Bouncy REAP conference showcases tech for farmers
This year’s REAP Conference, titled ‘Innovating towards One Agriculture’, showcased innovation in farming, with early-stage exhibits including a hopping robot that can accurately target weeds; an affordable anaerobic digester for smallholders; a fast throughput screening platform for developing herbicides and a way to neutralise the greenhouse gas from cattle burps.
Agri-Tech East’s annual conference explored how an integrated approach to food systems that brings together human health, animal health, ecosystems and food production could help agriculture become more productive and sustainable.
The keynote speaker at the Rowley Mile was Simon Doherty, senior VP of the British Veterinary Association, who champions this ‘One Health’ approach and, through the BVA, has been instrumental in establishing the UK One Health Coordination Group, which he chairs. “Support of the farming community is key to progressing One Health,” said Simon in his opening speech.
“Already, ongoing work by vets, farmers and industry has led to a 40 per cent reduction in sales of antibiotics over the last five years. We must maintain this joined-up momentum in the face of the ongoing global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance – and build upon current achievements. Its about getting the right people coming together.”
The Agri-Tech East-organised event is about bringing people together. “REAP is for entrepreneurial farmers to meet up with tech companies and innovators and look at possible future technology to enable us to have sustainable agriculture,” says Nick Allpress, managing director at Chatteris-based Allpress Farms. It’s his fourth year, and Allpress has been big on leeks since the 1970s.
“Drones was a big buzzword this year,” says Nick. “And a hopping, bouncing robot going up a field that can be used for weed mapping, crop and seed analysis. It’s a way of collecting data which is happening a lot these days.”
Indeed, UK start-up HayBeeSee demonstrated its Crop Hopper, a jumping quadcopter, with carbon-elastic jumping legs, which promises to deliver large-scale precision agriculture that could cut farmers’ herbicide use by 50 per cent or more.
One of the exhibitors was Little Wilbraham-based RTK Farming. RTK – real-time kinematic – positioning is a satellite navigation technique used to enhance the precision of position data derived from satellite-based positioning systems. RTK Farming has 143 base stations around the UK which use 4G and internet based cloud servers to provide very precise land data.
“Our technology allows tractors to be auto-steered to within 2.5cm of accuracy,” says co-founder PJ Walker, “so the computer can control the tractors to be automatic as it’s overlapping running up and down the field.”
“Given that current positioning offers accuracy of around 3 metres, that’s clearly an improvement for cutting, and perhaps harvesting. “It’s also good for using fertiliser or planting seed so it greatly reduces input and increases output,” adds PJ.
RTK Farming operates 1,000 tractors using its system in the UK. Of REAP, PJ says: “It went very well, it’s a very good sounding horn for us, it attracts the right people we need. There’s a lot of innovators in agtech, we have some great conversations. Events like REAP are for real people driven by agriculture and farming.”
Other early-stage agri-tech offerings to support sustainable agriculture in REAP’s start-up showcase included:
- The launch of HayBeeSee's Crop Hopper, a new hopping robot - powered by carbon-elastic jumping legs - that can identify, map and kill weeds for hours at a time, with minimal supervision
- MoA Technology has a radically different approach to herbicide development that uses insights from evolutionary biology
- Zelp, which is capturing cattle burps as a way to neutralise greenhouse gases
- EcoNomad, aspin-out from the Royal Academy of Engineering and University College London, who demonstrated a prototype “a simple and easy to operate biogas reactor”. The waste goes into the system and produces biogas, with a high-quality liquid fertiliser as a by-product that can be used onsite or sold.
Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, said: “Emerging agri-tech offers solutions to global challenges, and new thinking on good agricultural practice is not limited by age or geography as is seen by the increasingly national and international membership of Agri-Tech East and the origins on the companies in the start-up showcase.
“The speakers and demonstrators at REAP showed that there is huge opportunity to create sustainable, productive and profitable farming enterprises – and a collaborative, systems-based or ‘One Agriculture’ approach will be the most effective way to achieve this.”