Posted 18 July 2018
"In the mid-2000s we were talking about the social media age. Now, we’re in the collaborative economy age and it’s great to see agriculture is at the forefront of the upcoming autonomous world age."
The National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF) at Harper Adams University has successfully hosted its first Agricultural Innovation Conference and Exhibition.
The event, which was sponsored by AHDB and supported by Agri-Tech West, started with a keynote speech from LEAF Chief Executive Caroline Drummond MBE. She said: “In terms of where innovation is going in agriculture, it’s exciting times.
“In the mid-2000s we were talking about the social media age. Now, we’re in the collaborative economy age and it’s great to see agriculture is at the forefront of the upcoming autonomous world age.
“We have got to engage the next generation. One way we’ve been doing this, is through Open Farm Sundays.
“Also, who would have thought we’d be engaging school children through farmers’ phones. Every other week, farmers connect for 15 minutes with school children through FaceTime and working closely with teachers.”
Presentations where then given from members of the Hands Free Hectare (HFH) team Agricultural Engineering Lecturer Kit Franklin and Precision Decisions Director Clive Blacker.
During his talk, Mr Blacker explained how he originally started work in precision farming and how this led to being involved in the HFH project: “I believe robotics will have a very important part to play in our future. It’s something we take for granted.
“We have a family farm and I want to farm better. For that you need data.
“However, due to the larger machines that we’re using, I’m now worse at precision farming today than I was 19 years ago and that’s partly down to them giving me 60 per cent less data.
“We’ve naturally progressed to these larger machines as farmers are trying to do more with the same amount of labour.
“We got involved in the HFH as you don’t learn from something until you’ve done it.”
The morning presentations were followed by a panel that incorporated team members Martin Abell from Precision Decisions, Mechatronics Researcher Jonathan Gill, the team’s agronomist Kieran Walsh from Hutchinsons and the team’s PR lead Adreen Hart-Rule providing the audience an opportunity to ask questions to delve further into the project.
XAG then presented the NCPF with a P20 UAV spray drone as part of a new partnership between the two organisations.
Either side of lunch saw participants given the opportunity to discuss various innovations in agricultural sectors, including precision technologies from ruminant livestock with Professor Mark Rutter from Harper Adams and what the immediate short-term opportunities for automation in horticulture with Gracie Emeny from the AHDB.
In the afternoon, speakers included Mr P Nageshwar Rao from TAFE and Owen Kinch from Dot Technology Corp.
Mr P Nageshwar Rao shared TAFE’s history and the situation in India. He said: “Precision farming in India is still in a nascent stage; unique challenges will require tailored solutions in this market.
"We believe by 2025, in India, adaptation of technologies like imaging, FMS, mobile apps, autonomous in agriculture space to be at par with global standards."
In regards to hearing about HFH Mr P Nageshwar Rao added: “When I heard about a tractor without a driver, I said this is where we need to jump to join hands together.” Harper Adams and TAFE entered a collaboration early last month.
The formal presentations were brought to a close with a final talk by Jane King CEO of AHDB. She said: “There are incredible opportunities for all sectors but we must be prepared to broaden the mindset of the many towards exploring disruptive innovation and different business models.
“We see the subject of today – agricultural innovation – right at the heart of this challenge and we need to address our approach to innovation on farm and in the supply chain at a pace.
“We need much better collaboration, more alignment behind priorities to enable the industry to survive and thrive and embracing innovation is one of those priorities.”
The day ended with a walk over to the Hands Free Hectare where participants and speakers enjoyed a gin using barley from last year’s harvest, while looking over the field.
Organisers Debbie Heeks and Rose Judeh-Elwell said: “We want to thank the presenters and discussion leaders very much for sharing their time and supporting us to make the conference so successful.”