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Smart farm - A new approach to farming?

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The world is constantly changing and faces new challenges. This has never be more true than in the agri-food sector.

As the global population grows the world has to learn how to produce more food on less land. Not only that but the climate is changing, with global temperatures rising and more unpredictable weather. What it means for a country such as China with a fifth or the worlds population is that the extra mouths will need a further 100 billion kilograms of wheat to feed it, but climate change is likely to reduce yields by 5-10%. This means China will have to increase wheat hectarage by 10 million hectares – about half the size of the UK regardless of the pressure to build new housing for the population.

Climate change also helps with the spread of diseases and pests such as Xylella fastidiosa which is devastating grape and olive crops in Europe and is threatening the oak trees in the UK. With the move to reduce the number of control agents such as pesticides, fungicides etc, this scenario may become more prevalent adding to the problems of how to feed a burgeoning population.

4 Centres for agricultural Innovation

Innovate UK is supporting 4 Centres for agricultural Innovation to help to tackle problems that no one area of the agri-food sector can tackle on its own. They exist to deliver applied solutions to solve real world problems.

The 4 Centres are:

  1. Agrimetrics – the leading AI big data Centre focusing on agri-tech/food
  2. Agri-EPI -  engineering precision innovation Centre
  3. CHAP, the crop health and protection Centre
  4. CIEL, the Centre for innovation excellence in livestock, it is also the largest applied animal research group in Europe.

Although only been in existence for two years the Centres through their partner organisations are making great strides in joining up a complicated research landscape for industry and are starting to deliver on industrial projects. These facilities are open access - anybody can use them, but they are not free, you do have to pay.

The concept of the smart farm

Agri-EPI  has developed a concept to try to reduce the pressures on the food supply chain.

The concept is simple: to measure and interpret data arising through a food supply chain, determine the variances and look at ways to reduce these, raising the overall productivity of the supply chain, as well as reducing the environmental impact and improve food quality.

Smart farm concept image. showing the need for less inputs (or improved crops), more outputs (for healthier animals), safer and healthier food. Image shows crop cycle from seed to grain, animal cycle from live to carcass and onto food.
Smart farm concept

It will not be simple to deliver but Innovate UK believes it is worth exploring and has funded Agri-EPI to carry out a pilot project in China. Working with the China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) which is part of the Ministry of science and Technology, Agri-EPI is on a mission to China this week to explore the practicalities of making it happen.

Mission delegates group photo.
Mission delegates

The mission hosted by the Science and Innovation Network from the Embassy  held a successful seminar, agreeing a way forward with representatives from CRTDC, NERCITA and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences at the National Agricultural Science and Technology Exhibition Park - Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, where Teresa May visited the week before.

Prof Xiu T Yan of Strathclyde University speaking to Madame Liu at the P2P Dialogue December 2017 at the Agri-Tech Centre stand
Prof Xiu T Yan of Strathclyde University speaking to Madame Liu at the P2P Dialogue December 2017 at the Agri-Tech Centre stand


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