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Fruit Focus 2023

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

It’s Wimbledon week so the focus is on strawberries – one of the great success stories for innovation in fruit production. Breeding at East Malling has resulted in an extension of the strawberry fruiting season to create a highly profitable product for the industry. More innovation will be featured at Fruit Focus on 12th July 2023 at NIAB East Malling, Kent.

Fruit Focus
STRAWBERRIES

Highlights include:

Fruit Research Innovation Hub: featuring novel controls, detection, forecasting, and prevention of pests and diseases using a range of agri-tech. Research is funded by BBSRC and UKRI.

Fruit Forum: including a presentation of a recent report about overcoming labour shortages by John Shropshire with discussions including Mark Spencer, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Defra) and Martin Emmett, Chair of NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board.

Exhibition: a diverse selection of services, equipment and agri-tech is on show, including by a number of Agri-TechE members (stand numbers in brackets):

  • ADAS (626): independent provider of agricultural and environmental applied/strategic research and consultancy.
  • Antobot (200): an award-winning start-up providing affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture.
  • BASF (32): a leader in crop protection and solutions for improving plant health.
  • Bayer Crop Science (26): one of the world’s largest lifescience businesses offering digital farming systems, seeds and traits, and crop protection products and services.
  • Elsoms (616): a leading independent seed and plant breeding business.
  • Kroptek (213): lighting for controlled environments.
  • Natural Resources Institute at University of Greenwich (642): a specialist research, development and education organisation.
  • NIAB (500): plant research institute; will also be hosting and presenting recent research at 12:00 in the Fruit Forum.
  • Pro-Lite Technology (658): a supplier of specialist equipment with a technical focus in spectroscopy, spectral imaging, remote sensing, light measurement and photonics.
  • Sencrop (8): networked weather stations; will also be talking about efficient irrigation at 15:20 in the Fruit Forum.

Find out more about Fruit Focus at fruitfocus.co.uk.

STRAWBERRIES

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

Next-gen vertical farming, sensors and energy generation showcased to US Midwest State Legislators

Agri-TechE Article
GrowPura GrowPura

Senators and Representatives from US Midwest state legislatures saw ‘next-generation’ vertical farm technology at GrowPura Limited and on-farm energy production in Fenland as part of a visit hosted by Agri-TechE along with the Department for International Trade (DIT) on 14th March 2023.

Midwestern Office initiate visit

The mission was initiated by the British Consulate-General, Chicago in partnership with the Council of State Governments Midwestern Office (CSG Midwest). Chicago Consul General Alan Gogbashian explained: “We want this visit to focus on showcasing the UK’s leadership in agriculture, agri-tech and the energy transition from fossil fuels, as these themes have special resonance for the Midwest.”

The delegation, which included State Senators and State Representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, joined members of the Agri-TechE ecosystem for discussions and dinner at the historic Madingley Hall, just outside Cambridge.

Cutting-edge technologies

Growpura operates under automated, clean-room conditions

This was followed the next day by field visits, accompanied by DIT, to GrowPura Limited, developers of advanced vertical farm technology, and FC Palmer & Sons, a Fenland farm that has made a significant investment in sustainable energy production.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, comments: “We are honoured to welcome this high-level delegation to showcase some of the great innovation in our ecosystem, from energy generation on-farm to alternative approaches to food production, and the use of sensors for precision agriculture. These are common themes which unite agriculture across the globe and they require appropriate regulation to deliver the intended impact. We are looking forward to seeing how the legislators in the US are approaching these cutting-edge technologies and enabling them to be used across these states.”

Optimising space and reducing inputs

GrowPura Limited has developed the world’s first automated, moving conveyor system for vertical farming that operates in a patented ‘Clean Room’ environment.

The GrowPura® technology aims to maximise use of space and reduce input costs. Plants receive the optimum light for growth and as 95% of the water used is recycled, it uses a fraction of the water required for field irrigated crops with no runoff. GrowPura aims to reduce the environmental impact of vertical farming while improving the quality of food produced and its economic benefits.

