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Innovate UK

Helping Agri-Tech innovators stay ahead of the game

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Funding, ISCF, Support

There are so many challenges facing agriculture these days that it’s hard to know where to start – new diseases, labour issues, hyper competitive supply chains, Brexit…?

I would argue that while all of these issues are important, maintaining the ability to innovate and change is the most important factor for any industry, or business, to survive and succeed.

Rows of fruit being grown in a polytunnel

Most successful agri-food industries today are big innovators.  The UK berry industry, for example, effectively combines research and innovation with new systems such as polytunnels, table-top growing systems and computerised fertiliser/irrigation systems.

Not only does this produce larger amounts of better products, but it’s helped the sector grow strongly and stay competitive.

Finding effective and reliable solutions

Climate change, environment and evolving consumer preferences continue to create new pressures, so producers have to rise to the challenge - using less nitrogen fertiliser, fewer chemicals while keeping a lid on their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

hands holding up a tablet computer checking the temperature, water and fertlizer levels of the crops growing in a polytunnel

Finding effective and reliable solutions to these challenges that work across a wide range of farms, animals, soil types and climate zones involves significant amounts trial and error.  It also requires the use of facilities specifically designed to allow researchers to measure and analyse data – ideally in as close to real-life systems as possible.

Centres for Agricultural Innovation

The UK Government has already recognised these challenges and the need for investment in high quality research facilities to help the agricultural sector innovate and keep ahead of the growing number of pressures it faces.  Since 2015, Innovate UK has invested almost £90 million of government funds in four Centres for Agricultural Innovation (Agri-Tech centres).

These investments have developed new infrastructure and research capabilities and that will address many of the existing and new challenges facing UK agriculture.

Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock video start screen showing dairy cows and workers in a barn behind the wording University of Nottingham Dairy Centre
Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock video

I recently visited one of these new research facilities at Nottingham University.  The new dairy centre which is part of CIEL - the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock is a world class intensive farm with capacity for 360 cows.

In addition to the latest farm tech such as milking and feeding robots, the facility also includes an impressive array of scientific equipment designed measure feed efficiency, monitor cow behaviour and provide bio secure facilities.

The dairy centre will focus on four key areas of research:

  1. Impact of various diets on milk production and composition, feed intake and live-weight change in high production dairy cows
  2. rumen function, digestibility, greenhouse gas emissions, reproduction and feeding behaviour.
  3. emerging technologies to prevent disease and improve cow welfare.
  4. Disease management and analysis of novel therapies and vaccines derived from new genomic technologies

Long row of black and white cows with yellow tags in their ears eating straw in a cowshed

An environment to test new products and services

The new dairy centre allows the UK industry to work with leading researchers at the University to improve farm productivity, environment and welfare performance as well as providing emerging agri-tech companies with world class facilities to develop and test their products/services.

The Nottingham dairy unit is just one of many agricultural research facilities that have been expanded or upgraded as a result of the Agri-Tech Centre funding over the last three years.

These new facilities will help to cement the UK’s position as a global leader in applied animal research and contribute to the nation’s industrial strategy.

Black and white cows in a hillside field

Potential for more companies to be involved

A number of UK and International companies are already working with the Agri-Tech centres to develop new products and services, but there is still potential for more organisations to become involved.

Companies interested in leveraging the expertise and equipment provided by these world class facilities should contact the centres.

Having world class research facilities won’t solve the myriad of agri-food sector challenges overnight.  They will, however, ensure that relevant solutions continue to be developed to emerging opportunities and threats facing the sector.

Continued innovation will provide new growth opportunities for organisations supplying agricultural markets and ensure a long-term future for proactive UK farmers.


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1 comment

  1. Comment by GRAHAM A.B.EDWARDS posted on

    The entire world of AGRICULTURE & Food production has NOW to be changed.
    The main reason is that the volume of food ,NEEDED to produce is soon to be DOUBLED.
    So how can this be done?
    Firstly the world`s SOIL-HEALTH has to be RAPIDLY IMPROVED & is why USA has created a new Soil-health 2017.....VITAL for USA & its large land mass of the worlds soil.
    The FIRST requirement is to acknowledge that PLOUGHING ,very often,DEGRADES the PRECIOUS soil......of the world.
    Arising from FAO`s support for Conservation Agriculture [CA] ,ZERO-TILLAGE & NO-TILL.........the first consideration has to be the HEALTH of this precious resource..............the SOIL .
    Secondly,the PLOUGH has to be seen as destructive to the soil`s-health despite the fact that 32-million ploughing-first tractors are used every day.
    The FIRST thing for the world`s farmers to do is to CEASE PLOUGHING to ensure that ,for MOST crops,the SOIL can be in a healthy state.
    The second vital consideration is for each of these PLOUGHING-FIRST tractors to become both MUCH FASTER [so the farmer can work more productively] & these FARM TRACTORS need to be about half as heavy as those TRACTORS which are DESIGNED to Plough.
    When the ploughing system for tractors came in to centre-stage,it was Harry Ferguson & Henry Ford that created PLOUGHING-Focused tractors BEFORE Agronomists & Soil Scientists started to realise ,in 1943,that
    "Plowmans Folly", the book, was the way forward & is now promoted by FAO,ECAF +++.ACT.= Brazil`s FEBRAPDP & the no-till newsletter in USA.

    At Manchester University, in UK, the FARM TRANSPORTATION TRACTOR was built & its pioneering team began to look at the WORLD`s bigger countries e.g,South Africa,USA,India,Malaysia Australia in order to determine the value & significance of FARM TRANSPORTATION.
    FAO had kept their eyes on this technological & engineering development from UK & after some study came to the conclusion that NOT only was this kind of FARM TRACTOR much more productive than "THE PLOUGHERS" because it was FASTER ,but ALSO that it fitted the NEW kind of FARMING system [called Conservation Agriculture {CA}, by FAO, the No-Till system by USA farmers & Zero-Tillage by the pioneering BRAZILIANS [assisted by J.N.Landers OBE] and certainly not ever "min-till"........used wrongly in UK-Parliament in OCTOBER 2017 by Michael Gove M.P. & Minister for UK-Agriculture.
    UK is particularly good at INNOVATION & in this particular case UK is far in advance of those vast International TRACTOR--makers [ALL-PLOWERS]
    that,because of the history of ploughing ,create those SLOW & HEAVY tractors we see every day on our roads........and incidently becoming something of a nuisance to those in cars & trucks .........because of that SLOWNESS......................the tailbacks of cars in country areas slow everything down to a max.of 20mph.
    Change is coming...... with about 14% of the Food -producing world now using ploughing tractors instead of lower weight faster farm tractors....but it is UK [GREAT BRITAIN] that leads the world in the design and development of new kinds of FARM tractors for the NEW farming systems which are SOIL-HEALTH focused & which are being ACTIVELY being Promoted by FAO,ECAF,CASA,ACT & the no-till Farmers clubs that have understood that SOIL-health really does matter.