Can you hack it? Best brains given 48 hours to feed the world

The code-breakers of Bletchley Park were arguably the originators of the hackathon; the Allies were losing the war and drastic measures were needed. Talented people from different disciplines were given a clearly articulated problem and asked to come up with a solution. Using a mixture of engineering, linguistics and algorithms they cracked the Enigma Code and the rest is history.

To accelerate innovation in the agri-food industry, Agri-Tech East has partnered with Allia to host the first >sudo : grow hackathon.

The 48-hour hackathon is being delivered by Cambridge Applied Research and is to take place at the Allia Future Business Centre on the weekend of the 7-8th April 2018.

The hackathon will bring together people with knowledge and expertise in the fields of technology and applied science with the goal of solving critical issues proposed by experts from the agri-food industry.

At the end of the weekend, it is anticipated that a number of innovative concepts will emerge with the potential to be developed further into business ideas.

The agri-food industry is faced with a number of considerable challenges –productivity rates, increasing environmental pressures and growing demand for low-priced nutritious food – that have the potential to be transformed by digital technologies.

Agri-Tech East believes that we now have a perfect storm for innovation.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, explains: “There is a significant political, economic and social imperative to address these issues quickly, and there is money available to fund the development of new approaches and disruptive technologies.

“A hackathon promises to stimulate new thinking in a short time frame. We have not tried one before and so by bringing together people that are passionate about solving problems we hope to generate some innovative responses.”

Paul Hughes, director of Enterprise Support at Allia, has run several hackathons and says that the sudo format has proven successful, producing some innovative and feasible solutions: “Our hackathons create an environment to stimulate discussion around key impact challenges. They facilitate creative thinking, and create opportunities to utilise technology to collaborate and innovate, with an aim to improve people’s lives.”

The issues include:

Making food systems consumer-centric – many food crops such as herbs, fruit, salads, and summer vegetables are highly perishable, labour intensive and demand can vary with weather conditions. Cutting food miles by bringing production closer to the centres of population will reduce waste in the system and deliver fresher food. The challenge is how to integrate food product within smart cities, making use of undercover and vertical spaces.

Balancing performance with animal welfare – feed makes up 65 per cent of the costs of poultry production. Under optimal temperature and other conditions the birds will convert the feed to meat, but if they are too cold the energy will be used to generate heat. The challenge is how to monitor the birds and manage conditions to improve performance.

Weed and pest control in a post-chemical world – many of the chemicals used for pest control are now being withdrawn from use on environmental grounds. This is creating an opportunity for other control methods such as barrier protection, laser hoes, robotic weeders… or something else. The challenge is to develop a way of protecting crops cost-effectively.

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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.