moving us closer towards a future that is productive, profitable and sustainable.
The REAP report aims to provide a flavour of the discussions and to capture some of the excitement of the Agri-TechE innovation ecosystem. To capture the virtual nature of REAP 2020 we have produced an interactive report including video excerpts (in the form of a Powerpoint Show), as well as a traditional pdf document.
Human health, animal health, ecosystems and food production are inextricably linked by best practice in farming.
Healthy soils can help mitigate or acerbate the impacts of climate change. The choice of crop and its cultivation can determine if food production becomes vulnerable or resilient to disease risk and extreme weather events.
With demands on agriculture increasing REAP 2019 explored how the concept of ‘One Agriculture’ – an integrated approach to harnessing innovations – could help farmers and growers fulfil these roles and also create profitable, productive and sustainable businesses.
With experts from different spheres, leading research, cutting edge technology, and the next generation of industry leaders, REAP 2019 showcased how agri-tech will enable farming to be part of the solution to grand challenges.
The presentations, demonstrations and outcomes – including thoughts on how and where to go from here – together with the exciting developments on display in the technology exhibition, have been captured in this report.
What is the future we want for agriculture and how can innovation help deliver it? Is competitive, sustainable food production where agri-tech can make the most impact? Or should we concentrate our resources on land use for something we can’t buy cheaper elsewhere? High value crops to support a bio-economy? Novel forms of food production? Enhanced ecosystem services?
Agri-Tech East’s fifth REAP conference came at a time of unprecedented change, uncertainty and challenge for the industry.
This report includes comments and presentations from a number of technical experts with different perspectives on what they think the future agri-food industry could look like, and explores the exciting ideas and innovations that will take us there.
This report outlines how agri-tech offers the potential to produce more food and fuel a bioeconomy that is both profitable and sustainable.
It reviews the problems with the existing model of agriculture and identifies a number of levers where productivity, profitability and sustainability can be increased.
A number of successful initiatives, stimulated by the agri-tech cluster, are discussed and a new method proposed for validating the productivity benefits of technology.
The process of food production needs to generate profit at each stage of the value-chain and still result in nutritious and affordable food for the end consumer.
REAP 2017 approached these issues from a number of perspectives. Some of the new thinking discussed at the conference involved going back to the wisdom of pre-Green Revolution farmers and reinvigorating their approach to land management with the benefit of science and technology.
We have attempted to capture this energy and enthusiasm in the REAP report.
The challenges we face in delivering food of sufficient value and quantity for the rapidly growing population are too great to rely solely on the incremental change that has underpinned growth over the last forty years.
To achieve profitable farming and healthier food we need to make a big change, however it is difficult to imagine how to do things differently.
The idea behind REAP 2016 was to bring together experts from other industries and other geographies to challenge us with new perspectives. This report aims to capture some of the ideas and discussions that came out of REAP.
What does resilience mean to you?
It stimulated many inspiring discussions at the 2015 REAP conference and our hope is that this will translate into new collaborations and innovation. To get a flavour of the event we have produced this report to capture the key themes, discussion points and outcomes.
We now have a perfect storm where there is a clearly articulated market need for innovation within the agri- food industry and an appetite for change. This report looks at the requirements for new technology by all stages of the value chain and identifies different models for supporting innovation in the industry. It provides an evaluation of the current situation and proposes ways forward.
Agri-Tech East is already making a significant impact on the agri-food industry through its pragmatic approach and this report aims to support the next phase – fast-tracking innovation from lab to field.
From Farmer to Pharma – and Beyond – with Medicinal Cannabis and Industrial Hemp
Every part Cannabis sativa – stalks, seeds, flowers and leaves – can be harvested and processed, making hemp a versatile plant with multiple uses. This means that a single crop has the potential to produce a wide range of products, including biomaterials, cosmetics, feed, food and supplements.
In addition the use of plant extracts, such as CBD, is growing worldwide and represents a major opportunity for growers to produce higher value crops.
This report summarises the latest state of play of hemp and cannabis production, processing and routes to market in the UK and Europe:
- From seed to field – the agronomy and environmental case for hemp
- Business models such as vertical integration for commercial success
- Licenses models for cultivation and the UK regulatory landscape
- Current and future market trends and consumer insight
Data Management – More than a Numbers Game
The role and impact of data on the way we produce food and manage the environment is gaining faster traction among farmers, land managers and the wider supply chain. As data-enabled agriculture is accelerating in adoption and impact, enabling rapid, simple interrogation of the data and rapid actionable insights has never been more important.
