“Increasing knowledge about humankind’s impact on the planet has given us strong signals on how we are damaging the environment, but also potential solutions to manage our natural capital better,” said Jan-Erik Petersen of the European Environment Agency (EEA), talking at the Agri-TechE REAP conference. Indoor agri-tech and new approaches to controlled environment farming, which offer improved profits while reducing negative environmental impacts, were among the topics discussed at the conference.
Dr. Belinda Clarke is director of Agri-TechE, the UK’s agri-tech innovation ecosystem. REAP provides a springboard for multi-disciplinary collaboration and this is increasingly international. Six major centres of agri-tech from the US, Europe, Middle East and Far East were represented at REAP 2021, all keen to partner with the UK innovation. Many of the early-stage companies featured in its Start-Up Showcase over the years are gaining momentum as industry leaders.
Belinda comments: “The potential for GHG emission savings across the agri-food supply chain are significant.
“Talking specifically about agriculture, there are many win-wins. Nitrogen and carbon are vital – and costly – nutrients and some of them are being lost in the form of methane and carbon dioxide. Locking in these nutrients into biomass can increase productivity and reduce adverse environmental impacts. We are seeing huge innovation in circular economies where the system is much more efficient at retaining and utilizing inputs, and this is underpinned by precision agri-tech.”
Belinda continues: "REAP coming at the end of COP26 is very timely this year, as it features potential solutions – new research, innovation and practices that are already positively impacting the climate change agenda.
Examples of products launched at the conference which can help growers make savings and reduce emissions include:
- An automated plant health sensor from Gardin
Low-cost sensor will give a real-time indication of plant health, presented at REAP 2021
“We can detect stress in the plant before it is detectable by eye,” says Fabrizio Ticchiarelli, Lead Biologist at agri-tech start-up Gardin. The company is developing a low-cost optical phenotyping sensor that will give a real-time indication of plant health and predictions of ripening, nutritional content and yield.
Most current sensors monitor the environment or the physical changes in the plant resulting from sub-optimal conditions, and there can be a delay before these appear. Gardin’s approach is to instead look at the cellular processes within the plant, which adapt on much faster timescales, and aims to provide recommendations for action.
- An intelligent pollination monitor from Agrisound
AgriSound’s insect monitoring network offers targeted pollination to double fruit yields
Targeted pollination can double the yield of soft fruit and increase the quality of the produce. To enable farmers to increase pollinator levels, AgriSound is launching an insect listening device called POLY, which displays a heat-map on a mobile device to show insect activity. It highlights pollination deficits on-farm as well as providing proof that interventions increase ecosystem services.
The window for pollination is very tight – two weeks for almonds – so it is crucial to ensure that sufficient bees or other pollinators are available at the right time.
- A heat sensitive glass-house coating from Albotherm
Albotherm announces new thermoregulation product at REAP 2021
A heat sensitive coating for greenhouse glass that would maintain optimum temperatures all year around and remove the annual cost of applying and removing shading is being developed by University of Bristol spin-out Albotherm.
Molly Allington, CEO and Co-founder of Albotherm, explains that temperature control in the glasshouses is critical for maintaining crop health and maximizing yields.
- A robotic raspberry harvester from Fieldwork Robotics
Trials show ‘cost per kilo’ equivalent to human labor
As about 30% of the UK raspberry crop lies rotting in the fields, the need for automating the delicate harvesting operation becomes more acute. Fieldwork Robotics has developed a robotic raspberry harvester, and the company is running trials with selected growers on a harvesting as a service basis.
Rui Andres, CEO of Fieldwork Robotics, says quality and cost per kilo of fruit picked are the most important factors when harvesting raspberries, rather than speed alone. We are aiming to complement the human workforce with a robot harvester that will operate for longer hours. This will free staff for quality control and other skilled jobs and create the opportunity to use more of the crop for other products.
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