The University of Plymouth is working with the agricultural, horticultural and food sectors in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to identify potential ways that technology and innovation can revolutionise their business.
Four research projects based at the University have received funding as part of Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year, £10million initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with match-funding from Cornwall Council.
Its aim is to help small and medium-sized companies and organisations develop ideas to improve their efficiency, profitability and resilience, while helping the UK become a world leader in agricultural technology and sustainability.
And since its launch in 2017 it has supported activities which will generate innovative goods and services, provide new business models for farms and their immediate supply chains, and help the individuals and families who work in these areas.
The University’s involvement in Agri-Tech Cornwall is being led by the Sustainable Earth Institute, and builds on Plymouth’s existing world-leading research reputation. The four projects to have received funding so far are:
- Automated Brassica harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) will develop robotic systems for automating manual picking operations in the horticultural sector;
- FABSOIL (Fabricated Soil) will support the development of the manufacture and analysis of artificial soils;
- Specialty Crops aims to help Cornish businesses research the added value for extracts of seaweeds, seawater and coastal plants towards skin care product development;
- Plant Factory, Cornwall aims to facilitate the development and expansion of hydroponic, multi-tier controlled growing environments utilising renewable energy to provide low carbon semi-automated crop production for urban and rural settings.
"There is huge potential for technology to change the face of farming and exciting initiatives such as those under the Agri-Tech banner can play a key part in this. The readiness with which the agricultural industry, in all its many guises, is now developing and applying groundbreaking technology is gripping the imagination of young people from school-age upwards.
"In the past, those who were really driven by science may have chosen to pursue careers in other professions, but there's now a whole new intellectual attraction to this area and more young people want to study and work in the land-based industries. The South West has always had a vibrant rural sector – and it will be by using new technology that it builds on this legacy to further increase productivity, raise quality and reduce waste."
Agri-Tech Cornwall comes under the umbrella of the government's long-term agri-tech strategy, launched in July 2013 with £160million of funding, which aims to ensure the UK’s science knowledge is translated into real-world benefits.
It is led by the Duchy College’s Rural Business School in partnership with the universities of Plymouth and Exeter, Rothamsted Research and the Cornwall Development Company, and has research clusters working around four main themes: animal health and welfare in dairy cattle; maximising soil, water and nutrient use efficiency for sustainable crop and livestock production; improving the productivity of speciality crop production; utilising technology to drive productivity and innovation.
Agri-Tech Cornwall's director Robin Jackson says:
“Cornwall’s strong agricultural heritage and culture, combined with exceptional rural internet capabilities and R&D facilities, make it an ideal location for innovators and developers in tech-led agriculture. In addition to playing its part in helping find ways to feed the growing world population in a sustainable way, Agri-Tech Cornwall will cement the reputation of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as places where cutting-edge technology and science is put to use in a host of real-world applications.
“It will help turn the pioneering thinking of the region’s scientists, business community and rural entrepreneurs into reality, kickstarting new enterprises and even whole new supply chains, the legacy of which will bring economic and social benefits long into the future. This unique fund is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for applicants – and we look forward to working with them.”