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Analysis: How farming will gain from new agritech solutions

UK agriculture faces a period of uncertainty, with the removal of direct support payments, volatile markets and tight margins leaving many farmers out of pocket.

At the same time, food production will need to increase to support an ever-growing population.

FW’s business reporter Charlie Reeve showcases three innovations being developed that could support the farming industry in the face of these challenges.

LettUs Grow: Producing crops without soil

Bristol-based startup LettUs Grow designs and builds aeroponic technology for vertical farms and greenhouses.

In aeroponics, the growing plants are suspended in the air, giving the roots more access to oxygen. The plants are irrigated using a nutrient-dense mist.

By allowing the plants’ roots to access more oxygen, crops are able to achieve faster growth rates and improved yields.

The mist is created using ultrasonic waves, which produce much finer droplets than a standard spray nozzle.

The technology has the ability to be rolled out to larger growers such as large vertical farms, greenhouses and polytunnels using aeroponic rolling benches.

Ben Crowther, the company’s co-founder and chief technical officer, says: “Aeroponic systems improve productivity and reduce water consumption per kilogram of produce grown.

“So it made sense for us to apply this in the environment where these enhancements can have the most impact – and that’s in hectare-scale greenhouse and vertical farm production.

“Aeroponic rolling benches allow us to do this without re-designing the farm, so we can bring these benefits to new projects and existing facilities.”

Mr Crowther adds: “By using aeroponics, growers are able to produce crops such as leafy greens and herbs, and propagate different crops such as fruits, all year round with a greatly reduced risk of damage by pests or disease.

“Although more energy is required compared to outdoor agriculture, aeroponic farmers can use a combination of renewable energy sources to mitigate rising energy costs.”

Agrointelli Robotti: Autonomous lightweight tractors

Danish manufacturer Agrointelli has developed its Robotti range of autonomous tractors that can reduce labour, limit soil compaction and lower operating costs.

Robotti tractors have been trialled with a range of crops, including potatoes, onions, oilseed rape and vegetables.

They have two diesel engines, four-wheel drive and a standard three-point linkage. Fuel consumption is low at three to six litres/hour.

The Robotti weighs roughly 3t, making it lighter than a conventional tractor.

The company has been focusing initially on sales in Europe and North America, although has begun expanding into the UK market and is working with Warwickshire-based sales and service provider Autonomous Agri Solutions.

CropLens AI: Crop management from space

UK-based Agrimetrics has launched an artificial intelligence service called CropLens AI that can identify and analyse crops using satellite imaging.

It has been found to provide up to 90% accuracy, depending on the time of year, and can identify five crop types: winter wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, grass and “other”.

With data updated every six days, farmers can use the data to know where to irrigate, when to apply nitrogen, predict yields, and predict pest and disease damage.

Matthew Smith, Agrimetrics’ chief product officer, says: “Real-time, accurate and reliable knowledge of what’s happening on the ground and why, is now a critical success factor for actors across the agrifood value chain.

“Agrimetrics CropLens AI and the Agrifood Data Marketplace are making it easier, faster, and more affordable to generate actionable insights earlier in the season.”


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