Jeremy McNamara, Chief Commercial Officer for GrowPura, comments that vertical farming is complementary to field and undercover cropping but has particular benefits for year-round growing of leafy greens, herbs and some berries. “Vertical farming has an important role in food security and could, with enough investment, provide a sustainable source of locally grown produce direct to the market. This would help alleviate many of the issues we’ve seen recently in the supply-chain.”

The other technology companies attending the dinner included: Delta-T Devices, specialists in precise real-time environmental measurement; Sencrop, developer of networked weather stations; Smartbell, developers of an ‘internet of cows’ for monitoring livestock; and NIAB, the centre for plant research, crop evaluation and agronomy.

 

US Midwest State Legislators visit UK

The attendees of the dinner at Madingley Hall

£1,000 a hectare? Novel crops for rotation, resilience and profit

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

poppies as novel crops
Chickpeas and opium poppies are just two of many valuable niche crops that could be grown

Chickpeas and opium poppies are just two of many valuable niche crops that could be grown in the UK to help farmers diversify and build soil health within the rotation. Support for novel crops within the arable rotation has gained £1M investment from UKRI and exploratory projects from its Seeding Awards programme are to report their initial findings in a workshop coordinated by Agri-TechE on 23rd February 2022.

Dr Belinda Clarke is director of Agri-TechE, an industry membership organisation facilitating the growth of the agri-tech innovation ecosystem. She explains the opportunity to diversify: “Just 30 of the 370,000 known species of plant underpin the world’s food supply and these plants have been bred mostly for yield, not for taste, nutritional value or resilience.

“Additionally, gaining a high grade in cereals such as wheat requires intensive inputs of fertiliser and other synthetic chemicals, and we are looking to move towards reducing these inputs by building soil health through alternative patterns of cropping.

“Historically we grew a wider range of crops in the UK and over recent years there has been interest in growing more peas and beans and a wider range of cereals such as oats and rye, but there are a number of obstacles. There needs to be sufficient, reliable market demand, expertise on-farm for growing the crop and investment in specialist cultivation and processing equipment.

Convergence of technologies to overcome obstacles

Dr Lydia Smith
Dr Lydia Smith, NIAB. Credit:Si Barber

“The convergence of technologies in agri-tech, such as lightweight robotics with specialist attachments and advanced breeding techniques for screening and selecting desirable attributes, means that there is now an opportunity to investigate the potential greater diversity in the rotation, but an industry-led approach is needed to include all elements of the value chain.”

Dr Lydia Smith, Head of the NIAB Innovation Farm, has recently co-authored research on behalf of Defra which looks at the potential of a range of crop plants for horticulture and broad field cultivation, ranking them across a number of criteria including market potential. One of these crops is poppies.

She says: “Seeds from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) are used as a food ingredient for bakery and also for pharmaceutical use in painkillers. The latter has a value of £1,000/ha (2016 prices). It has potential to be grown as a break crop in cereals, enabling more effective management of blackgrass and providing much needed resources for pollinators. Additionally, as it is sown in late spring it avoids the problems of cultivation during winter flooding. There are a number of established markets and knowledge has been built up over two decades by the Poppy Growers Association.

“There are many opportunities like this for diversifying the rotation with benefits to soil health and farm profitability and I am looking forward to exploring this further at the workshop.”

 

Seeding Awards to support introduction of new crops

novel crops
Lupins are a potential source of protein

James Phillips, Senior Portfolio Manager for BBSRC, agrees; he has worked to invest £1M at leading ten UK Universities and Research Institutes in Seeding Awards that will support short pump-priming projects aimed at exploring the potential of new crops and varieties for the UK arable rotation. At the workshop the progress will be reported with the aim of stimulating new public-private partnerships that may progress to future funding initiatives.

