A world-first hopping robot that can identify, map and kill weeds, and wearable cow-tech that can neutralise the greenhouse gas from cattle burps were just some of the cutting-edge agri-tech launched at REAP 2019 last week.
REAP sets out technology roadmap for One Agriculture
A hopping robot that can accurately target weeds; an affordable anaerobic digester for smallholders; a fast throughput screening platform for developing herbicides with different modes of action; and a way to neutralise the greenhouse gas from cattle burps. These were among the early-stage agri-tech companies presenting solutions to support sustainable agriculture in the Start-up Showcase at REAP, Agri-Tech East’s flagship conference.
The ‘Innovating towards One Agriculture’ Conference looked at how food systems, human health, animal health and the environment are underpinned by innovation in the way food is produced.
Farmers focussed on cutting emissions
The day started with a Farmers' Breakfast and a presentation by Helen Ferrier, Science Advisor the NFU, around industry plans to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.
The discussion revealed that although many of the farmers in the room were already on the journey towards this goal, by prioritising sustainable agriculture on productive land and releasing marginal land for ecosystem services. However, there was a need for more science to underpin recommendations, particularly easy to use tools.
As Rosie Begg, Head of Strategy for Gorgate Farms commented: “I have no idea how much GHG is produced by my farm, we need to establish a base-line before we can measure and manage it.”
Access to this agri-tech would enable a justification for land use and also a means for attaching a monetary value, for example, to the carbon captured. There was also a need for financial support to de-risk innovation.
Agriculture: greater than the sum of its parts
A speaker in the keynote panel, John Crawford, until recently science director at Rothamsted Research, commented that agriculture is more than a sum of its parts. Considering food systems as an interconnected network was a more helpful approach.
He said: "I think the concept of One Agriculture is about how we create that transformation. How do we transform the food system so it does not just have a benign effect on the environment, it repairs the environment and supports human health? Because it does none of those things now."
One of his predictions is that innovations in agri-tech will soon enable real time knowledge of food systems: “We will be having an environmental health forecast alongside the weather.”
The business opportunities created by a move towards sustainability were captured in a recent international IPPC report. Further case studies demonstrating how farmers had benefited from a more integrated ‘One Health’ approach to disease management were presented by other keynote panel speakers Simon Doherty, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and Heleen Prinsen, project leader of the South Netherlands Farmers Union. These included strategies to overcome concerns of the public and improving management of disease outbreaks.
Innovating towards One Agriculture
The Sofa Session provided an inspirational conclusion to the conference with early career farmers or technologist and scientist outlining what needs to change to realise the vision of One Agriculture. Improved collaboration was highly featured, along with the need to engage with the public in better ways.
Agri-Tech East is to bring together farmers and growers with scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs to create a global innovation hub in agri-tech.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, explains: “Emerging agri-tech offers solutions to global challenges, and new thinking on good agricultural practice is not limited by age or geography, as is seen by the increasingly national and international membership of Agri-Tech East and the origins of the companies in the Start-Up Showcase.
“The speakers and demonstrators at REAP showed that there is huge opportunity to create sustainable, productive and profitable farming enterprises - and a collaborative, systems-based or ‘One Agriculture’ approach will be the most effective way to achieve this,” Belinda concluded.
At REAP, Agri-Tech East announced it is partnering with the Missouri Partnership to provide a gateway to UK companies to the St Louis agri-food ecosystem, in the heart of US agricultural production. The Missouri Agri-Tech Connect Programme in February 2020 will include networking event and tailored meetings.
REAP Start-Up Showcase: presenting solutions for sustainable agriculture
EcoNomad: ‘Waste To Energy’ Solution Accessible For Smallholders
Agri-tech start-up miniaturises biogas production to offer affordable option.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) turns waste into biogas and a nutrient rich soil additive – but the current solutions are too complex and expensive for smallholdings. To give smaller farmers the benefit of AD, agri-tech start-up EcoNomad Solutions, from Ilan Adler and Alex Demenko, has re-engineered the technology to create a more affordable option that uses passive heating methods and naturally occurring bacteria.