In this report we explore different case studies where data management is making a positive difference:
- Harnessing the power of data experts in-house for improved fruit production
- Managing sustainability metrics with remote sensing
- Linking the potato supply chain for live monitoring and reporting
- Packhouse data management with AI
- Principles of FAIR data in agricultural research
Putting the N in FarmiNg – SolutioNs for On-Farm NitrogeN Production
Pressure is growing to find new ways of producing nitrogen and reducing dependency on chemical synthesis of this important nutrient via the Haber process.
Harnessing biological and physico-chemical approaches to the problem is yielding some exciting opportunities for production of alternatives to synthetic fertilisers.
This report outlines:
- The importance of the soil porous network for increased nitrogen absorption
- How to make fertiliser form air and water
- How to fix nitrogen from the air for enriching digestate or slurry
- How to provide a nitrogen turbo-charge for fields
Controlled Environment Agriculture: The Industry is Growing Up
Significant investment in vertical farming and controlled environment operations has seen the industry develop commercial-scale operations. The challenge now is around developing the business models for deployment and investment.
The social and economic disruptions of Covid-19 and growing recognition of the benefits of transparent and responsive supply chains is also creating a new dynamic.
This report brings together the perspectives across the sector shared at the event:
- How feasible is vertical farming for feeding the cities of the future, and how can knowledge of CEA become integrated into urban design?
- Is it too late to start-up and scale up?
- Connecting with citizens: vertical farming and social innovation
Life in 2040 – Designing a Sustainable Future
If anything, this year has taught us that the future is unpredictable. And that makes planning problematic – how can you account for the impact of disruption, whether that is from a world event, extreme weather or technological breakthrough?
One approach to future-scoping is to play. To step away from the issues of today and think laterally, to imagine different scenarios, different lives and consider what would be involved to achieve them.
This was the challenge presented to Agri-TechE members in a creativity workshop facilitated by Method.
The intention was to stimulate a different approach to problem solving, to provide visions of future scenarios and then work back – what change is needed now to achieve a positive outcome in the future?
Keeping it Clean with Agri-Tech Innovations
Preventing and removing sources of infection and contamination is an integral part of the agri-food supply chain at every stage, from sterilising seed to decontaminating fresh food. New technologies harnessing the power of everyday molecules are emerging, and are helping to eradicate pathogens, prolong shelf life and improve quality of produce, from seed to sandwich.
- Activated air seed treatments
- Use of ozone in storage and safety of fresh produce
- Electrolysed Water
Seeing the Wood from the Trees – Innovation for Agroforestry and Soil Carbon Capture
Integrating trees in the farming landscape is nothing new. However, the practice of agroforestry is re-emerging and fast becoming an essential part of the solution when it comes to capturing more carbon and improving the management of resources on farm.
This report brings together the perspectives of a farmer, a forester, a breeder and a natural capital expert and explores the following topics in more depth:
- Environmental benefits of agroforestry in silvopasture and silvoarable settings
- Policy changes driving the adoption of agroforestry
- Carbon monetisation as a revenue stream from fast-growing tree species
- The importance of high quality tree seeds in the forestry market
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is a booming sector providing opportunities to supply consumers with fresh produce grown using innovative infrastructure.
Through the lens of entrepreneurs and investors from the sector, this report provides an executive summary of the latest developments and challenges in vertical farming and CEA including:
- The impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on the market
- What investors take into consideration when funding projects
- Insights into the diverse skillset needed to succeed in the industry
Novel and Alternative Crops – Improving the rotation AND the bottom line?
Alternative proteins and demand for plant-based drinks and other veg-based products is creating new market opportunities for UK farmers. This report provides insights from growers on their experiences with alternative crops; the pitfalls, the solutions, and how to maximise profit at all points.
The report contains abridged notes from key speakers at the event, covering:
- Hard lessons learnt from experiments in novel crops, such as sweet potato
- The importance of processing, be that in mustard, mint or peeled onions
- The new markets for oats and the search for better varieties
- The demand for alternative proteins, and the remarkable rise of soya in the UK, the crop that has expanded over 200-fold in just six years
From Farmer to Pharma: A teaser of things to come
Cannabis and hemp are two products of a wonder-crop, Cannabis sativa, now grown commercially across nearly 50 thousand hectares in the EU. The crop grows very well in the UK but farmers here are struggling to break into the market, for legislative reasons amongst others.
This report is an executive summary of a seminar by Hanway Associates seminar, demonstrating the variety of products offered by the C. sativa plant, with one product, CBD, achieving UK sales upwards of £150 million in the first half of 2020. The report also covers the inherent challenges as the industry works to overcome legislative and technological barriers.
