The Centre has two main roles. On the one hand, it promotes and evaluates the use of technology as a vital aspect of precision agriculture, building upon the university's reputation as an innovator in the field of engineering. Its work in the area of robotics in crop scouting and dairy production, for example, is already well-known in the agri-food sector. It has also developed automatic steering systems which use GPS, and can measure to within an accuracy of 2cms which sections of the field have been sprayed, resulting in less chemical wastage.
Using new technologies in this way can help improve and reduce the cost of food production by targeting inputs - doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right location. This is beneficial to both the bottom line as well as for the environment, as it aims to make the production process more efficient.
In arable farming, the concept reduces the size of management zones from farm, to field, to sub field areas. In livestock the obvious management unit is each individual animal. By utilising smarter machines it is also possible to improve the delivery of information to support better decision making.
The Centre's second role is to provide a focal point for the industry; offering a place for agriculturalists to meet and source information, and gathering and disseminating good practice from within the UK and abroad. To achieve this it has recently recruited experts in the fields of controlled traffic management, mechatronics and hydraulics.
The Centre’s Mission is to establish global visibility and excellence in education and training, research and development, innovation and enterprise in precision farming and its exploitation in addressing regional, national and global farming and food security issues for the benefit of future sustainability and regard for energy conservation, environmental protection and global climate change in relation to food production needs and issues of nutrition.
Intrinsic components of the mission can be seen in relation to innovation and the opportunities to embrace technological developments and new concepts, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and its prospective role in addressing important needs for agricultural and food development. By way of instantiation, a recent study on meeting future food security has pointed to a five-step global plan that could double food production by 2050 while greatly reducing environmental damage. The five steps presented in this global plan are:
Improvements in conventional farming are required to reduce adverse impact on the local and global environment, to achieve better efficiencies per unit input of resource, to achieve better ecological (holistic) management, and to find a better correspondence between food demands and supply, both locally and globally. The advancement of precision farming (PF) as a discipline for developing physical science-based tools and practices that provide interventions to improve farm productivity is fundamental to tackling these challenges. Equally significant is the role that the Internet of Things (IoT) and governance could have to play in meeting these challenges on a global basis, particularly in respect of the five step approach, with perhaps a sixth dealing with issues of distribution.
The Aim of the Centre is to fulfil its mission in establishing a world-class facility for education and training, research and development, innovation and enterprise in enhancing precision farming and its exploitation in addressing regional, national and global farming and food security issues for the benefit of future sustainability and regard for energy conservation, environmental protection and global climate change in relation to food production needs and issues of nutrition.
The core objectives relating to the Centre are:
Harper Adams is uniquely placed in the UK as a school of agriculture with an engineering department and commercial farming practice alongside its teaching and research. The makes it the idea home of the NCPF now that precision livestock farming is globally recognised as vital to future food supply.
Hugh G Crabtree BSc (Hons), FIAgrE. Director, Farmex Ltd