A multi-million-pound hub for the development, testing and sharing of technologies to boost productivity in farming and the food supply chain has opened in the Midlands following Innovate UK investment.
Agri-EPI Centre has developed the £4.4 million research & development facility in close partnership with Harper Adams University.
Located on the University’s campus in Shropshire, the hub will bring together researchers, technology and engineering companies and food businesses, from farmers right through to retailers.
A priority for the new hub is to encourage farmer uptake of innovative technologies to increase the overall benefits to UK agriculture. Experts will explore how robotics, lasers, sensors and satellite technology may benefit farmers, such as robots which can pick soft fruit or lasers which can target individual weeds in a field without pesticides or damage to the crop. Such technologies are being researched by Harper Adams and others in conjunction with industry partners, to be tested further through the Agri-EPI Centre network.
The new hub pursues Innovate UK’s own ambition to develop and incubate new high-tech start-up business in a rapidly growing market (compound growth of over 15% pa). It is creating a high-tech asset that has already secured one high value tenant – TAFE Tractors from India.
The hub was officially opened today (29.11.18) by Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, who said: “From picking soft fruits using robots, to treating crops using lasers and avoiding harmful pesticides, the innovations being considered by Agri-EPI Centre will revolutionise farming as we know it and make it more profitable than ever before.
“Our agricultural sector is the biggest industrial sector in the UK and our farmers are multi-skilled – they are investor, environmentalists and scientists. We need to make sure these skills keep pace with the growth of new technologies which is why we have invested £90 million through our modern Industrial Strategy to put the UK at the forefront of these innovations and boost productivity.”
Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said: “By bringing together experts spanning different disciplines and sectors, Agri-EPI seeks to unlock exciting opportunities for the development and testing of new ideas and technologies of potential benefit to farmers and the rest of the food supply chain. Our new Midlands hub is one of four ground-breaking facilities we will be running across the UK to really push forward new thinking and technologies that can boost the productivity, sustainability and profitability of the agri-food industry.”
Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Llewellyn, said: “There are considerable opportunities to grow the agri-technology sector through the work of the Agri-EPI Centre and the facilities being formally opened today. The Government has recognised the importance of this new sector by designating nearby Telford as a High Potential Opportunity area for inward investment in agri-technologies, and our Local Authority and the Marches LEP have identified agri-tech as a strategic priority, based on our activities and those of the Agri-EPI network.
Ian Cox, Innovate UK Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres said: “Ultimately, this is about the successful transfer of new technologies, and the skills for their use, into farming practice to improve productivity, profitability and environmental performance in food production. Working with the Agri-EPI Centre team we are committed to achieving these objectives.”
The new hub offers a 500m2 workshop space equipped with tools, rapid prototyping equipment and fabrication facilities, along with office space for rent.
In addition, the state-of-the-art Midlands Dairy Research Centre, developed by Agri-EPI in partnership with and managed by Harper-Adams, will focus on the use of next generation technology to understand dairy cow behaviour and welfare. Its 50-cow robotic milking shed was designed specifically for trial work, complementing Harper Adams’ 380-strong commercial dairy herd. The Centre is sponsored by DeLaval, Easyfix and IceRobotics.
Agri-EPI is also collaborating closely with the Harper Adams Hands Free Hectare project team, looking at increasing automation and the integration of 5G technology in field operations.