James explains that the Seeding Awards are closely aligned with UK government plans to progress towards a more sustainable and biodiverse agriculture.

“Introducing novel crops with the arable rotation is recognised within ELMs as an important part of improving sustainability and resilience in the farming sector as well as meeting ambitions for soil health and biodiversity. Advances in bioscience are now giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate some of these older crops and climate change makes others viable for introduction.

“The Seeding Awards were designed to enable BBSRC to quickly invest in building capability in Universities and Research Institutes and we are now looking to gain input from a wide range of industry partners at this workshop coordinated by Agri-TechE.”

James gives the example of lupins as an alternative to imported soya that provides benefits to soil structure and nitrogen fixing. Others include: protein crops such as flava beans; fibre crops such as hemp and flax; cereals including quinoa; teff; and oilseeds like linseed.

The Agri-TechE event “Novel Crops and Fresh Thinking is to be held at Wivenhoe House Hotel, Wivenhoe Park, Park Road, Essex, CO4 3FA on 23rd February 2023. It will include presentations by Dr Lydia Smith and some of the 10 Seeding Award winners, together with a workshop for those interested in the business opportunities across the value chain that will arise from these new crops.

 

ATW22: Friday: Farming resilience and how greater crop diversity can contribute on-farm

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Addressing climate change and its impact requires farmers considering crop diversity to have confidence in profitable cropping outcomes, this Agri-Tech Week event, hosted by NIAB looked at the options and highlighted some of the top runners. 

Cambond
Cambond bio-resins provide alternatives for plastics

Diversifying crop species, whether in agriculture, horticulture or livestock farming, has the potential to increase farm resilience, reduce crop inputs and help improve the environment.

Although there are an estimated 369,000 known species of flowering plants, only about 7,000 have been cultivated for food, forage, fibre or fuels, with 30 underpinning the world’s food supply.

In the UK, 75% of arable-farmed land grows just three crops: wheat, barley and oilseed rape. Similarly, apples and strawberries account for a large proportion of the UK’s fruit production, and carrots, onions and brassicas are the leading vegetable crops. However, a range of energy crops are now gathering momentum following a slow start.

Diversifying crop species, whether in agriculture, horticulture of livestock farming, has the potential to increase farm resilience, reduce crop inputs and deliver environmental benefits. Yet farmers need to have confidence in profitable cropping outcomes.

Tree-Mend-Us

Willow and Miscanthus both have the potential to deliver in a net zero system, according to Neil Watkins from Energy Crop Consultants Ltd, and Michael Squance from Terravesta.

Neil Watkins discussing the potential of willow and its multiple benefits

Agronomically (relatively) straightforward and suitable for non-productive land, both are ideal where there are local markets for fuel or other purposes. Short rotation forestry poplar and eucalyptus are also options, although as Neil pointed out, “farmers need to decide which crop suits them best” – with pros and cons for each.

Feeling Fruity

The area of UK fruit production has declined in the last decade, according to NIABs’ Felicidad Fernandez, but outputs are stable due to increased efficiencies. A recent study for Defra in collaboration with NIAB’s Lydia Smith revealed 32 potential alternative fruits and vine crops which could be grown in the UK, but, according to Feli, “the barrier to adoption of new crops is that they are not profitable or there is a limited market.”

Table grapes are the most consumed fruit in the UK, and climate change is meaning that UK production is now a real possibility, along with apricots and the exotic-sounding “honey-fruit” (haskap). Nut production is also an option – especially with the demand in plant-based milks increasing……….hazelnut milk, anyone?

Building on Strong Foundations

Much is talked of the potential for plant-based materials in the construction industry, but as Chloe Donovan of Natural Building Systems Ltd commented, “Scaleable isn’t sustainable, and sustainable isn’t scaleable.” The so-called “embodied carbon” within the construction materials accounts for around 11% of the carbon footprint of the industry, so new products like HempSil™ enables modular building panels to be created for new builds with better environmental credentials.

