£2.2 million awarded to UK agri-tech firms with Canadian partners

Harvesting in agriculture crop field

UKRI has pledged over £2.2 million to seven agri-tech firms to develop new agricultural techniques that will help countries meet their net zero emission targets.

The funding is being awarded through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) UK-Canada: enhancing agricultural productivity and sustainability competition, which is overseen by the Transforming Food Production challenge.

In this competition, UK and Canadian companies were brought together through online and in person events to identify and build project concepts in sustainable agriculture.

The seven winning UK companies are:

  • Arden Biotechnology
  • Devenish
  • Precision Decisions
  • Airborne Robotics
  • RAFT Solutions
  • Clarity Biosolutions
  • RS AQUA.

Their respective Canadian partners are:

  • TrustBIX
  • Mara Renewables Corporation
  • JCA Industries
  • Société pour l’information industrielle (SII Canada)
  • Bow Valley Genetics
  • Sona Nanotech
  • Innovasea Marine Systems.

The Canadian partners will receive funding support through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

Combatting climate change

The competition ran in the first half of 2020 and aims to boost international cooperation and business growth, by mobilising cross border resources and expertise to combat climate change.

The winning projects had to demonstrate a clear plan to:

  • improve productivity
  • increase sustainability
  • help move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2040
  • show market awareness
  • develop a commercial plan.

Katrina Hayter, challenge director for the Transforming Food Production programme, UKRI, said:

UKRI’s UK-Canada competition is an important initiative that helps UK businesses create strong international networks, access expertise and develop international market opportunities. The UK companies and their Canadian partners are working on an exciting array of projects to integrate cutting-edge technology into everyday farming techniques that could help both UK and Canadian agriculture improve productivity and sustainability. Ultimately, making our respective agricultural systems more climate friendly.

Mitch Davies, President of NRC, said:

The NRC is honoured to partner with UKRI to stimulate co-innovation between Canadian and UK small and medium-sized enterprises. International collaboration is key to SME growth and these collaborative partnerships provide accelerated access to new markets and global value chains, positioning Canadian businesses to compete globally.

The projects include:

  • Devenish’s plan to develop the next generation of algae-derived products for use in poultry production, which will be trialled on British and Canadian farms
  • Airborne Robotics’ RootDetect programme, which aims to design a sophisticated sensor to scout out large areas for signs of club root in canola and oil seed rape crops.

Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, noted:

We must all work together to tackle the impacts of climate change and ensure our food production and farming techniques are sustainable, profitable and support long-term food security.

This investment provides a valuable boost to the sector. The UK is at the forefront of efforts to develop sustainable agricultural technologies and practices, in collaboration with our international partners.

The Hon François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, explained:

The greener, cleaner economy of the future will have impacts across all sectors of our economy. The sustainable projects announced today are great examples of innovations that promise to make Canada’s agriculture industry more competitive. They will also sustain and create jobs, and support Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Population growth and climate change are driving more sustainable agriculture practices in Canada and the UK, both of whom have significant strengths in both primary agriculture and precision agriculture technologies. Under a memoranda of understanding (MoUs), Innovate UK and NRC IRAP have supported over $30 million, or £20 million, of collaborative innovation projects.

Further information

About the Transforming Food Production challenge

UKRI’s £90 million Transforming Food Production programme is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and aims to help the agricultural sector grow economically with less environmental impact.

The programme will set food production systems towards net-zero emissions by 2040 by producing food in ways that are more:

  • efficient
  • resilient
  • sustainable.

It will accelerate the development and adoption of integrated precision approaches to improve productivity in agricultural systems. The investment will be made over four years.

The programme will focus on the development, demonstration and adoption of data-driven systems and technologies to achieve:

  • a better approach to agricultural production
  • reduce emissions.

The remit includes both crop and farmed animal production, as well as, new production systems. The long-term success of the challenge is dependent on a diverse range of farm businesses adopting new technologies and approaches.

Additional Information on competition winners

The funding amount refers to the grant made to UK companies.

Arden Biotech (UK), partnered with TrustBIX Inc – £247,846

Arden Biotechnology have developed a novel bacteriophage cocktail, a natural feed supplement (NFS) to:

  • combat clostridium perfringens
  • enhance gut health
  • reduce the risk of necrotic enteritis.

Through this collaborative 24-month industrial research project, Arden are seeking to extend the development of this technology to apply to the Canadian poultry and other livestock sectors in partnership with TrustBIX.

Devenish (UK) partnered with Mara Renewables Corporation – £384,216

This project’s vision is to develop the next-generation of algae-derived products for use in poultry production in the UK, Canada, and other commercial markets worldwide, including:

  • South America
  • Australasia
  • MENA.

The key objective of the project is to develop a more sustainably produced, nutrient dense chicken that will provide a rich source of omega-3 oils in the human diet. Also, whilst enhancing the overall efficacy of poultry production. The project consortium envisages that the results of this technology will also be applicable to other areas of primary agriculture (for example aquaculture, pigs) and expand access to essential lipids in human diets globally.

Commercial on-farm studies, in the UK and Canada, will use a range of sensors and electronic (big) data to prove the validity of this innovative approach to poultry farming.

Precision Decisions (UK) partnered with JCA Technologies – £396,035

This project proposes to use the strengths of each of the collaborating organisations in the development of an integrated, precision agriculture platform. One which can:

  • provide seamless and real-time availability data from agricultural machine control applications
  • use this data for planning and analytics
  • deploy intelligent task direction to a fleet of machines.

The system provides both after-market and original equipment manufacturer integrated solutions to address the mixed-fleet needs of farmers.