Keeping a Sunny Outlook – De-risking agriculture through weather-tech
With 75% of business leaders worried about the financial risks of climate change, this report discusses the state-of-the-art solutions that can help farmers and others stay one step ahead of the weather.
Covered in this report :
- How predicting next year’s weather can help farmers adapt today
- How insurers are helping protect growers against instability
- Farmer tips on the available tech, and how to mitigate weather damage
Nothing to w(h)ine about – Uncorking the opportunities for innovation in viticulture
With almost 6million bottles produced each year in the UK, there is a huge potential for wine-making in the UK, and this potential is improving year on year. The opportunities and entry points for new players into the growing viticulture industry are the focus of this report, be that through producing, breeding, disease management, or supplying novel tech to support continued expansion in the UK.
This report contains abridged notes from key speakers on the UK wine industry, including the following:
- Land-suitability analysis shows plenty of high-quality grape-growing soil is currently going unused both in the South-East and further North.
- Genetic research is boosting UK nematode management and opening up potential for red wine production
- How remote drones, soft-robotics and machine intelligence will combine in coming years to drive up grower profits
Re-Visiting the Vision of the Connected Farm
Machine-to-machine communication and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) are predicted to transform farming. But seamless cross-talk and integration between devices, machinery and systems is still on the wish-list of most farmers. At this event we heard updates on new technologies, how close the industry is to overcoming the challenges of inter-operability, and explored how to overcome the obstacles to enable remote management of crops, livestock – and the entire connected farm.
This report contains the speakers’ views and opinions from across the agricultural and tech industries, as well as captures the main points, questions, concerns and possible answers from the discussions at the event.
Ruminating on the Role of Digestate in Managing Healthy Soils
Investment in digestors across the UK has brought benefits of managing waste, generating energy on-farm, and generating a home-grown fertiliser and soil conditioner. Yet rigorous, quantitative analysis of the benefits to soils from digestate application are lacking. At this event we discussed the outputs of a two-year Innovative Farmers project designed to investigate the impact of digestate application to soils, and the role of cover crops in improving efficacy of digestate by helping retain nutrients, maintain soil organic matter and help maximise effective nutrient application within NVZ rules.
This report covers the results of the “Field Lab” project funded through the Innovative Farmers programme (supported via the Soil Association), with feedback from participating farmers as well as some of the research findings resulting from the project.
Closing the Loop on the Circular Economy
The so-called “circular economy” aims to reduce waste, extract maximum value from natural resources and extend the potential use of by-products. Given the energy requirement and impact associated with production of food, feed and other inputs, there is increasing pressure for this approach to become mainstream.
Some European countries are more advanced in their thinking around the circular economy, but the technologies and innovations associated with its implementation in the UK have been slower in development and adoption.
This Pollinator explored potential uses and added value of “waste” in the agri-food system; our report provides an overview of the main points and conclusions.
We’ve Got the Power; On-Farm Solutions to Energy Demands
From horses to diesel, wind, solar and anaerobic digesters, innovations in energy management and storage on farms have been relatively low-tech and slow to develop. However future energy needs provide a major opportunity for farms to be generators and repositories of power, as well as more efficient users of energy. At this event we discussed how innovations in energy generation, capture, storage and use are poised to transform the way farms use and generate power.
With energy inputs one of the highest costs for the agriculture and horticulture industry, and increasing pressures on non-fossil fuels, lots of solutions are in development to solve the energy equation for agriculture and horticulture business, especially with the increase in sensors and other remote devices that will need to be powered in the field.
From solar to biogas, vibration technology and glasshouse solutions, this report includes the key technologies and issues – including how to make the maths stack up – discussed at the event. we’ll be looking at how to make the maths stack up and the technology work for farmers.
Swarm Robotics – The agri-workforce of the future?
Robots on farms are ideally suited to do the jobs that are dirty, dangerous, difficult or dull. Much of the innovation to date has focused on developing high-spec individual machines, but the agricultural labour force of the future is likely to be boosted by teams of small robots working together – with their individual contributions combining to make a cheaper, more effective or more intelligent system.
In this Pollinator we explored the prospect of swarm robotics and the potential for its impact on-farm, as well as some of the technical challenges around sensor and data fusion, combining algorithms from multiple machines into a single decision-making system.
This report includes the main discussion points from the event.
Bringing The Outside In – Innovating for Controlled Environment Agriculture
Vertical, indoor or urban – the technologies are developing rapidly to create optimum growing conditions for year-round cropping of a wide range of high value, fresh produce closer to the point of consumption, making indoor commercial production at scale a viable proposition.