Ilan has previously co-founded a charity (IRRI-Mexico) and an award-winning social enterprise in Latin America (sistema.bio), which seek to bring a range of solutions for communities and smallholders in developing markets. Now EcoNomad is bringing a refined version of those technologies adapted to the UK and Europe at large.
HayBeeSee: World’s First ‘Hopper’ Robot Could Halve Farmers’ Herbicide Use
A new hopping robot that can identify, map and kill weeds for hours at a time, with minimal supervision, was launched by UK start-up HayBeeSee at REAP 2019. Crop Hopper, a jumping-quadcopter, promises to deliver large-scale precision agriculture that could cut farmers’ herbicide use by 50 per cent or more.
HayBeeSee co-founder Fred Miller has a family farm in Nebraska, USA, and trained as an aerospace engineer. He could see the benefits of using drones, but understood their limitations. So, he set about developing a whole new classification of vehicle using the cutting-edge concept of a jumping robot with a quadcopter underneath to help it hover a short distance above the ground.
Trials of Crop Hopper are planned at Rothamsted Research.
MoA Technology: Is Time Up For Blackgrass?
Agri-Tech Start-up MoA Technology offers a rapid screening technology for herbicide development.
A radically different approach to herbicide development that uses insights from evolutionary biology to offer new modes of action is being offered by start-up MoA Technology. The company has developed a crop protection discovery platform to find new herbicide leads. Co-founder Professor Liam Dolan says that its rapid screening process, which uses both whole plants and active ingredients, should fast-track the introduction of effective herbicides with low environmental impacts.
By developing herbicides with different modes of action, MoA Technology is confident that it can break the herbicide ‘arms race’ and provide more sustainable solutions to farmers. The company recently raised £8 million.
Zelp: Capturing Cattle Burps to Reduce Greenhouse Gases
Sons of Argentinian rancher combine farming knowledge with technical expertise.
Cow burps have been slammed as a major cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) – but how much methane is produced and can it be reduced? These are the questions being addressed by agri-tech start-up Zelp, which has developed a way to capture methane emissions and oxidise them in the field. Zelp was established by two brothers whose family runs a cattle ranch in Argentina.
Zelp co-founder Francisco Norris is a design technologist, while his brother Patricio is an expert in natural gas and methane treatment. They were brought up on a family farm, which rears 1,500 animals, so have significant understanding of the issues facing farmers looking to improve sustainability and profitability.
They recently closed a funding round of $1.2 million
Glas Data: Helping Farmers Understand Patterns In Their Data
Cornish agri-tech start-up aggregates relevant data sources in one easy-to-use dashboard.
Glas Data's farm-centric dashboard, GlasCore, allows you to input agri-data from any source. GlasCore provides fully customisable visualisation and modelling without the need for specialist skills. In addition to data aggregation and visualisation, Glas Data is also moving towards offering predictive modelling. Many yield models have developed over the years, and Glas Data is making these readily available to farmers.
Rob Sanders, co-founder of Glas Data, returned to his West Country roots after working as a software engineer in London for many years. Glas Data is currently doing a project with Rothamsted Research.
FOTENIX: Lab-Quality Crop Analytics Now At Farmers’ Fingertips
Start-up FOTENIX launches cost-effective spectral imaging device at REAP 2019.
To provide affordable crop diagnostics in real-time, agri-tech start-up FOTENIX has miniaturised lab quality technology so it can be used in the field. Spectral image data is captured with a standard camera and LED flash and transmitted for analysis in the cloud, with results delivered to producers’ smartphones. The compact device is the size of a shoebox and can be integrated into farm equipment.
Crop diagnostics specialist Charles Veys has teamed up with Professor Bruce Grieve, Director of the e-Agri Sensors Centre (who works with the Gates Foundation in Sub-Saharan Africa), to make sophisticated imaging technology affordable for small scale farmers.
Image: One Agriculture - Fred Miller & Tomasz Wierzchowski (HayBeeSee), Simon Doherty (BVA), Dr Belinda Clarke, (Director of Agri-Tech East), Emma Kelcher (Elveden)
Agri-Tech East is an independent business-focused cluster organisation for the East of England. It is creating a global innovation hub, to improve the international competitiveness of plant and crop-based agriculture and catalyse economic growth.