We take a look at some of agri-tech’s most disruptive businesses to see how they’re turning the agriculture sector on its head…
The agricultural technologies (agri-tech) sector is fast becoming one of the world’s fastest growing and exciting markets and the UK is right at the heart of it.
So much so that InnovateUK, the UK Government’s innovation agency, launched the £70m 'Agri-Tech Catalyst' funding scheme back in 2014 in a bid to drive innovation within the sector.
This funding has since helped support the growth of agricultural science and technology sectors in the UK, which already employs nearly four million people and is one of the world's fastest-growing markets.
And it’s not just governing bodies that are backing the agricultural revolution either. Colleges and universities from across the UK have also thrown their weight behind the agri-tech sector in recent years.
For example, the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology, established by the University of Lincoln, aims to support and enhance productivity, efficiency and sustainability in food and farming through research, education and technology.
The University of Cambridge is another. The university is one of the main backers of Agri-Tech East, a cluster aimed at improving the international competitiveness and sustainability of plant-based agriculture and horticulture.
With such huge support from government, academia and the private sector, it’s of no real surprise that the UK’s buoyant agri-tech sector is fast making a huge name for itself not just at home but also overseas. We looked at some of the companies making it happen.
Entrepreneur Veena Adityan came up with the idea for Smartbell during a University of Cambridge Venture Week-end organised by Accelerate Cambridge.
The Smartbell is a fully automated monitoring system for tracking animal activity, position and behaviour. Think of it as a FitBit for cows.
Farmers simply attach the Smartbell to the livestock’s collar and can then use its online platform to access raw data as well as data processed into downloadable reports such as heatmaps and graphs.
The start-up was awarded first place at the 2015 IoT and Smart Cities Venture Creation weekend in Cambridge and was accepted on to the intensive Accelerate Cambridge entrepreneurship training course. Its technology is now in the final stages of development before being rolled out to industry.
Agrivi’s farm management software lets farmers plan, monitor and analyse all activities on their farms.
Tillage, planting, spraying, fertilization, irrigation, harvesting and all other activities can be managed with just a few clicks.
It also helps farmers identify why some crops grow better on some fields; provides a central registry for employees, seasonal workers, machinery and fields; and keep farm financial records and documents in one single place.
London-based entrepreneur Matija Zulj launched Agrivi back in 2013 and the platform is now one of the key global leaders in the farm management software industry with customers in 150 countries across the globe.
Lancashire-based Azotic Technologies Ltd was established in a bid to develop and commercialise a natural nitrogen technology that provides a sustainable solution to fertiliser overuse.
Its N-Fix® technology is based on a food grade bacteria Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus (Gd) which is derived from sugarcane.
N-Fix can be applied as an inoculant or as a seed dressing formulation. By inoculating plant seeds with this beneficial bacteria, it creates a symbiotic relationship for mutual benefit.
This nitrogen-fixing bacteria is a patented disruptive technology which will have a huge impact on agriculture.
Dogtooth Technologies is a Cambridge-based start-up that is building smart autonomous robots for harvesting soft fruits such as strawberries.
Having won an Innovate UK SMART Award in 2015, the business has developed a prototype strawberry picking robot that is currently being tested on customer farms.
Early stage trials have so far seen encouraging results in its ability to accurately locate and distinguish fruits that are ripe and ready for picking, and to pick them fast and thoroughly enough to provide a commercially viable and sustainable model for growers.
Dogtooth currently has 5-10 robots conducting early stage trials during the 2017 growing season as it looks to refine the product and optimise the machines efficiency ahead of rolling out the product to the wider market.
With a growing market for fresh berries, Dogtooth’s offering has interested innovative growers across the country. In addition to alleviating the growing problem and increasing challenge of recruiting enough sufficiently skilled picking labour for the British soft fruit industry, other benefits provided by robotic picking solutions are of even more interest to customers, for example:
Scottish agri-tech start-up Greengage was founded in 2008 and is based on site at the Roslin Institute Edinburgh University.
The company helps farmers improve the overall well-being and productivity of their livestock by providing them with market leading LED lighting.
Lighting is a necessary component of all agricultural production processes and Greengage’s aim is to provide the technology and knowledge to improve farming methods, which in turn increases agricultural productivity while minimising cost.
The company currently has a number of collaborative research and field projects on the go. These aim to provide the tools, solutions and management methods that are necessary for the sustainable intensification of livestock farming.
Greengage now has distributors across the UK, Europe, North America and Australasia.