Funds in place for Agri-Tech’s precision agriculture centre

The third of the UK’s Agricultural Innovation Centres, set up under the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, has received its initial funding. It joins the Agrimetrics Centre and Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) as part of the eventual five centre network.

The Agricultural Engineering and Precision Farming (Agri-EPI) Centre has received funds of £17.5 million of funding from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills for the next four year period. It will be a global hub for innovation in the livestock, arable, aquaculture and horticulture sectors, delivered through a partnership of industry companies and academic bodies.

Agri-EPI’s core members are Cranfield University, Harper Adams University and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) together with feed manufacturer Harbro, precision agronomy specialist AgSpace Agriculture and Kingshay Farming, the ruminant research consultancy that is now part of the West Sussex-based Origin Group of production animal veterinary businesses.  The Centre says it has already formed commercial partnerships with over 65 companies ranging from retailers such as Morrisons and Marks & Spencer to engineering companies including Boeing, JCB and Williams Advanced Engineering and primary processors like McCain Foods.

 “Agriculture and horticulture are going to be key industries as we look to feed a vastly growing population, while minimising environmental impact - in five years’ time this quickly growing sector will be worth £2.3 billion globally,” notes project lead Willie Thomson of Harbro. ”Agri-EPI intends to help drive that growth, supporting innovative ideas which will help farmers and business owners become sustainable in this exciting and challenging time.”

The project intends to combine research, practical expertise and data gathering to help increase the efficiency and sustainability of land-based industries. Key areas of work will include livestock and plant growth rates, nutrient efficiency, product quality and health. It will explore the use of technologies such as automated vehicles;  instrumentation to monitor operations and the in-field performance of cropping systems and harnessing sensing and imaging technologies to monitor livestock production in health and product quality.

Much of the delivery will be through working farms and processing facilities equipped with the latest sensing and imaging equipment. As well as helping with the research, these will also act as demonstration centres to cascade the knowledge into the wider industry.