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Agri-EPI Centre secures funding

New centre will provide global hub for agricultural engineering and precision farming.

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Industry and academics will work together to create a new global hub for agricultural engineering and precision farming using £17.5 million of funding over the next four years, awarded as part of the Government’s UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies.

The Agri-EPI Centre – which has just received official confirmation of funding from the Government’s Business Innovation and Skills Department – aims to become a world-leading centre for excellence in engineering and precision agriculture for the livestock, arable, aquaculture and horticulture sectors. As well as drawing on expertise specific to these sectors the innovative Centre also involves partners in related industries such as supermarkets (including Marks and Spencer) and vehicle engineers such as Boeing and Williams Advanced Engineering.

Project Lead, Willie Thomson of Harbro Ltd, said: “In five years’ time this quickly growing sector will be worth £2.3 billion globally and Agri-EPI intends to help drive that growth, supporting innovative ideas which will help farmers and business owners become sustainable in this exciting and challenging time.”

Agriculture and horticulture are going to be key industries as we look to feed a vastly growing population, while minimising environmental impact. The Centre will bring together expertise in research and industry, as well as data gathering capacity in all areas of farming, to increase the efficiency and sustainability of the land-based industries. Amidst the new revolution in information technologies and engineering science, the Centre will explore how to optimise the performance of the highly complex production and processing systems in agriculture. This will include key drivers of profitability, such as livestock and plant growth rates, nutrient efficiency, product quality, and health.

Initial areas of interest will include cutting edge technologies such as automated vehicles, new instrumentation to monitor both operations and in-field performance of cropping systems, as well as sensing and imaging technologies to monitor livestock production in areas such as product quality and health.

The Centre’s core members are Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Harper Adams University, Cranfield University, Harbro Ltd, AgSpace Agriculture Ltd and Kingshay Farming. Collaboratively as the Agri-EPI Centre they have already formed commercial partnerships with over 65 companies including supermarkets (Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and others), engineering companies (Williams Advanced Engineering, JCB and others) and primary processors (McCain and others) and are supporting them in developing their innovative approaches in the sector.

The Agri-EPI Centre is always looking to the future, and would welcome the opportunity to develop the reach of the engineering and precision farming even further – working with partners is crucial to pushing the boundaries of innovation and achieving commercial success.

A central feature of the Agri-EPI Centre will be a series of farms and processing facilities equipped with the latest sensing and imaging equipment. These sites will enable the Centre to identify issues for research, but also provide locations to develop and demonstrate technologies to UK producers, supporting the rapidly expanding global market for these technologies.

SRUC’s Professor Richard Dewhurst, one of the lead academics in the project, says: “This Centre will be key to ensuring that the UK grows its status as a world leader in precision agriculture and engineering. SRUC, Harper Adams and Cranfield Universities have great strength in research translation, innovation and training for the agri-food sector – and the strong industry leadership of the Centre will help ensure our activity benefits as many people as possible.”

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