The uncertainty faced by all businesses over the last year with the pandemic is the everyday experience of farmers, and it is driving innovation. It is noticeable how technologies that seek to improve prediction of disease and weather and improve timing of interventions – such as sowing, spraying and harvesting – have grown in maturity over the six years that Agri-TechE has hosted the Innovation Hub at the Royal Norfolk Show, in partnership with the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA).
The Royal Norfolk Show is one of the UK’s oldest agricultural shows – it will celebrate 175 years in 2022. However, it has always been ahead of its time and sharing innovative practice was the original inspiration for the show.
Back in the 1800s new techniques in breeding were producing quality animals and plants, and showing them competitively was an excellent way to not only reward performance but also to showcase to others what was being achieved. Fast forward to 2021 – and The Sainsbury Laboratory, Earlham Institute and John Innes Centre have accelerated this process with novel tools for improving the selection and production of new varieties with improved resilience.
175 years ago, farm practices were changing too with the introduction of new forms of cultivation and the machinery to do this. In the Innovation Hub, the first drones for agriculture were demonstrated, along with devices for the emerging Internet of Agriculture.
Although sadly the show will not be happening this year, this fine tradition is being kept alive in the Innovation Hub, which for the second year is going online as a virtual show, rather than physical demonstrations in a marquee at the showground.
Mark Nicholas MBE, Managing Director of the RNAA, comments that the Innovation Hub is keeping the flame alive and makes a valued contribution to the show:
“Recognising the importance of innovating in the agri-sector, the RNAA is thrilled to be partnering with Agri-TechE as they support the growth of a world-leading network of innovative farmers, producers, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs in the East of England.
“The Royal Norfolk Show provides an annual showcase for this exciting work and this year, in the absence of a Show, we are delighted to be supporting Agri-Tech E as they demonstrate the utility of collective knowledge exchange with an online Innovation Hub.”
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of membership organisation Agri-TechE, says: “In the first few years of the Innovation Hub, we saw the demonstration of individual devices such as novel sensors and the first drones; now we are seeing greater integration of data from sensors and monitors and other sources feeding into ‘Smart Farming’ frameworks. These will enable greater decision making and also remote management and control of growing environments.
“A good example of this is the smart irrigation system designed by NIAB EMR with equipment from Delta-T Devices, which has increased yields of strawberries by 7% while reducing water consumption. Also, 30MHz’s contribution to the Autonomous Greenhouse Project which enables the precision control of environments to grow cherry tomatoes remotely.
“A major enabler for many forms of agri-tech has been the been the wider availability of connectivity across rural areas and the uptake of smartphones by farmers. The pandemic has accelerated the use of all types of digital communication and this will help to lower the barriers to use of technology in agriculture.”
The full Royal Norfolk Show and a live Innovation Hub are set to return in 2022. Until then you are invited to review some of the highlights of previous years and updates on 15 of the many organisations that have participated.