An automatic weight logging system which reduces stress for livestock and farmers was the big winner at the inaugural Agri-Innovation Den interview day.
Pitched to a panel of agricultural business experts by Ayrshire farmer David Kerr, he secured investment from Briefing Media Agriculture chief executive Neil Thackray.
The groundbreaking Agri-Innovation Den initiative was spearheaded by Briefing Media Agriculture, owners of Farmers Guardian, Arable Farming, Dairy Farmer and Agrimoney, and run in partnership with The Co-operative Food.
It offered fledgling entrepreneurs and inventors the chance to secure investment and marketing support for their farm-based innovations.
Attracting huge interest and scores of entries, six finalists pitched their ideas to our very own Dragons Den-style panel, consisting of Mr Thackray, The Co-operative Food’s senior agricultural manager Ciara Gorst, Briefing Media Agriculture head of content Emma Penny and Lincolnshire arable farmer and Forage Aid founder Andrew Ward.
Speaking just after he secured the major financial investment of the day, Mr Kerr said: “I am feeling really good and very positive. All of the dragons are really involved and enjoyed what I had to say. They can see a huge potential for my idea.
“[I will now conduct] more research into who it is going to be for, how much the market can stand and who will take it on. There is a lot of research and development to be done.”
His concept, developed alongside fellow innovator Craig Bryson, incorporates EID technology and allows cattle, sheep or other animals to be weighed automatically on weigh stations when they go to the water trough to get a drink, which beef animals do four or five times daily.
With the need for getting beef cattle manually into a crush hopefully being minimised, Mr Kerr said it could have a number of benefits, both from a daily liveweight gain perspective and also a health and safety viewpoint.
He was adamant innovation was crucial for the future of farming and said schemes such as Agri-Innovation Den were vital to unearthing new ideas.
He added: “We would be stuck in the dark ages if we did not move things forward. There has not been a lot of innovation and new ideas in the past few years, but hopefully, with projects such as this and other grant schemes, we are going to get a lot more ideas to make life a bit easier.”
Briefing Media Agriculture head of content Ms Penny praised all the innovations which were put forward.
She said: “The Agri-Innovation Den day itself was really inspiring, as it was great to meet people behind the ideas and hear them explain their innovations. I think there is a lot we can do to support quite a few of the finalists.
“David did a very good presentation, including a video of a prototype in action on his farm, and he was clear about the benefits to farmers. We are looking forward to doing more to help develop his idea.”
Ms Gorst said: “We were delighted to hear of the livestock automatic weight logging system from David. It is an exciting innovation for the industry which will help focus on farm efficiencies, ease of use with livestock from a welfare and safety perspective and use of EID technology to drive farm performance more efficiently.”
“The Co-operative Food is proud to sponsor and be involved in the Agri-Innovation Den, spearheaded by Briefing Media Agriculture, to demonstrate our commitment to innovation in British Farming.
“The entrepreneurs and investor finalists should be proud of their pitches. A number will be followed up and developed further as we look at opportunities within our supply chain.
“It was a great day showing how advanced farmers in the UK are in developing technology and always looking for opportunities to improve their operations. We are excited at the opportunity to work with David on trialling his prototype within our beef farming group.”
“Agri-Innovation Den is an absolutely fantastic initiative and I felt incredibly proud to be one of the dragons.
“Starting off in business and getting a foot on the farming ladder is hard enough as it is, so for Briefing Media Agriculture and The Co-operative Food to develop something so out-of-the-box and forward-thinking can only be good for agricultural innovation.”
Despite some initial nerves, the duo soon got into their flow as they pitched their idea for an app which allows farmers to calculate the nutritional and economic value of manure.
The Farm Crap App, developed by the SWARM Hub at Duchy College, Cornwall, and Claire Reigate and Becky Willson, got a commitment from Briefing Media Agriculture to explore whether the app could be incorporated into Farmers Guardian’s product bundle, as well as marketing support.
And with the pair seeing innovation as vital as UK agriculture operates in a marketplace affected by global economic and weather events, they praised the initiative.
Ms Reigate said: “They really loved our idea and see lots of potential, but we need to do some groundwork and look at usage, which has been one of our challenges. It is scary but nice to have a bit of competition.”
Ms Willson added: “It was really positive to have industry acknowledgment and know an idea which started in the depths of Cornwall might be of use.”
While not securing direct funding from the dragons, The Co-operative Food’s Ciara Gorst believed there could be some synergy between Stephen Meenaghan’s chemical-free sterilisation kit and the complex food supply chains she oversees at the retailer.
With this to be explored further, Mr Meenaghan, who had the unenviable task of carrying out the first pitch of the day, said he was keen to take Stozone, which provides chemical-free sterilisation for the food packaging industry, forward.
He said: “I want to buy more units and increase our research into other foodstuffs and products we can treat and move into other sectors within farming.”
And Mr Meenaghan believed innovation is crucial for agriculture. “Through innovation, we have better hygiene treatments, such as Stozone, and it is about moving the industry forward.”
With Agri-Innovation Den giving former IT manager and now full-time farmer Simon Deacon the impetus to bring his concept forward, he said it was a ‘brilliant’ initiative.
While his idea for farm data collection apps did not receive direct funding, he was invited by Briefing Media chief executive Neil Thackray to potentially liaise with the company about how apps such as his could be taken forward.
With other in-kind support offered, his idea of using apps to monitor all the different records and regulation farmers face is one he will continue to develop as he mixes his knowledge of IT and agriculture to try and make his own business life easier.
Mr Deacon said: “I think innovation is needed. The farming world is a bit behind the times, especially on the IT side. Farmers could do so much better with the use of technology and IT."
Daniel Bowman went away from Agri-Innovation to do more research on his inflatable boom bund, which he was sure could help in the collection of potentially harmful sprayer residue.
Having worked as a sprayer operator and knowing all too well the challenges arable farmers face, Mr Bowman said the ability to showcase his idea had been a major step for him.
He said: “This was a great opportunity for people who work hard and don’t often get opportunities to showcase their concepts because it is often hard to get involved with the media. It is great for people out there who could potentially innovate within farming to help themselves.
“Innovation is very important because farming is set aside. No one really understands farming or wants to understand it. It is important for everybody we move forward with the times.”
With a trio of presenters, the iLevel team believed their concept of a fuel and farm tank monitoring system was one which could resonate with farmers.
With the app allowing users to see how full tanks are, enabling them to re-order fuel or be prepared in the fight against rural crime, they are keen to roll it out.
Andrew Rabett said: “We certainly engaged with the panel. We came here today to learn about marketing our business and this is something we will take away as a positive.
“We have been given the opportunity to speak to Briefing Media Agriculture and The Co-operative Food about developments and bringing products through, whether this is via advertising or other means, so we shall work to take it forward.”
Ian Watson added: “If you stay where you are, you are going backwards, so you have to keep innovating to move your business forward in the future.”
David Kerr’s concept will go through a period of due diligence to ascertain whether the fundamental business components are in place to allow Briefing Media Agriculture to fully invest.
If they are in place and his concept is developed further, there is the opportunity to test it out with The Co-operative Food’s beef farming group.
Other interviewees who were also offered support will be able to draw on the marketing and business expertise of the Briefing Media Agriculture and The Co-operative Food teams.