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06 Nov 2020

Incubators supporting a tech-led future

As featured in Arable Farming Magazine

Incubators supporting a tech-led future

by Arable Farming Nov/Dec 2020 issue

The UK is one of the largest investors globally for agritech and is now home to a number of ‘incubators that support tech start-ups and farmers looking to invest. Alice Dyer finds out how these hubs are helping to propel the industry into a tech-led future.

Getting impartial advice on adopting new technology

While developments in agritech are evolving fast, adoption by farmers is not.

Confusion over where to start or how to make the best investment are commonly cited reasons for this.

But the new Agri-Tech Centre at Hartpury University and College hopes to change that.

Taking a farmer focus, the facility, which opened in February, will act as the go-to place for farm businesses, big or small, at any stage of their tech journey, looking for impartial advice on technology that could benefit them.

It offers a free service to farmers looking to invest in technology through knowledge exchange, training, demonstrations and workshops and connects producers with companies offering agritech solutions tailored to their business.

Centre manager Ben Thompson says: Ever since the Government announced that agriculture needs to start embracing technology the floodgates opened to a lot of innovators, which means there is some technology that isnt viable or potentially does not serve a real-world problem.

We are a base for farmers to see what is available and what they can invest in, as well as how to get the most out of new technology. The service offers support for all tech-related decisions, from pre-investment to integration and use on-farm.

This includes considerations such as infrastructure, return on investment and how it could tie into future ag policy.

Mr Thompson adds: Rather than making that investment into something shiny and new, it is about making an investment into viable technology and into proven solutions that are available now. The service is available to any farmer across all sectors, at any stage of their ‘tech journey, whether they have invested in nothing and want to get started, or somebody with more experience looking to make the most of what they already have.

We can help with any size and scale of investment, from an app all the way to robotics and automation, says Mr Thompson.

We are there to elevate the companies that have done the hard work.

We are non-biased, so we welcome ag tech companies to get in contact. The facility will also look to link up with other agritech hubs in the UK that are more business facing to help their members roll out new products, says Mr Thompson.

The centre will be launching a membership package available to agritech providers, who can use the facilities to host workshops, training days and to connect with potential customers.

Visit hartpury-agri-tech-centre, or email

Government-funded tech centres delivering return on investment

As part of a £90 million Government investment from Innovate UK, four Agri-tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation were formed - Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), Agri-EPI Centre, Agrimetrics and Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock.

Results from collaborations with CHAP include Crop Monitor Pro (see p28-29) and the pipeline SlugBot project for autonomous monitoring and precision treatment of slugs, already delivering the centres mandate to increase crop productivity for future generations through the uptake of new technologies.

Hub Agri-EPI Centre and its regional innovation hubs take a precision agriculture and engineering focus.

To August 2020, it had undertaken 71 externally funded commercial and R&D projects with a total value of £28.7m.

Solutions developed include Crover (see p28-29) and hightech grain quality monitor, CropScan 3000h which allows barley growers to maximise the proportion of their crop suitable for the premium malting market.

Agri-EPI has established partnerships with 24 farmers to trial such technology, creating the Agri-EPI Satellite Farm network where new technologies and techniques can be researched, developed, evaluated and demonstrated in commercial farming settings.

CropScan trials were carried out at satellite farms in Suffolk and Gloucester during the last three harvests.

There, the scanner has been used to measure the protein content of milling wheat crops.

Gavin Dick, Agri-EPI Centres farms and commercial manager, says the next step is to maximise CropScans potential, with a key target being the Scottish malting barley market.

Agri-EPI also currently leads SMART farm projects with academic and commercial partners in Paraguay, China and New Zealand.

Each involves trials of UK agritech products.

Its growing number of member companies and organisations currently stands at 150 and ranges from retail multiples, supply chain businesses, outof-sector companies such as Amazon AWS and several highgrowth start-ups.

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