At this one-day conference we heard about new growing systems, the challenges, the business case and the experiences of early adopters, and explored the new technologies, the business models and the potential for scaling, as well as considered the viability of “out of the box” modular solutions for commercial applications and farm diversification opportunities.
This report captures the key discussion points and conclusions.
Mimic, Harness or Borrow; Applying Nature’s Solutions to Agriculture
Naturally occurring products and processes have been the inspiration for a wealth of tools to manage human health. With increasing regulatory pressure on a number of small molecule agri-chemicals, attention is turning to the relatively untapped potential of naturally-occurring chemistry and biologicals that can be used to help manage soil, plant and animal health.
At this event we explored the new and existing biological agents and natural product chemistry tools that are either being used directly or providing the basis for new products for commercial animal, plant and soil management.
Speakers from several companies and research organisations discussed the latest thinking in bio-inspired solutions which are the basis for new products or being applied directly to the field.
Their key points are included in this report.
The Three Rs of Plant and Animal Diagnostics; Rapid, Reliable and Robust (Enough)
Advances in diagnostics for crops and livestock can enable early rapid interventions. But tests need to be simple, cheap and reliable – false positives or the wrong sensitivity can lead to devastating and costly consequences. New diagnostic technologies are building on innovations in areas such as gene sequencing and biochemistry, and leading to more accurate, rapid identification without the need to visit the lab.
This event explored the new innovations in animal and crop diagnostics to help inform early actions through rapid, accurate information, and this report contains the discussions from each of the speakers.
The Ag-Chem Pipeline: New Chemistries for Improved Crop Management
The challenge around finding novel chemistries as well as the pressure on existing products mean the need for new solutions continues. The importance of ag-chem to support productive agriculture shouldn’t be under-estimated, and exciting advances are being made in the developments of novel solutions for crop protection, soil enhancement and plant stimulants.
At this Pollinator we learnt about the pipeline of innovative new chemistries being made available to growers, and heard about the process of researching and developing new solutions.
This event gave a glimpse of some of the ideas being developed or recently launched to help in the battle to protect crops against biotic stresses. This included Arlabion’s development of Trivazen, a versatile triple-action product with a promising future as a growth enhancer, fungal inhibitor and disinfectant. It has low toxicity and is effective at very low concentrations, and dosage can be fine-tuned to either activate plant growth or inhibit fungal growth. Experiments have shown that Trivazen treatment can reduce 70% of disease (fungal inhibitor), increase yields by 20% (plant activator) and inactivate 100% of micro-organisms (biocide)
This report captures the discussions and presentations of the event.
Innovation to Improve Water Management
Managing water continues to be a major challenge, ensuring the right amount in the right place at the right time. Access to water can dictate farming regimes and influence crop performance, and regulation around water management are driving investment in new solutions, both on and off-farm.
This event featured discussions of innovative products, services and practices to help re-use, recycle and retain water in the farming ecosystem. With an emphasis on the practical aspects of water management, we looked at topics such as smart irrigation, monitoring of leaks, soil moisture retention and water storage options.
This report includes the key points and presentations of the event.
Post-Harvest Technologies: Innovations for Keeping Crops Clean, Cool and (High) Quality
From rapid refrigeration to seed cleaning, and from electronic noses to automated environmental control systems, good post-harvest management systems are vital to prevent deterioration and retain the value of the harvested crop. This event explored new innovations being used to help maintain the quality and integrity of the crop post-harvest, for short and long-term storage.
This included advice on how to reduce storage losses from Kees Wijngaarden of Tolsma Storage, by combining energy-efficient equipment with a robust monitoring system, and with potential from future advances such as fine-tuning storage monitoring using real-time data, establishment of advanced cooling systems and better storable potato varieties.
This report includes full details from all the speakers at the event.
Healthy Soils: Waiting for the Worms
It is well established that earthworms are a good indicator of “soil health” but what can farmers do to encourage more earthworm activity in soils? How can worm numbers be increased and measured – and what types of soils attract which types of worms? And how is the world of worms affected by different cropping and management regimes?
This report captures the presentations and discussions of the event, including results of an investigation showing how adding organic matter to soil produces a yield benefit – but that it is the organisms present in the soil that make the real difference.
Trust, Provenance and Blockchain: Impacts and Opportunities for Agriculture
The internet revolutionised our society by enabling information exchange between individuals across the globe; blockchain technology will have the same global impact, but this time by enabling the exchange of value rather than information between individuals, says PwC’s Patrick Spens, one of the speakers at this event.
Among the benefits of blockchain discussed at this event was how it can offer huge savings to the agifood industry, through reduced back office systems, intermediaries and invoice waiting periods.