Hemp is one of Nature’s most efficient carbon capture mechanisms and as a replacement for timber (much of which is imported to the UK), there are high hopes. Chloe’s vision is for 100,000 homes to be built of bio-based materials by 2030 which will sequester over 2 million tonnes of carbon equivalents.

Applying Gene-ius Thinking to Crop Diversity

Heather Oldfield of Elsoms Seeds showing plant-based alternatives for automotive parts

Modern crop varieties are not as genetically diverse as their wild ancestors, explained Elsoms’ Heather Oldfield. As a business that has been aiming to develop varieties adapted to a changing climate, Elsoms has discovered many genes have been lost over time as habitat destruction and environmental changes mean these species are lost.

But new varieties of crops such as hemp, flax and mallow are in development, with mallow being considered as a form of soluble fibre for the pig feed market as a zinc oxide replacement.

“We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know”

The farmer-focussed element was provided by NIAB’s Colin Peters and Nick Sheppard of Upton Suffolk Farms. Both agreed that growers need to get value for money and an economic return, but as Colin reflected “We still need to understand more about the life cycle of crops and pests in order to ensure they are being managed properly and make it easier for farmers to grow these alternative crops.”

Closing comment of the day rests with Colin “What the fossil fuels industry wants, and what plants can deliver, are actually very similar. They just don’t know it yet.”

You can now watch a recording of the event at  niab.com/farming-resilience-hybrid-seminar.

More about NIAB

 


ATW Logo 2022

Agri-Tech Week is a partnership initiative founded in 2014 by Agri-TechE with the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association. The week features a mix of in-person and virtual events that are designed to showcase exciting developments in agri-tech. It is coordinated by Agri-TechE working closely with partners across the innovation ecosystem and aims to provide opportunities to attract new customers and partners and to broker collaborations and international connections.

At the Innovation Hub – tech for soil health, automation, IPM and smart water management

Agri-TechE Article
Schneider Electric Schneider Electric

It was great to be back in person for Royal Norfolk Show Innovation Hub 2022, with a diverse range of stands featuring technologies aimed at input management, soils improvement, automation, and on-farm safety solutions.

The Innovation Hub provides a place for technologists, businesses and policy-makers to come together to network and be inspired by the latest new developments.

The President of the 2022 Show, Lord Cholmondley, lent his name to our “Time for Tech” which was a focal point for a number of VIP visits to the Hub, including a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, an Ambassadorial delegation from the Netherlands, University Vice Chancellors, and past, present and future Show Presidents.

The Presidents’ Time for Tech provided an opportunity to welcome visitors from the Netherlands and Jo Churchill MP to the Innovation Hub. In the photograph from left to right: Karel van Oosterom (Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Dr Belinda Clarke (Director of Agri-TechE), Philip de Jong (Agricultural Counsellor for the UK and Ireland), Jo Churchill MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Defra) and Andrew Wood (Honorary Dutch Consul for the East of England)
The Presidents’ Time for Tech provided an opportunity to welcome visitors from the Netherlands and Jo Churchill MP to the Innovation Hub. In the photograph from left to right: Karel van Oosterom (Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Dr Belinda Clarke (Director of Agri-TechE), Philip de Jong (Agricultural Counsellor for the UK and Ireland), Jo Churchill MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Defra) and Andrew Wood (Honorary Dutch Consul for the East of England)

Technology to improve agricultural productivity while promoting healthy ecosystems

Soil nutrient management – NIAB

Soil nutrient management is an approach that aims to more closely match nutrient inputs, such as fertilisers and organic manures, to crop demand at different stages of its lifecycle. Applying excessive nutrients, or those that are not ‘bio-available’, are a wasted resource. NIAB discussed technology to support soil nutrient management.

Long-term trials by NIAB show that soil health can be improved by closely matching crop demand to nutrient inputs.

