Not all Agri-Tech East members are in the region. Harper Adams University, based in Shropshire, started out as an agricultural college in 1901 and now provides education and research for land-based industries across the agri-food chain.
Dr David Llewellyn, Vice-Chancellor of Harper Adams University, sees increasing interest from students for subjects such as robotics, software engineering and the use of drones in agronomy as a means to capture the enthusiasm of young people for agri-food careers.
He comments: “Rapid advances being made in technology will inevitably change some aspects of farming in the future. We teach agricultural engineering at the University, so making sure that our engineers know how to work with agriculturalists is important. They need to understand how new technologies can be implemented effectively within farming activities.
“We engage with the agri-tech community through our National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF) and our other applied research activities. One example is our long-term controlled traffic farming trials where we are working with companies such as Michelin, AGCO and Vaderstad.
“Innovate UK funded projects include the development of dedicated sensor technologies to enable dairy farmers to improve cattle health and welfare through continuous monitoring of animal behaviour; development of a new baling system for integration in controlled traffic farming; and the creation of a laser-weeding system to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of weed management.
Harper Adams is encouraging students to get involved in GROW as part of the university’s drive to help them to think as entrepreneurs.
There is a need, he says, for students to understand how ideas can be turned into commercial applications, which the University also encourages through its support of SMEs across the agri-food chain. He gives one instance of a successful business generated by former students:
“A great example of the entrepreneurial spirit of our graduates is Northamptonshire-based Warner Edwards Gin, created by two of our alumni, which has won international awards and was named last February as one of DEFRA’s Fifty Food Star companies, celebrating the future of UK food and drink.”
Llewellyn sees the recent launch of the new £4m Dairy Crest Innovation Centre as evidence of the growing importance of universities connecting with leading businesses in new ways. It is based on the campus, and is home to around 40 of the company’s food technology and new product development staff:
“This exciting project is already producing new collaborations between the company and the University and we expect more to be developed over the next year.”