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UK University Launches Government-Backed Agtech Innovation Hub

March 16, 2016

Harper Adams University, a UK institution targeting the needs of rural economies, is building an agriculture technology innovation hub. This is the latest initiative to support the fledgling agtech sector in the UK, joining others such as RoCRE, Agri-Tech East, Farm491, and the Amius Startup Programme.

Partnering with industry members and academics, including some of Harper Adams’ own staff, members will collaborate to create a new facility developing global agricultural engineering and precision farming solutions. The centre will have a budget of $24.7 million over the next four years.

Officially dubbed The Innovation Hub at Harper Adams, the project is being constructed to serve the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI) project, which is backed by the UK Government’s Business Innovation and Skills Department. Its focus is broad, covering livestock, arable, aquaculture, and horticulture. The project also involves ties with partners in related industries like supermarkets and vehicle engineering.

Some of the first areas of focus will be automated vehicles, including drones, new instrumentation to monitor both in-field and out-of-field operations, and sensing technologies to track livestock performance.

“The Agritech Innovation Hub will provide a world-class innovation centre that will underpin an increase in the economic performance and competitiveness of UK farming through development and uptake of advanced engineering technologies aimed at solving current challenges faced by UK farming,” said vice-chancellor Dr. David Llewellyn in a press release regarding the project.

“An important role of the hub will be to increase farmer uptake of innovative technologies to increase the overall benefits to UK farming. We will undertake participatory workshops with farmers and smallholders to allow them to jointly create a vision for the use of new technologies in agriculture alongside scientists and engineers.”

One of the Agri EPI Centre’s main focuses will be a series of farms and processing facilities equipped with the latest sensing and imaging equipment. These sites will enable the center to identify issues for research. They will also provide locations to develop and demonstrate technologies to UK producers. The farms and processing facilities will largely be aimed at supporting the rapidly expanding global market for these technologies.

Founded in 1892 at the bequest of a wealthy Shropshire gentleman farmer, the university opened to six students in 1901. The institution grew considerably over the following years, and now features many state-of-the-art facilities including a dairy unit dedicated to cattle welfare and herd health research. Today, Harper Adams is on a mission to help re-establish the connection between food producers and consumers while ensuring that R&D efforts reach rural economies.

The new center isn’t Harper Adams’ first foray into agtech. Earlier this year, the university held a workshop to help drone operators learn about safe handling practices. The program was led in conjunction with the BASIS Agricultural Awareness for the UAS Industry module. Consisting of stand-alone courses, the curriculum provides attendees with a level of understanding and knowledge that suits their agricultural professions. The university is in the process of developing a second agricultural drone operator course.

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