These and other outcomes and discussions have been captured in this report.
Finding the Funding – The Research and Business Guide to Smart Agri-Tech
Is it a golden time for funding? This was one of the questions asked at the third and final workshop organized by Agri-Tech East in partnership with Smart-AKIS.
And, judging by the wide range of funding opportunities showcased at the workshop, it would appear to be so.
This report includes some of the outcomes of the event.
Smart Farming: The ‘AI’m of Machine Learning in Agriculture
Can machines be taught to spot diseased crops and weeds and take action to solve the problem? So-called machine learning is already being used to spot patterns and make decisions – in fraud detection, advertising and self-driving vehicles, and it is poised to be the next new decision support tool for agriculture.
This report captures the discussions and insights about the future of the ‘connected farm’ via the Internet of Things – including research looking at how wearable tech is helping to train people to train robots to work more effectively in areas specific to agriculture.
Counting the Cost, Value and Benefits of Natural Capital in Agriculture
“Natural capital” is an attempt to value in economic terms natural resources such as soils, air, waterways and the flora and fauna that live in them. For farmers, the so-called “ecosystem services” that are delivered by these natural resources are a huge part of the living landscape and indeed all farm businesses, but it can be difficult to justify investing in natural capital assets without being able to value them properly and calculate return on investment.
This report captures comments from a spectrum of interested viewpoints, including how working with UEA researchers has meant Salle Farms’ Poul Hovesen has increased peak yields on the estate.
Smarter Farming for Soils Health and Water Management
How can “smart agriculture” help farmers improve the health of their soils and optimise water use efficiency?
This report outlines the discussions and themes that emerged from the event, covering the key challenges, possible solutions and ideal next steps – including how best to engage farmers with new research and technology.
Water for Agriculture: Site Visit to Produce World Reed Beds
Sustainability. It’s a word often used, and an ideal we’re told we should all be striving for, but how feasible is it to practise sustainable farming?
Produce World in Yaxley kindly hosted an event to take a look at the reed beds they’ve been using to clean their water after washing carrots. This report summarises the benefits and impact of the process, including environmental, financial and water quality.
Smarter, Not Harder: Open Innovation For Smart Farming
At this meeting, held in partnership with Smart-AKIS, we enjoyed an overview of the current status of remote monitoring, sensing and precision farming, with quick fire presentations from ‘old hands’ such as RTK, who have seen rapid adoption of their technology which increases the precision of controlled traffic farming, through to newcomers such as Outfield.
The points in this report are developed from the notes taken at the three breakout groups, with input from the speakers and attendees to develop them into key questions and findings.
This includes the needs for adoption of Smart Farming Technologies – such as technological, training, improved advisory, and working demonstrations – and how they could be addressed through collaborations, or at the political level; the potential barriers to adopting certain SFT and likely incentives; and whether there are specific needs that can be addressed through research.
Delicious and Nutritious: Innovations for High Value Crops
Years of breeding have been directed at improving appearance and yield – taste hasn’t been a criteria. This is partially because it is subjective and also because it is hard to measure. Scientists and breeders discussed how this could be addressed, together with how breeding can increase the nutritional value of food, helping to address the ‘big challenges’ of malnutrition and obesity. This report contains the discussions and outcomes.
Big Data: Bring Out Your Data!
Where are we now and what next were the discussions in this workshop. A new service developed from analysing text messages, a new way of measuring potato yield using smartphone images and improving forecasting iceberg lettuce production were among the examples discussed to show the different ways that data can be collated and analysed to provide new insights and services.
Exporting Agri-Tech to Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is poised for huge growth in agriculture and agribusiness – by 2030 it is projected to be a US$1 trillion industry (compared with US$313 billion in 2010). With particular demand for UK innovations in crops, mechanisation, agroprocessing and storage, this could be the opportunity to work alongside the major companies currently operating in the market, such as Massey Ferguson, John Deere and Syngenta.
This report includes some of the opportunities available for British companies, details of how the government can offer them support, and case studies of established businesses – such as SunCulture and their solar-powered drip irrigation system for small-holder farmers.
A New Agriculture – What Will the Future Hold?
A precision farming specialist, a plant breeder and an agricultural engineer look to the future and give their three wishes. For the plant breeder the development of novel breeding technologies such as gene editing mean this is a hugely exciting time for plant breeding; hybrid wheat, improved pest resistance and breeding focused on benefits for consumers ranked highly. For the engineer, better cooperation, being ‘of the moment’ and valuing work experience were up on the list. And the agronomist wanted robots for variable seed rate, smarter drones and better connectivity. Read more in the report.
