Innovation in machinery is about working smart. In the current economic and environmental climate, the ‘lean’ approach – increasing efficiency and quality while reducing resource use – is an attractive way forward.
An example of the ‘lean’ approach is the winner of this year’s Farmers Guardian trophy at Lamma. The Ubiqutek Touch Pro hand weeder uses electricity to kill weeds without damaging surrounding plants or soil.
It can spot-treat all species, including perennial and invasive weeds, such as Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam. Judges chose it because of its potential to reduce pesticide use and for its suitability for areas where chemicals are banned.
Like many great innovations, it solves an established problem in a way which is convenient, cost-effective and considerate of the wider environment. Another winner at Lamma, Witham Oil and Paint, took home the IAgrE Ivel Award for environmental innovation for its range of Prolan lubricants.
These products are developed from agricultural waste and formulated to protect a wide range of equipment in multi-industry applications worldwide. They provide protection from rust and corrosion for metal, wood, rubber and electrical components, thanks to lanolin from sheep’s wool, a non-toxic moisturiser and protector proven to work in extreme environments.
The products require minimal input – in Prolan’s case, even contributing to solving a waste issue – and provide a single, simple solution to a multitude of problems. They work hard and smart. As farmers develop ‘digital farms’, innovation in machinery is increasingly about working smart.
Tags, chips, sensors and cameras fitted to machinery and placed elsewhere on-farm gather information to help maximise productivity and flexibility.
The sky is literally the limit. The Satellite Applications Catapult has been looking at how commercial services can be developed using free satellite data from Sentinel 1, an EU-funded space mission, to monitor crop growth.
This has been followed up with a project to test and demonstrate the service, with an aim to make it commercially available to farmers by the end of 2017. Crop growth and soil moisture data, combined with weather forecasts and updates from customers, can help farmers predict and control crop growth, forecast peaks in demand and maximise market value.
Data is fed to actuators which adjust inputs automatically. This self-managing system enables farmers to monitor crops and livestock and act promptly when something goes wrong. Mark Rutter of Harper Adams University College is working with the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation (Agri-EPI) Centre, which has received a £17.7 million Government investment to provide engineering and precision agriculture solutions for the agri-food industry.
He says: “It is very much about trying to improve economic performance in farming through getting better uptake of new technologies, knowledge and practices. We are actually working with F1 Williams. It is not that we are trying to make tractors quicker, but they are really good at instrumentation.
“They can get data. They can process it in real-time. It is about using their technology, their expertise, so we can use it in real-time when we are making decisions out on-farm. “We have satellite farms spread across the country monitoring what is going on at farm level so we can try and get some understanding of variability within and between farms.”
Innovators are removing the barriers which prevent connections between tractors, weigh scales, weeders and other machinery onfarm, thus enabling farmers to use information from the field to inform key decisions in a timely manner.
Dave Ross, chief executive of Agri-EPI, says smart technology can aid farm management, efficiency, productivity and ultimately profit. He says: “An internet of things environment could mean interconnected tractors, machinery, even individual animal monitoring systems, will provide the future farmer with realtime farm performance measures.”
THE search is on once again for a new crop of agricultural entrepreneurs. Launched in 2014 by Briefing Media, in conjunction with Co-op Food, Agri-Innovation Den aims to give entrepreneurs with an interest in farming an opportunity to develop their ideas and innovations.
Now also supported by The Mulberry Green Fund, finalists stand to gain a share of the £20 million investment pot in exchange for a stake in their business, a guaranteed Briefing Media promotional package worth £5,000, as well as on-going help and business support.
If you are an entrepreneur, farmer or a student with a great product or concept you believe could help farmers, we want to hear from you. Applications close July 7, 2017.
For more information, visit www.aginnovationden.com