Newton funding for agri-tech innovation with benefits for UK and China

Newton funding for agri-tech innovation with benefits for UK and China

With the largest population in the world, China feeds nearly 1.4 billion people - covering 22% of the globe’s inhabitants. In order to keep up with its intense food demand, China has cultivated vast areas of crops - accounting for 7% of the world’s arable land.

A remarkable achievement but one that comes at a cost. Excessive use of fertilisers and chemical applications has resulted in a catalogue of environmental and agronomic issues such as soil compaction, acidification, pesticide residue toxicity, pest resistance, environmental pollution, and ecological imbalance. If not confronted promptly, China’s agricultural sector and its environment are at imminent risk - damaging its long-term economic growth and potentially the global economy.

Dr Ji Zhou of Earlham Institute, partnered with Prof Tao Cheng from Nanjing Agricultural University, is leading a Newton Network + project to bolster China’s long-term growth with agri-tech innovation; developing automated crop analysis based on large aerial images captured by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and fixed-wing light aircraft to identify key growth stages in wheat.

The Newton Network develops and supports new UK-China agritech partnerships to address the challenges facing modern agriculture. The Network is a part of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council's portfolio of innovation programmes, coordinated by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council.

The project aims to enable the agri-food sector to optimise the timing for fertiliser and chemical application in line with crop seasons based on agricultural aerial imagery data as well as ground-based remote sensors in the field - reducing costs and stabilising yields. The agri-solution will be built upon the existing analytic platform ‘AirSurf’ and expertise in machine-learning based image analysis, led by the Zhou Group at EI, together with key intellectual contributions from NAU.

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