Emerging agri-tech offers solutions to global challenges, and new thinking on good agricultural practice is not limited by age or geography – these are some of the uplifting messages to come out of Agri-Tech East’s REAP conference ‘Innovating towards One Agriculture’.
The world has found technological solutions to major challenges before – improvements in plant breeding, nutrition and irrigation created a green revolution in the 1960s that significantly increased agricultural production worldwide – now the challenge is how to work with nature to optimise the finite resources that the planet offers.
The REAP Start-Up Showcase and other speakers this year demonstrated clearly an international perspective. Entrepreneurs based in Cornwall, Manchester, Oxford and London, and with perspectives drawn from Argentina, Mexico and Sub-Saharan Africa, shared insights on the technologies that are on the roadmap towards ‘One Agriculture’.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, explains: “Food systems, human health, animal health and the environment are underpinned by innovation in the way food is produced. This brings with it a huge opportunity to create sustainable, productive and profitable farming enterprises.”
Agri-Tech East’s vision is to bring together farmers and growers with scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs to create a global innovation hub in agri-tech.
Belinda continues: “The east-of-England is rich in innovation but the agri-tech cluster is not restricted by geography, so we have made the decision to remove it from our organisation’s name and Agri-Tech East will become Agri-TechE from January.”
The name change was announced along with other international news: Agri-Tech East 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. Read more about this exciting news here.
Start-Up Showcase at REAP 2019
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 (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. 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.
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.