Can you hack it? Best brains given 48 hours to feed the world

Published: 5 February, 2018

Can you hack it - sudo grow hackathonThe code-breakers of Bletchley Park were arguably the originators of the hackathon; the Allies were losing the war and drastic measures were needed. Talented people from different disciplines were given a clearly articulated problem and asked to come up with a solution. Using a mixture of engineering, linguistics and algorithms they cracked the Enigma Code and the rest is history.

First agri-hackathon

To accelerate innovation in the agri-food industry, Agri-Tech East has partnered with Allia to host the first >sudo : grow hackathon.

The 48-hour hackathon is being delivered by Cambridge Applied Research and is to take place at the Allia Future Business Centre in Cambridge on the weekend of the 7-8th April 2018.

The hackathon will bring together people with knowledge and expertise in the fields of technology and applied science with the goal of solving critical issues proposed by experts from the agri-food industry.

At the end of the weekend, it is anticipated that a number of innovative concepts will emerge with the potential to be developed further into business ideas.

Inspiring challenges 

The agri-food industry is faced with a number of considerable challenges –productivity rates, increasing environmental pressures and growing demand for low-priced nutritious food – that have the potential to be transformed by digital technologies.

Agri-Tech East believes that we now have a perfect storm for innovation.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, explains: “There is a significant political, economic and social imperative to address these issues quickly, and there is money available to fund the development of new approaches and disruptive technologies.

“A hackathon promises to stimulate new thinking in a short time frame. We have not tried one before and so by bringing together people that are passionate about solving problems we hope to generate some innovative responses.”

Paul Hughes, Director of Enterprise Support at Allia, has run several hackathons and says that the sudo format has proven successful, producing some innovative and feasible solutions: “Our hackathons create an environment to stimulate discussion around key impact challenges. They facilitate creative thinking, and create opportunities to utilise technology to collaborate and innovate, with an aim to improve people’s lives.”

The challenges include:

Making food systems consumer-centric – many food crops such as herbs, fruit, salads, and summer vegetables are highly perishable, labour intensive and demand can vary with weather conditions. Cutting food miles by bringing production closer to the centres of population will reduce waste in the system and deliver fresher food. The challenge is how to integrate food product within smart cities, making use of undercover and vertical spaces.

Data Integration for Crop Management –  Farmers capture huge amounts of data from different sources when monitoring and managing their farms. From weather data and crop yield information to soil moisture and drone imagery, there is an increasing amount of ‘big-data’ available in multiple formats. To create actionable insights from this data it is necessary to capture it in a usable format and put it into context using farm business information or data about market prices. This represents a huge challenge to the agricultural industry.

Supporting and enhancing traditional approaches to weed control – many of the chemicals used for pest control are now being withdrawn from use on environmental grounds. This is creating an opportunity for other control methods such as barrier protection, laser hoes, robotic weeders… or something else. The challenge is to develop a way of protecting crops cost-effectively.

Some of the experts and advisors involved in setting and supporting the challenges

Robert Allen of Greenvale, Giles Barker of KisanHub,  John Barret of Sentry Farms, Aaron Croucher of PA Consulting, Darren Gedge of G’s Growers, Andrew Gregson of GreenLab, Jason Hawkins-Rowe of Aponic, Tim Reynolds of Anglia Ruskin University, Luis Wells and Ben Miles of BASF, 

For more information about the first >sudo : grow hackathon visit

The >sudo : grow hackathon is sponsored by:

BASF (gigabyte sponsor), Barclays (megabyte sponsor), SmithsonHill (kilobyte sponsor)