Boosting plant performance and controlling disease – PfBio

PfBio is using naturally occurring and beneficial soil bacteria to suppress plant diseases. This type of ‘biocontrol’ is achieved by identifying varieties of the bacteria Pseudomonas that associates with a particular crop and boosting its presence, so it outcompetes the pathogen. Pseudomonas can also have other benefits, it stimulate the plant immune system as well as promoting plant growth, which increases both health and yield.

Lord Cholmondeley, President of the Norfolk Show, discusses biocontrol with PFBio

Cereal camo-cropping for sugar beet – BBRO

BBRO are discussing some alternative approaches to pest management.

The first is cereal camo-cropping; the theory is that growing a cereal crop in with the sugar beet helps to obscure it by reducing the soil-plant contrast which aphids use to locate sugar beet.

The other approach is to use food dyes to change the ground colour and hide the emerging beet.

Innovation Hub 2022 BBRO
Natural predators and camouflage to reduce use of pesticides on BBRO stand

Smart energy management and automation – Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric provides smart energy management and automation systems across a range of industries including agri-food. Louise Liddiard, the Segment Marketing Manager at Schneider Electric, explains that the company aims to make it easier for vertical farmers to adopt smarter machines and to become better connected, more flexible, more efficient and more sustainable.

The team at Schneider Electric introduce Jo Churchill to their energy saving tech

Reducing inputs with herbal leys – Barenbrug

Yvonne Hargreaves, Brand Marketing Manager at Barenbrug, comments: “At Barenbrug, we’ve one simple goal: to help all farmers make the most of grass, forage and herbal leys – and that applies across the board, whether you’re producing milk, raising livestock or growing essential crops.

“Our innovative grass and forage genetics help generate practical agronomic and environmental gains across UK farming systems for increased productivity and sustainability.”

Barenbrug discuss grass breeding and benefits of herbs

Embedding on-farm safety into the culture – Safe Ag Systems

Safe Ag Systems supports farmers in improving safety and compliance by embedding it into the culture. Safe Ag Systems’ software is an operational on-farm tool that can be used by everyone, making it easy to record checks, report safety issues and gain access to relevant information at the point of need.

“The online tool guides you through the risk assessment process with a set of questions, which enables you to determine the inherent risks and provides practical advice on how to control them as specified in ISO31000,” Hannah Clarke, UK Implementation Specialist at Safe Ag Systems explains.

“If safety is tied into an operational tool on-farm – utilised by everyone – it can then provide evidence of behavioural change and also of good practice toward food safety, fair employment and sustainability. Our product is now helping thousands of businesses gain certifications easily.”

SafeAg describe the benefit of using a QR code on machinery to link to info when needed.

‘Irrigation as a service’ reduces water and waste – DripUK / Howseman Agriculture

A recyclable drip tape system that reduces water, energy and labour while ensuring soil moisture levels at a critical time has been trialled by Norfolk farmers. Howseman Agriculture, with its sister company DripUK, is the first in the UK to offer Streamline X Re-Gen, a drip tape that can be recycled at the end of the season.

Andrew Howseman, Managing Director of Howseman Agriculture, explains that the company is offering ‘irrigation as a service’ and has developed a circular system that reduces the cost of irrigation for farmers.

Andrew Howseman (right) explains the benefits of his smart irrigation technology to the Dutch guests

BBC Look East and Anna Hill from Farming Today visited the Innovation Hub to talk to the exhibitors and see the demonstrations.

BBC Look East’s Alex Dunlop talks to Andrew Howseman
BBC Farming Today’s Anna Hill talks to Alistair Wright, BBRO

Some images from the Innovation Hub 2022 (click to enlarge):

Cereals speakers stress urgency of sustainable intensification

Agri-TechE Blog
Agri-TechE

Cereals 2014 came to Cambridgeshire and saw 25,000 farmers, technical and commercial service providers, machinery distributors, researchers and training institutions come together for 2 days to network, learn and do deals.

