These were the disruptive solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing global agri-food production presented by early-stage agri-tech companies in the REAP Start-Up Showcase.
The companies were selected to present in the Start-Up Showcase at Agri-TechE’s REAP 2020 conference to an audience of farmers, investors, fellow technologists and researchers. A presence in the showcase has proven to be a good indicator of potential – many previous participants have successfully secures funding, deals and collaborators.
“The broader ‘One Agriculture’ type approaches presented at REAP today recognise that natural systems are interconnected and understanding that can help guide the direction of future innovations,” comments Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, a membership organisation supporting the growth of the agri-tech ecosystem.
“We have seen technologies that focus on the micro-scale of pheromones for trapping midges right through to the international scale of earth observation from satellites to mitigate risk of crop failure.
“Managing across all these scales is vital to take us closer to sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture. We need to focus our efforts on creating collaborations that can accelerate solutions to global challenges.”
The REAP 2020 Start-Up Showcase line-up:
“Happy animals are the most productive, and we saw the opportunity for a climate-controlled environment that would offer the animals space and protection from pests and harsh conditions, which would standardise conditions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Daniel Larn, MD of Willand Group, Plymouth.
The Willand Intelligent Livestock System (WIL System) – resembling the inflatable structures used for many years to provide undercover sports facilities – can be installed and fitted-out within weeks and offers the potential for methane and carbon capture to enable the industry to meet its Net Zero targets profitably.
A plant-based alternative to micro plastics is being developed by Xampla. The company is currently making edible plastics but sees a bigger opportunity in creating biodegradable products from non-food crops and waste streams.
Simon Hombersley is founder of Cambridge-based Xampla, and says plant-based plastics are a major opportunity for growers: “We are currently using pea protein powder to create nutritional microcapsules, and we are interested in talking to farmers and the wider supply chain about sources of pea and other protein.”
Smaller, faster, cheaper and more durable intelligent mobile robots will be possible with Antobot Ltd technology, which offers twice the ‘brain’ power of commercially available mobile robots in a third of the size. The company has recently been awarded Innovate UK and Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative grants to help develop its mobile agriculture robot prototypes.
Howard Wu is founder of Antobot, which is based in Cambridge and China. He explains: “Our first commercial product will be a highly compact 4-wheel-drive scouting robot capable of counting fruits, determining fruit ripeness and size whilst also mapping fruiting locations in three dimensions to allow picking at a later stage.”
“Smart monitoring approaches with pheromones are designed to remove the need for prophylactic pesticide application, therefore reducing spraying overall,” explains Dan Bahia, who co-founded PheroSyn in 2019 alongside a highly experienced team of Rothamsted chemists.
PheroSyn, based at Rothamsted, has developed a cost-effective Smart Monitoring system for orange wheat blossom midge using the insect’s own communication channel, pheromones, used by the midge to communicate and find a mate over long distances.
The Land App is an easy to use digital mapping platform that enables land managers to benefit from new agri-environmental schemes, connect with Natural Capital investors and design integrated estate plans that support best practice.
Tim Hopkin founded the company in 2015 out of personal frustration when he struggled to save the family farm in Sussex. “I was trying to work out how best to use the land assets to stop us having to sell the farm and found the available information so fragmented. The solution is Land App; it supports land managers with designing integrated estate plans that support diversification, has 1.2 million hectares of farmland represented within the platform and contracts with major regional and local land agents.”
By tapping into vibrations in the hive, agri-tech start-up BeeSecure is able to listen into conversations, ensuring that the bees are happy, healthy and performing well. Roberto Pasi, co-founder of BeeSecure, says the company can understand ten main topics, quickly identifying issues.
BeeSecure is based in Italy and supports thousands of beehives across mainland Europe. It is part of the EIT Food Accelerator Programme and has just started working with beekeeper associations and farmers in the UK. Its new product BeeSecure is changing the way bee services are rented on farm
“We saw the opportunity to offer a world view of global agriculture with our Geobotanics crop monitoring platform, which mixes data from multiple satellites to provide a daily update with zero interference from clouds,” says Jon Pierre of Mantle Labs. The company’s revolutionary AI algorithm called Helios ‘sees through clouds’, increasing the accuracy of satellite imagery for risk assessment and crop monitoring
Mantle Labs now has a presence in the UK (Southampton), India and Austria and operates internationally. It recently won the special commendation award at the Financial Times / International Finance Corporation Transformational Business 2020 Awards in the Food, Land and Water Category.
Information about the progress of previous participants in the REAP Start-Up Showcase can be found on the website: reapconference.co.uk.