Show Me the Money! – Focus on Funding Revisited
There is money out there if you know where to look. Our speakers do and covered crowd sourced funding, grants and R&D tax credits in an accessible way. The devil is in the detail which is included in the report.
Innovations for Sustainable Intensification
Sustainable intensification (SI) aims to increase farm output and productivity while simultaneously delivering benefits to the environment and countryside. In this event we looked at how farmers can implement best practice.
Discussions about the adoption of new decision support tools covered the key points of usability, benefit and trust. There were also questions around who is best to lead innovation and SI implementation. Several case-studies were presented from organisations who shared their knowledge of SI and the tools they provide.
The findings, discussions and case studies from the event are captured in this report.
A Sense of Place: Soil Health Meets Geomatics
Now that a small satellite can be built and launched for the cost of family car, access to remote sensing data is becoming much more accessible to agriculture.
“Geomatics” combines remote sensing with image processing around geographical information systems (“GIS”) and technologies for measuring geo-spatial positioning.
A potential application is soil mapping, giving an indication of the nutritional wellbeing of the soil in different areas of a field.
Knowledge about soil biology is revealing that microbes in the soil have an important role in unlocking nutrients and making them more available to plant roots. Additionally microbes provide other ecosystem services such as controlling soil erosion and nitrogen cycling.
Developments in soil mapping and interpretation of satellite data were among the topics discussed in this meeting.
Big Data and Remote Sensing and Monitoring: Opening DEFRA’s Treasure Trove
DEFRA plans to become a department ‘open by default’ from June 2016, creating an opportunity for its datasets to become available for a range of applications.
Michael Rose, the newly appointed Head of Data Engagement at DEFRA, outlined how the plan was to make the first tranche of datasets available and then consult with industry on what they would find useful, how the data should be references and the requirement for processing to make it accessible.
The value of openness was accepted but further discussion was around how data providers will be rewarded with benefits and the need for enablers to make sense of the data and make it usable.
Robo-Cropping: The Potential for Precision Robotics in Agriculture
Many of the technical challenges around designing autonomous robots that can work 24/7 in unstructured environments have been overcome.
In particular there have been advances in soft robotics, or the ‘hands’ of the robot, which need to be sensitive enough to handle perishable items such as fruit and vegetables, and machine vision, which allows the robot to differentiate between an onion seedling and a grass weed, as well as in the mapping which enables the robot to navigate.
The issue now is how to create agricultural systems that use their strengths and also where the funding will come from to commercialise the R&D.
This report summarises a new approach to soft robotics, together with other discussions from the Pollinator surrounding the mechanics, limitations and feasibility of using robotics in agriculture.
Controlled Traffic Farming – a Direct Line to Healthier Soils?
Drone imagery of the NE Salmon farm showed that 88 per cent of a sample field had been impacted by heavy machinery – Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) is designed to reduce this, significantly improving the structure and fertility of the soil.
NE Salmon Ltd has invested in CTF on its 1,964 ha farm and the 2016 harvest will be its first under the new system.
Benefits already seen include: shallower cultivation with greater tilth, increased number of plant tillers and more plant available water.
There are challenges however and the benefits and the learning points are summarised in this report.
Rusts and Other Cereal Killers
Each year, 170 untreated crop trials are carried out, and the data from crop performance over the last 3-5 years is collected and crunched to calculate the disease ratings for different varieties and the relative risk of breakdown of disease. The results are presented as the Recommended Lists.
The science and investigations behind the lists were discussed at this Pollinator, and how they can help producers and breeders determine where the greatest risks lie.
There were also discussions about monitoring disease and disease resistance, and how the new technique of field pathogenomics is helping to provide disease screening across larger areas more cheaply and quickly than other methods.
This report provides a summary of the insights and discussions at the meeting.
Undercover Agents: New Technologies for Controlled Environment Production
LED lighting to simulate day length, vision systems to direct robots, underground urban farms to bring production closer to user; were all discussed in this Pollinator which looked at experiences of early adopters of the latest technology
The industry is seeking game-changing technologies – such as no-need-to-wash products and those with enhanced tastes and health characteristics. Innovations in undercover growing may help provide insights that can explore the potential of some of these disruptive and transformative technologies for application into other areas.
Pipettes and Ploughs – Taking the Lab to the Field
“We are truly in a new world of farmer-scientist partnerships” was the take-home message from this Pollinator, which discussed field labs.
The Innovative Farmers programme is the second phase of the Duchy Future Farming Programme coordinated by the Soil Association. It is creating a network of farmers involved in on-farm testing, and aims to support robust field research.
