REAP Conference 2024 registration is open
Book tickets, feature in the technology exhibition or apply for a REAP bursary - available for farmers and those in full-time agriculture-related study

Advances in crop monitoring will enable agri-business to respond to Net Zero transition

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

The move to hyperspectral imagery would offer a step-change in prediction and forecasting of crop performance, according to Rémi Banquet, Commercial Marketing Director for Hyperplan, a ‘Software as a Service’ company. He explains that insights gained from its crop monitoring software will enable agribusinesses to adapt their business models and secure sustainable growth during the transition to regenerative agriculture.

Hyperplan provides decision support services to suppliers, buyers and planners in agri-businesses and agricultural cooperatives.

The Hyperplan platform ingests satellite data about the crop canopy, weather and soils and combines this with crop yield models to anticipate supply volatility.

The service is proving popular with agri-input businesses as it allows their commercial and marketing teams to grow their portfolio of farmers, manage KPIs and respond quickly to opportunities created by changes in production.

Remi Banquet, Hyperplan's Chief Growth Officer
Volatility in agriculture means it is difficult to gain an objective assessment, says Remi Banquet, Hyperplan’s Chief Growth Officer.

Anticipating supply volatility

Rémi explains that there is considerable volatility in agricultural production, and it is difficult to gain an accurate and objective assessment of crop acreage, performance and potential yield. “With Hyperplan our clients can determine what is grown, where, the volume, and monitor the stage of maturity through the season.”

The company was co-founded in France in 2021 by three former McKinsey consultants, each with a decade of expertise in developing supply chain operations for agri-food businesses. They saw the commercial requirement for improved crop monitoring software that could provide predictive insights.

The company now has clients across France, Germany and Spain and is looking to enter the UK market.

It works with partners to optimise the crop models. In France, the company is working with ARVALIS, an applied research organisation that works across the value chain with cooperatives and input firms, as well as feed, food and non-food industries.

By combining ARVALIS’ agronomic expertise with Hyperplan’s deep knowledge on statistical modelling, Hyperplan is able to develop advanced hybrid models and optimise the information available from its satellite imagery.

Hyperplan_screenshot
A screenshot from Hyperplan

The system currently uses multispectral satellite imaging to identify the type of crop and monitor development of the crop canopy and vegetation cover. It has access to Meteo weather data and LUCAS Soil, Europe’s largest topsoil database, with real-time information made available through a single, easy to use platform.

The company is working collaboratively with its clients to collect ground truth data and verify the crop classification and yield estimates. 

Current multispectral imaging satellites have 10 to 20 spectral bands available, but future hyperspectral imaging will give access to 10 times more spectral bands, allowing a much more detailed analysis of the crop as Rémi explains:

“For corn we have just done some trials of 3D crop modelling using hyperspectral imaging looking at the potential for assessment of micro stages of maturity. This is really exciting as it will increase the precision of our predictions and also offers the opportunity for quality analysis models in the future.”

Originally Hyperplan was focussed on providing its customers with a collect forecast on their territory. However, the agri input businesses saw the potential of using its technology to offer greater insights at a field level, as this would enable them to offer farmers and growers more personalised services.

“Being able to provide a customised service is particularly important in the transition to regenerative farming, where there is a focus on effective rotations and improving productivity with fewer inputs,” Rémi continues.

“For the agribusinesses, it means that their reps are not going in cold. They have a sufficient level of knowledge to start engagement with the farmer, to have a proper discussion and fine-tune the response.

“They are trying to sell the most efficient products that will help the farmer gain better performance and improved margin, for example a particular variety of corn that grows well in their soils. This includes using historical data on rotations to look ahead to the next season and advise on suitability of follow-on crops.

“We are helping our clients to anticipate the market for the year, and this is invaluable as they are able to plan their budgets and marketing operations very early.”

Hyperplan_screenshot
A screenshot from Hyperplan

ATW23: Research to tackle the impacts of climate change 

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

At Agri-Tech Week 2023, “Ferrari” sugar beet met “Caveman” sea beet. Delegates learned that soil carbon can be categorised as either “scones with jam and cream” or “Brussels sprouts”, according to a soil carbon fate model, and heard about a novel cover crop proposed by the farmers  – all inspired by research underway at the Norwich Research Park

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership. Photo by Farrel O’Keeffe, Norwich Research Park

All Carbon is Not Created Equal 

A “soil carbon fate model” developed by Brian Reid at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is providing a better understanding of the long-term fate of this increasingly valuable commodity in our soils.  

Crucial to this is the recognition that not all carbon is the same. Some, such as the carbon from fresh and degraded crop residues, is degradable and supports soil life, health and ecosystem services. Other organic carbon, such as humus, is stable, and delivers long-term carbon storage.  

“The degradable carbon is like jam and cream scones in the soil!”

Brian explained: “It’s the preferred and easy choice to be broken down and digested. The longer-term storage is not so easily degraded by life in the soil. Thus is the “Brussels sprout” option when it comes to being chosen by soil life to support itself.” 