Airborne Robotics & ADAS (UK) partnered with Société pour l’information industrielle SII Inc. (SII Canada) – £391,347

Airborne Robotics will build a specialised unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype for the agricultural environment. ADAS will validate data from the UAV with in-field assessments of clubroot disease, and SII Canada will develop the algorithms necessary for machine learning for identification and diagnostics purposes.

The product and service enabled by this project will be an integrated, data driven clubroot management tool. This will combine UAV capability with on-farm software that optimises the long and short-term economics of clubroot management, based on remotely-sensed spatial data. The RootDetect smart tool will be competitively priced to ensure it is accessible to end users and maximise uptake of its use.

The RootDetect project will develop a semi-autonomous remote sensing tool that will efficiently scout large areas and ‘see’ clubroot symptoms earlier than the grower or agronomist.

Affected areas in the field will then be mapped and linked to precision farming technology which will allow targeted treatment of infested patches. This will be cost effective for the grower and will minimise wastage and thus lower carbon emissions.

RAFT Solutions Ltd, Atelerix, Ostara Biomedical Ltd & Dyneval (UK) partnered with Bow Valley Genetics (Canada) – £398,894

Good fertility performance is the cornerstone of a profitable and sustainable livestock enterprise. In the international dairy and beef herd, optimum performance is achieved by maintaining a calving interval (CI) of 365 days. Every day CI increases \>365 days is estimated to directly cost the farmer close to £2.07 or $3.54 per cow, or more for high yielding dairy cows.

Fertility drives productivity, and in turn the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, through reduced waste and optimising unproductive replacement youngstock inventories.

This project is supported by advisors at University of Saskatchewan and University of Guelph in Canada. As an integrated bilateral approach, it will:

  • research and develop several innovative new technologies
  • establish national level referral facilities for quality assurance and improvement of bovine germplasm.

The outputs of the project will transform genetic progress, through adoption of:

  • precision technologies
  • diagnostics
  • advanced breeding
  • big data.

This will lead to more sustainable livestock food production and export opportunities in both UK and Canada.

CLARITY BIOSOLUTIONS (UK) partnered with Sona Nanotech (Canada) – £299,736

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs, causing a general state of illness, coughing and eventually death. Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is caused by a particular bacterium that affects cows but can be passed on to practically all mammals, including humans.

The usual route of infection is through the inhalation of infected droplets which are expelled from the lungs by coughing. Because the course of the disease is slow, an undetected cow can spread the disease to many others in a herd before it begins to show any visible signs of illness.

Unregulated movement of infected but undetected cows, along with contact with infected wild animals such as badgers, are the major ways that the disease is spread.

Critical to achieving the eradication of the disease is:

  • accurate detection
  • herd management
  • movement control.

The current test for bovine tuberculosis on farm herds is relatively subjective relying on individual veterinary practitioner interpretation. It is also not sensitive enough to detect all the cows that are infected therefore making eradication impossible.

bTB control measures cost over £500 million in the last 10 years. Without intervention, costs are expected to top £1 billion over the next decade if no new action is taken. A new, effective test is urgently needed.

This proposal would bring together an international consortium to lead the fight against tuberculosis in cattle.

The ambitious consortium has set out to do a project that will eliminate inaccurate test results frequently experienced by farming communities across the country but also worldwide. These “false negative” results lead to infected animals being missed, bringing enormous economic and emotional cost to:

  • farmers
  • society
  • governments.

This collaboration allies Aberystwyth’s world-leading biomarker research with:

  • Lateral Flow Diagnostic (LFD) specialists, Clarity Biosolutions
  • life science businesses, Dynamic Extractions
  • software specialists, Bond Digital Health and Sona Nanotech in Canada
  • specialists in gold nanrod LFD technology.

This builds a team of academic and industry experts because no single company can achieve this goal alone.

The project combines the latest cutting-edge science and technological developments with world-class research, state of the art facilities and expertise, to develop a new highly accurate, objective test to rapidly detect, manage, control and ultimately eradicate bTB.

RS AQUA (UK) partnered with Innovasea Marine Systems Canada – £103,807

Aquaculture is an important industry for sustainable protein production. Atlantic salmon, are known for having one of the lowest feed conversion ratios of all protein sources.

Aquaculture producers are continuously looking for solutions to improve the health, welfare, and productivity of their stock, while further reducing environmental impact of farm activities. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can contribute to higher incidences of disease and elevated mortality on fish farms, currently pose a challenge to these goals.

Under certain environmental conditions, microscopic algae, or phytoplankton, populations can become very large and form blooms. Not all phytoplankton are harmful, but some species:

  • produce harmful toxins
  • deplete dissolved oxygen in the water
  • have physical features that can damage fish gills, compromising their health.

HABs are not only harmful to fish, but can also affect birds and mammals, including humans. A HAB near a salmon farm can cause major problems for fish health and welfare. This may result in high mortality, which is both economically and environmentally costly.

Global warming may have contributed to an overall increase in HAB frequency and farmers are increasingly concerned with their ability to detect and mitigate these threats.

HAB monitoring is part of the daily routine for many aquaculture farmers, who want to have the best possible tools at their disposal. This project is a collaborative effort between Innovasea and RS Aqua, and includes Grieg Seafood Shetland as an unfunded industry partner.

The team will develop an early warning system to notify fish farmers of potential and imminent HABs. By continuously monitoring the environmental conditions on and surrounding their farms, farmers will be informed when conditions that promote blooms are occurring in real-time. Thus, enabling them to respond quickly and take steps to reduce the impact of such events.

Such a system will have far-reaching impacts to the aquaculture industry and advance the methods of HAB monitoring, while increasing food production and reducing the carbon footprint of fish farming.

Top image:  Credit: ArtistGNDphotography / Getty Images

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