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Space-tech meets agri-tech as plans for new space cluster are revealed

Agri-TechE Article
Taking agri-tech experiments into space (credit: ESA / NASA)
Lettuce in space (credit: ESA / NASA)

A quiet revolution is happening on the farm: increasingly satellite-enabled technologies are steering tractors, directing the precision application of fertiliser, and mapping plant and soil health. The opportunities created at the intersection between agri-tech and space-tech and the new Space Cluster for Norfolk and Suffolk are to be discussed at an event in January 2023 organised by Agri-TechE in partnership with the New Anglia LEP.

There is expertise within the Agri-TechE cluster in space-tech including Space Cooperative Europe, who recently called for three experiments to take to the International Space Station. 

Entrepreneurs seizing the challenge

Entrepreneurial companies already capturing this opportunity include Agreed, a climate-tech start-up that is building a remote sensing tool to help farmers use more nature and less nitrogen.

Kelly Price, Agreed CEO and Co-founder
Kelly Price, Agreed Earth CEO and Co-founder

Food production is dependent on nitrogen, most of which comes from fossil fuels, but it is estimated that 50% of the nitrogen applied to crops is lost to water as nitrates or into the atmosphere. Agreed is on a mission to improve nitrogen use efficiency.

Kelly Price, co-founder and CEO of Agreed, explains: “Space-tech in the form of satellite data enables us to incorporate observed (actual) data into models at scale to support decision-making. To that end, we’ve received a grant from the European Space Agency to incorporate their satellite data into our model.”

The company’s Chief Technical Officer brings expertise gained from NASA commercialising satellite weather data.

Launch of National Space Strategy driving investment

Agri-tech innovation is to receive a boost from space-tech. Following the launch of the UK National Space Strategy in 2021, The New Anglia LEP led a successful application to the UK Space Agency to establish a Space Cluster for Norfolk and Suffolk.

This will build on existing strengths such as the satellite ground station and quantum cryptography expertise at Adastral Park, advanced materials and engineering at Lotus and Hethel Engineering and climate science, spectral analysis and crop science expertise in the greater Norwich area.

Julian Munson, New Anglia LEP
Julian Munson, New Anglia LEP

Julian Munson of the New Anglia LEP is Chair of the Space Cluster for Norfolk and Suffolk; he comments: “The vision is to grow the space sector and there are significant clusters of activity across the region in sustainable agriculture, crop science, climate change, marine science, offshore wind, transport and logistics that will benefit from this.

“The proposed activity includes developing a regional satellite application hub and regional micro-gravity launch and test facility to enable testing of products in a ‘space environment’. The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the plans and explore the requirements for the agri-tech sector.”

Call for robust infrastructure for rural connectivity

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, says that prediction, decision-support and automation technologies are among those that are building on space-tech. “Over recent years we have seen how innovation at the intersections of different disciplines creates new business opportunities. High-resolution satellite data augmented by drones is enabling early detection changes in crop health and prediction of yield; this type of information is invaluable for risk mitigation, and is just one illustration of the practical applications of space-tech in agriculture.

“However, the success of precision agriculture depends on creating a robust infrastructure for in-field and earth-to-satellite communications and we would see this as a priority for the new Space Cluster.”

Space-tech meets agri-tech on 26th January

The event ‘Space-Tech Meets Agri-Tech’ was held at the Easton Campus of Easton and Otley College at 2pm on Thursday 26th January 2023. Speakers included Luke Ryder of Satellite Applications Catapult, Jodi Bardin of Citicourt and Kelly Price of Agreed. This event was funded by New Anglia LEP’s Connected Innovation project, which was jointly funded by the Norfolk Strategic Fund & Suffolk Inclusive Growth Investment Fund. 

Space East is appearing in the Innovation Hub at the 2023 Royal Norfolk Show.
Read more about the 2023 Innovation Hub >>

Innovation Hub 2023