Understanding the ratio of the two, and how to enhance them is key to UEA’s model and for informing payments that farmers might receive for their carbon. Profiling carbon stability, advised Brian, will help with decision-making around how best to manage soils for effective carbon management.  

Of Prof. Brian Reid, UEA

Cavemen and Ferrari – breeding better sugar beet 

Sugar beet accounts for 50% of the UK’s sugar demand and is proving not only a model system to understand crop domestication, but it also yields new insights into options for disease resistance.  

“Sugar beet was only relatively recently domesticated from its wild relative – sea beet,” explains Mark McMullan from the Earlham Institute.

“You can imagine one is a high-performance Ferrari, while the other is a relatively undeveloped caveman. But the caveman version is well adapted for the conditions in which it is growing. So, there’s a big, untapped reservoir of locally adapted genetic diversity for UK growing conditions which we can potentially introduce into commercial beet varieties.” 

Working with the British Beet Research Organisation and breeders KWS, the team at Earlham is working to identify novel genes for disease resistance and other “climate sensitive” genes that could improve the UK sugar beet crop. Over 50,000 sea beet seeds have been collected from populations in East Anglia, the Humber and Merseyside and they are being screened for genes that have a potential role in breeding for the climate of tomorrow.  

The grass pea’s promise and peril: overcoming its toxicity barrier

Grass pea is a highly nutritious relative of sweet peas and, like all legumes, it can fix atmospheric nitrogen and is drought tolerant, due to its origins in parts of Africa and Asia. Surely a wonder crop ready to transform agriculture and food security? 

Alas not – or not yet anyway.  

“Grass pea currently has one big drawback,” says John Innes Centre PhD student, Jasmine Staples: “It is toxic to humans and livestock if eaten in large quantities over a long period of time”.  

This toxicity has created a stigma about the grass pea which Jasmine’s research aims to address, by transforming the performance and reputation of this legume. There are few commercial varieties, so identifying the genetic pathway of the toxin’s production would pave the way for breeding new varieties in which this toxin-producing pathway removed.  

Toxin-free grass pea could be a major new opportunity for both human and livestock nutrition which – as one delegate pointed out – could make for a very exciting new cover crop if sheep could safely graze it down.  

Nick Goodwin, Anglia Innovation Partnership; Sanu Arora & Jasmine Staples, both JIC; Mark McMullan, Earlham Institute; Jonathan Jones, The Sainsbury Laboratory

P(r)ea-dicting root rot in pea crops 

Sticking with the pea theme, the John Innes worldwide pea collection has been harnessed to help understand more about the genetic basis of disease resistance in peas.  

Group Leader Sanu Arora is working with the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) to tackle yield instability in green and dry peas.  

“Peas are susceptible to many pests and pathogens,” explained Sanu, “they differ across the world but in the UK it is mainly root rot and downy mildew, and key chemicals to combat them are starting to be withdrawn.” 

By screening the JIC pea collection, a “genetic diversity panel” has been developed which is helping identify new ways of identifying root rot. This has led to a new diagnostic, to predict if a field is low, medium or high risk for root rot.  

Sanu is looking for farmers keen to help trial the new device – those interested should get in touch with us and we will connect you with Sanu.  

New Genetics for a New Revolution 

Today’s talk made clear that it’s the combination of traditional plant breeding and new tools, such as gene-editing, that holds the key to a new, genetically powered agriculture. On behalf of the Royal Society, Jonathan Jones, Senior Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory has just co-authored a new report entitled “Enabling Genetic Technologies for Food Security.” 

Alongside the world-leading technologies and science being deployed at the Norwich Research Park, one thing is certain – biology is the future for adapting to climate change.

Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)

Topic Overview
Agri-TechE

Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures is driving the transition to Net Zero

Sustainability reporting has been a requirement for larger companies for many years now as it reduces their exposure to risk. Increasingly organisations will also need to report on their greenhouse gas emissions and the measures they are taking to mitigate their environmental impacts.

Financial reporting is driving the journey to Net Zero from the top of the supply chain.

Chris Brown, Senior Director for Sustainability at Asda, and a member of the Agri-TechE Stakeholder Group, has been investigating how the organisation can comply with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) legislation that came into effect in 2023.

Chris says: “2023 was the first mandatory reporting year for TCFD. Although this is still quite top level, and only obligatory for the largest companies, the consensus is that it will tighten in the future and trickle down.”

Asda, in line with other progressive companies, is signed up to Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) a pathway to achieving its commitment to a key goal of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The targets aim to ‘reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, helping prevent the worst impacts of climate change and future-proof business growth’.

Chris Brown, ASDA
Chris Brown, Senior Director for Sustainability, Asda

Scope 3 emissions from food production require joined up approach

As part of this companies need to disclose their Scope 1, Scope 2 and, if appropriate, Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the related risks. These ‘scopes’ are set out in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Essentially, Scope 1 are those direct emissions that are owned or controlled by a company, whereas Scope 2 and 3 indirect emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company but occur from sources not owned or controlled by it.