A key priority is to help farmers determine what research interventions are making a real difference and to offer scientific evidence alongside anecdotal observations.
This report gives an overview of two case studies from the programme, including how cultural methods can be used to control black grass and the effect of compost teas on spring-sown cereals.
The Good, The Bad and The (B)Ugly
The benefits and problems of fungi were explored at this Pollinator, together with how best to tackle the increasing issue of invading Spanish slugs.
We heard about beneficial soil-dwelling fungi from Dr Uta Paszkowski, and how they can help to improve the quality of soil, while Jasper Depotter from NIAB discussed new research and diagnostic tools to consolidate information about the disease Verticillium.
The (b)ugly was represented by an examination by Dr Jon Clark of the John Innes Centre on how to counter and cope with the effects of increasing numbers of non-native slugs using novel and emerging technologies and ideas.
This report summarizes the discussions and outcomes of the meeting.
Big Data: A data strategy for agri-business
It is important for a business to be able to distinguish between data which is interesting and that which is useful. By not making this distinction the value of data is often defined by its cost of creation, not what it can be used to achieve. This is creating a situation where farmers are collecting more and more data, not using it but wanting to hold onto it in order to extract “value” at a future date in a way that is currently unknown.
There is a need for new tools for data presentation that can be used with for confidential information and also for benchmarking approaches that allow the comparison of results in order to drive up productivity.
This report discusses the issues.
Big Data: Taking Data Presentation Seriously
Charts are a good way to present raw data but graphics help to make data much easier to understand and digest. Currently the majority of delegates at the meeting said that they used Excel to analyse data but they found the interface was not intuitive, and as a result only limited information was being extracted.
Among the presentations held at the SIG was a look at products already available to simplify data visualisation. A speaker from Tableau describes how its products allow the creation of visuals with a simple drag and drop interface.
The report provides an overview of the discussions held in the SIG including an overview of the challenges facing delegates, the limitations of current systems and the opportunities for future developers; such as the need for both smartphone and tablet applications to provide in-field analysis.
Remote Sensing and Monitoring: Signalling the future for agriculture
Investing in the adoption of new technologies for sensing and monitoring requires a compelling business case – easier to present for protected crops under cover than in the complex and challenging environment of the open field. The disconnect between the users and developers / providers of technology is a major issue.
Farmers believe that technology providers often lack real insights into their needs, while admitting they often don’t understand the technology offering and associated business case. A lesson in the need for clearer communication there. Similarly, farmers and growers need confidence that new technology won’t quickly become become obsolete following a significant investment.
This reports summarises the current state of play.
Remote Sensing and Monitoring: Getting to the Root and Branch of Remote Sensing and Monitoring
Irrigation precision has been assisted by the introduction of soil moisture sensors that can make measurements at different depths of soil, indicating the water available for roots and also canopy sensors that give an indication of the crop requirement.
The report describes the different types of sensor technology and the current challenges.
Remote Sensing and Monitoring: Sensing in the Air
Over the last ten years, the use of images from Earth Observation Satellites by agriculture to advise fertiliser application has reduced input costs by around £27/ha and boosted crop yields from 3-8 %. This report discusses the benefits of imaging and how a drop in the costs of imaging components (including cameras) and the introduction of easy, secure storage of data “in the cloud”, is leading to a vibrant service industry.
This service offers aerial remote sensing and monitoring for agronomy, yield forecasting, field mapping and even crop insurance. Yet delivering these new services at scale, at a price point that is acceptable to farmers and integrates with their existing farm management systems, can be a challenge.
Water for Agriculture: Managing future water needs
With water availability a potential limiting factor to the business growth and food production, there is little doubt of its importance.
Yet with agri-food water usage significant knowledge gaps remain in several key areas, including effective measurement (of water volume and quality), the link between water potential, soil variability and crop performance, and the effective use of remote sensing and monitoring technologies to guide short and long-term decision-making.
A workshop brought together key players and this is a report on the outcomes.
Water for Agriculture: Salle Farms Visit
The Wensum catchment area is the location for a long-standing project on the Salle Farms Estate which has seen the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in run-off being measured every 30 minutes since April 2011. This has revealed a big spike in phosphate and nitrate in water courses after heavy rain. These findings have led to consideration of different farm management techniques to conserve fertiliser and reduce run-off, for example the increased use of cover crops.
For further discussion please see the meeting report which is available free to members and to others on request.
Water for Agriculture: Water Supply and Demand Workshop
2015 was the hottest year on record and future climate models suggest that the UK is going to experience wetter winters and drier summers, creating a driver for improved water management.
