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Leeds University launches ‘Smart’ farms initiative

The University of Leeds is launching a new initiative aimed at giving farms and businesses a competitive advantage and increasing their value.


Marianne   Curtis

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Marianne   Curtis
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According to the university, farmers and agri-businesses are facing more challenges, including political climate changes, fluctuating trading patterns and the need to increase efficiency and productivity.

 

Academics from the University say they will work with partners to provide multi-discipline, systems-based solutions to help industry navigate future challenges for sustainable development of global food production.

 

Professor Lisa Collins, academic lead on the initiative, called Smart Agri-Systems, says: “The aim of the Smart Agri-Systems initiative is to work in close partnership with industry and government to develop solutions for a smarter and more sustainable future for food and farming.

 

“Farms and businesses can work with us to develop bespoke solutions, drawing on a range of expertise from advanced monitoring technology and big data analytics through to using these smart systems to help inform decision making.”

 

Developing systems and processes to develop ‘smart farms’, the initiative will draw on the university’s expertise in the following areas:

  • Precision nutrition, health and welfare;
  • Crop growth optimisation;
  • Agricultural policy, trade and governance;
  • Artificial intelligence and robotics;
  • Big data analysis and machine learning;
  • Mathematical modelling;
  • Environmental and supply chain monitoring;
  • Business systems and complex decision making;
  • Health and social sciences.

 

The initiative’s development work will draw on the services of the university’s established 317-hectare commercial farm, where a separate investment is being planned to turn it into a smart farm to underpin the research and act as a test-bed for commercial applications.

 

The farm, which is primarily arable, is also home to the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock’s (CIEL) leading pig research unit, a £10m investment featuring both indoor and outdoor production facilities.


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Practical solutions

 

The aim of Smart Agri-Systems is to offer practical solutions to agricultural businesses which need support to expand or meet modern challenges, rather than just carrying out research, according to the university.

 

Examples are said to include:

 

  • On the farm: Sensors – either fixed, or on drones and robotic crawlers – can monitor soil temperature and humidity, map crop growth and density, assess ground water composition, and track the weather, with data analysed to project crop performance.

 

  • Livestock production: Genomics data can be combined with real-time sensor outputs on environmental conditions, growth rates, feed consumption, and animal behaviour and health.

 

  • Beyond the farm: Combining data and expertise on supply chains and logistics, consumer behaviour, health outcomes, environmental monitoring, international law, trade and business to provide sustainable whole system solutions.
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