Agri-Tech East used Cereals as the platform to unveil our new logo and brand identity, as well as host a technical seminar to discuss how new innovations to increase yield and productivity will sit alongside the sustainability agenda.

Cristobal
Dr Cristobal Uauy, wheat geneticist at the John Innes Centre and National Institute of Agricultural Botany.

At the seminar the real urgency to deliver new solutions was a theme from all speakers and questions from the floor. Dr Cristobal Uauy, wheat geneticist at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and Dr Pete Werner (KWS-UK) were agreed on the importance of academic-industry partnerships to develop new crop varieties.

Dr Uauy explained that the need for food security was driving the demand for greater productivity, but that this yield also needs to be sustainable and stable. The boom bust cycles of the present must change to provide more predictable yields.

He commented that the DNA revolution is enabling us to understand more about the tiny differences both within and between varieties of cereal, this will allow the creation of varieties that are more resilient in field conditions. Total eradication policies of the past lead to resistance, as this puts pressure on the pathogen to evolve. Current thinking, for example in yellow rust, is that it is better to tolerate some pathogen in the crop and increase the resilience of the crop. Also management strategies, such as rotation, have a role in the control of persistent weeds such a black grass.

What is needed is more information back from farmers and growers about the field conditions and performance so this can be feedback into the research and also the development of  improved ‘farmer centric’ tools that can help capture the data and improve its interpretation.

Dr Lynn Dicks from Cambridge University emphasised the importance of farmer input into the research agenda, particularly in the development of new on-farm decision-support tools. She said that although farmers were under pressure to increase yield sustainably it was still unclear exactly how you ‘measure’ the environment. There is a need for more benchmarking tools where farmers can compare how they are doing with other farms of similar size, operating under similar conditions.

She commented that many of the organisations developing tools were global operations and there is a need to tailor these tools for local conditions. This is where interaction with growers is vital to ensure that the next generation of tools are relevant and user-friendly.

agri-tech
Speakers at the Agri-Tech East Technical Seminar at Cereals 2014, accompanied by the HexCam drone. From left to right: Peter Werner (KWS UK), Dr Cristobal Uauy (JIC & NIAB), Dr Belinda Clarke (Agri-Tech East), Peter Lee (Taylor Vinters LLP) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge).

All the panellists were excited by the potential of imaging taken by unmanned vehicles to provide an aerial view of land use.Peter Lee of Taylor Vinters, who runs the law firm’s specialist unmanned systems division said that 80% of future drone use is predicted to be in agriculture. Spectral imaging will allow a much more detailed understanding of performance of varieties in the real field conditions, for example, with infra-red it is able to measure the chlorophyll production, which is an indication  of health.

Overall it was agreed the East of England is in a prime position to be world-leading in agri-tech and that the creation of the Agri-Tech East to facilitate the development of the cluster will provide benefit at all levels.

The speakers were joined by one of the drones developed by Norwich-based company HexCam, which flew over the Cereals trial plots and featured on the BBC Look East programme that evening. Judging by the number of interested farmers who came by our stand to meet the drone, we will be seeing a lot more of them on farms.

Agri-Tech East shared its Cereals stand with the Local Enterprise Partnership which was promoting the grants programme aimed at regional agri-based businesses looking to grow or undertake new research and development. There was lots of interest in the funding scheme over the two days, which will hopefully convert into a strong pipeline of project proposals for assessment. The funds have to be committed by March 2015 (or sooner if the funds run out) and the local authorities can even help you fill in the application form.

In other Cereals news, congratulations are due to the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and the BBSRC, who were awarded second prize for best large stand for their shared presence. Overall winner for best stand was Bayer, it played host to Secretary of State Owen Patterson for a joint announcement that Bayer is investing in wheat breeding in the UK again.

A great testimony to the UK’s research capabilities and one on which we should capitalise.