This report looks at a number of issues and strategies including how sharing investment in infrastructure could help increase resilience and bring more security.
Soil Health: Launch event
Soil “health” is vital to crops yet is a poorly defined concept, which leads to challenges in measuring, improving and maintaining it. There are many different soil types with very different behaviours, each with unique interactions between the organisms living there.
Recent research by Prof John Crawford, Associate Director at Rothamsted Research and co-chair of the SIG, has shown that microbes play a fundamental role in maintaining the structure and nutritional content of soil; the launch meeting of the Soil Health SIG discussed this and other factors which play a part in keeping soils healthy.
A number of key points were also raised to be addressed in the coming years of the SIG, such as how to better link the science of soils with on-farm practice, and how to provide better and more specific data to farmers to give them a fuller understanding of the benefit of investment in soils.
Focus on funding
The public sector agri-tech funding landscape is complex so to help de-mystify this important area we asked a number of funders to explain their offerings.
This reports offers insights into funding available for business growth, R&D and academic-industry collaborations. What is clear from talking to BBSRC, Innovate UK, the Eastern Enterprise Network, ADAPT Group and the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative is that while public money is available it is important to understand the eligibility criteria from the outset.
The Internet of (Agri-)Things
“Something big is on its way but we are not quite sure what form it will take” was one of the messages from the Pollinator “Internet of (Agri-)Things” which brought together companies such as Microsoft Research, nWave and RedBite who at the forefront of this technology.
The Internet of Things refers to objects communicating with each other and this is becoming more feasible with the development of low cost, low energy, electronic devices.
This is creating the opportunity for new types of decision-support for farmers but technologists need to have feedback from the agricultural community on applications that would bring the greatest benefit. This report gives an overview of the current state-of-play and the considerations that technologists need to make if their solutions are to meet the needs of end users.
From Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture
Given that by 2050 there will be an estimated global population of 9.6 billion, this puts a huge pressure on the 35 growing seasons between now and then to really increase yields, using inputs more effectively and paying more attention to detail of parameters such as crop performance and soil health.
Estimates suggest that the global market opportunity for precision agriculture is £50bn, but as discussion at the Pollinator reinforced, we are still a while way from routine use of precision agriculture in the field. This report provides an overview of emerging technologies and the current situation.
Synergies and Symbioses: The Benefits of Agri-Tech Collaborations
While everyone generally agrees that collaboration can bring real benefits, it isn’t always easy. Getting started can be a problem – how to find the right person to help solve your problem, or reality-check your new idea is often the first step. This report includes case-studies of successful collaborations and learning points from partners.
Yield Management and Enhancement
New models of “open innovation’ are being adopted by large agri-businesses – driven by the increasingly complex world for growers and farmers. This is particularly seen in the area of crop protection, where the value is likely to shift away from the chemistry towards innovative technologies being used to deliver products.
Engineering developments can make a major contribution to keeping products in use by increasing the precision of application; reducing concerns and risks associated with use of some products Additionally, adjuvant technologies can help optimise the use of some products by improving adhesion, penetration, reduce spray drift and aid compatibility of chemicals in the spray tank.
The Pollinator Pollinator
The decline in bee diversity in the UK is a serious concern to many and can be attributed to decline in food resources (nectar and pollen), combined with other pressures that are more difficult to quantify such as fewer nesting sites and over-wintering sites, diseases (such as mites and viruses) and exposure to pesticides.
Various approaches to improving the environment for pollinators, while enhancing agri-production, were discussed at this Pollinator and the conclusion was that there is an opportunity for cautious optimism.
One speaker, Lynn Dicks, a Research Fellow at the Dept of Zoology at University of Cambridge, discussed her recent paper which provided a simple calculation for farmers.
To provide enough pollen to support six very common crop-pollinating bee species in the UK, this equates to approximately 1-3 ha of flowers, or 500m – 2km of flowering hedge per 100 hectares of crop, at lowest estimates only, using the minimum available estimates for bee density and pollen demand. These calculations have helped inform the new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package as part of the UK’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Engineering, Electronics and Software for Agriculture
CamBridgeSens is a cross-department initiative in the University of Cambridge around sensing. Expertise includes gas sensor diagnostics, accelerometers, fibre optics sensors, data analysis, and wireless communications. The technologies being developed by CamBridgeSens and others were discussed at this Pollinator, which brought together technologists with their potential end-users.
New Innovations in Crop Breeding
Many new tools and technologies for crop breeding have been developed to help speed up the process of developing new varieties, but as was discussed at the Pollinator, many are not in routine use by the industry and yet offer great potential for breeders. This report provides an overview of the techniques.