As most Scope 3 emissions in the supply chain originate from the production of raw materials, a united approach is required to techniques for measuring, monitoring and mitigating emissions at all stages.

We asked Chris how producers can prepare for this; he comments: “We are at the start of this journey and just working out what we need, but my expectation is that once government, or the EU, or one of the big brands, takes the initiative then things will happen very quickly.”

This global move towards sustainability is evident from projects initiated by the speakers on the Supply Chain Panel at REAP, with reporting on their websites aligned to the requirements of TCFD.

Find out more about the TCFD at https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/

Picking an apple
Packed apples
Transport
Apples for sale, Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures

Agri-TechE ecosystem supporting the value chain

Auditing can help embed best practice. In addition to de-risking the business it can also offer efficiency improvements. Aethr Associates are supporting companies adopting TCFD and those supplying them, to audit their operations for ESG. Aethr Associates are also keen to demonstrate the other benefits that the reporting can offer.

Online markets for low carbon produce. Legislation around reducing carbon emissions in value chains is encouraging food businesses to pay a premium for low carbon produce. Agrasta is establishing an online platform that gives visibility of producers with good credentials to food and beverage companies looking to reach net-zero targets.

Predicting and forecasting – as ecosystems evolve innovation is multidimensional. The move to regen ag is also driving business process change in the agribusinesses that would traditionally provide inputs. Space-tech company Hyperplan, headquartered in France, is using satellite imagery ground truthed by its customers to provide objective information about crop performance and coverage to help inform new business models.

Agri-Tech – hotting up to cool us down

Agri-TechE Blog
Agri-TechE

Potato Trial
A recyclable drip tape system from DripUK that reduces water, energy and labour while ensuring soil moisture levels at a critical time has been trialled by Norfolk farmers.

As July 2022 has seen temperatures across the UK and Europe hit record levels, we are looking at climate-friendly tech to cool us down.

Crops and livestock have struggled with the heat – in the case of peas, for example, farmers are racing against the clock to harvest before quality is dramatically impacted by the weather conditions.

Heat-stressed animals and plants, an increased risk of fire, machinery breakdowns, and a need to potentially re-schedule irrigation plans are coming at an already stressful time in the industry.

Even controlled and protected environment facilities will incur additional energy costs to maintain optimum temperatures and adequate ventilation.

As if we needed any reminder of the need for new solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, extreme weather events are a stark indicator of the urgency of the problem.

Reading the gauge

The last month has seen the Agri-TechE team out taking the temperature of the industry during the Show season (check out our Twitter Feed and LinkedIn to see more about that!). We’ve been talking to our members and other industry leaders, policy-makers, funders and more, both in the UK and internationally.

And the hot topics are – unsurprisingly – all about delivering on the net zero agenda and ideally taking a “circular economy” approach across the supply chain.

From harnessing biological solutions to manage pests and diseases (such as beneficial insects and microbes, for example), to using seaweed derivatives as a livestock feed to reduce methane emissions, the hunt is on for climate-friendly tech to replace or augment existing solutions.

Albotherm Product Image
Albotherm coating for greenhouses maintains the optimum temperature while reducing labour costs.

The Agri-TechE network is working hard towards this agenda

From solutions to measure and manage carbon emissions and biodiversity gain resulting from land-use change, our members are working hard to create solutions and we can help facilitate this. This week we were helping one of our technology members to find an academic partner with expertise in life cycle analysis emissions from food production.

Use of biologicals to increase plant resilience and reduce the application of agchem is also gaining traction – we’re excited to see the natural symbiosis between plants and mycorrhizal fungi being harnessed to boost productivity, as well as the natural enemies of disease-causing bacteria – so-called “phages” being deployed to reduce the incidence of disease-causing bacteria in plants and animals.

We’ve also seen plenty of technologies from our members presented at Groundswell and Fruit Focus helping farmers understand and deliver plant nutrient requirements more precisely and efficiently.

Machinery is heading towards electrification with this year seeing some of the big machinery suppliers showcasing their journey towards electric, and the robots showing how they are moving closer to autonomously managing and harvesting crops more precisely and efficiently.

High pressure area advancing

The Hutchinsons soil pit at Cereals 2018
Hutchinsons discuss healthy soils at Groundswell 202

Of course, this evolving tech has to sit alongside – and by handled by – people. And that remains a major pinch-point, either on-farm labour or expertise in the research pipeline to help generate the vital new knowledge to deliver robust on-farm models.

There are isolated flurries of serious expertise in the research community but we know that more is needed – both in terms of training and funding for research to answer the key questions of the future.

Forecasting a BBQ weekend?

And what better illustration on the hottest day of the year than to imagine life in the field on a vegetable harvesting rig, or as part of a fruit picking team?

We’ll be giving our members the chance to test their skills against the robots at our Salad Rig Challenge with G’s Fresh on September 13th – with a big social and the chance to meet and network.

It’s going to be cool – in all senses of the word!