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Farming

Agri-food robotics centre launched

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A NEW advanced training centre in agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million-pound funding award.

The world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics is being established by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry. The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.

Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said: “Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade.

“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.

“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies.

“Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering that expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”

At Lincoln, the CDT represents an important partnership between robotics researchers from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) and agricultural experts from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), as they work together to combat these pressing issues facing the global food chain.

Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, Professor Simon Pearson, said: “It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, but there is still a major skills gap in this area. Working with our industry and academic partners to design the 50 PhD scholarships will enable us to expand the UK’s science and engineering base, delivering a flood of skills and expertise that will drive our food and farming industries into the future.”

Professor Richard Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at UEA, added: “Agriculture remains an important and atavistic activity in the UK but it the most dangerous of all the main UK industry sectors. Given that, isn’t it astonishing that so much effort is devoted to robots for driving and delivering parcels to your door?

“This project will initiate a new movement to build robots to handle the unpleasant, difficult and repetitive aspects of farming. At UEA our expertise is in Computer Vision which is making computers that see. We’d like to build robots that can see when an ear of corn has ripened or be able to measure the amount of sunlight falling on a field of wheat or to tell when beans are ready for picking. We look forward to developing new systems that handle the challenge of being on a farm.”

The Centre brings together a unique collaboration of leading researchers from the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, together with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, supported by leading industrial partners and stakeholders from across the food, farming and robotics industries. These include John Deere, Syngenta, G’s Growers, Beeswax Dyson, ABB and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.

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Farming

New DEFRA Secretary appointed

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BORIS JOHNSON’s controversial Cabinet reshuffle, which appeared to reward loyalty over competence in several instances, resulted in the appointment of a new Secretary of State at DEFRA.
George Eustice, previously a Minister of State at the department before resigning in February 2019, joined the Cabinet.
He replaced Theresa Villiers in the role.
Mr Eustice comes from a farming background. His family runs a fruit farm, restaurant and shop in Cornwall, where they have a herd of South Devon cattle and British Lop pigs.
Mr Eustice made the headlines in 2016 through being of two Conservative DEFRA ministers who were accused by environmental campaigners of having a conflict of interest over receiving subsidies on their family businesses while being involved in developing the plans for the replacement system to the EU farming support.
The replacement of CAP and tackling the pressures tariffs planned by the Government will affect the UK’s farming industry will be high on Mr Eustice’s ministerial in-tray.
If the UK Government makes good on its promise to significantly diverge from the existing tariff-free arrangements with EU, something which both Westminster and Brussels accept is increasingly likely, farmers are in for a bumpy ride.
Although the UK Government says it wants trade to be ‘as frictionless as possible’, it now accepts that there will be winners and losers. While large English arable farms are likely to be (comparatively) little worse off, Welsh livestock farmers stand as those most likely to be hit hard by tariff changes and any lowering of animal welfare, hygiene, and health standards when the UK strikes trade deals with large markets overseas. America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Argentina will want market access on their terms as part of any cross-sector trade agreement. The interim tariffs the Government plans to introduce will, all Wales’ farming unions agree, slash Welsh red meat exports to their biggest market.
After his resignation from Theresa May’s government, Mr Eustice, a vociferous Brexiteer, wrote an article for the Guardian in which he set out his concerns about the UK’s trading relationship with other countries after Brexit.
Mr Eustice wrote: ” I believe in open markets and want us to have an independent trade policy. There is a negotiation to be had about allowing tariff-free quotas on some products as part of a future UK-US trade deal. However, if Americans want to be granted privileged access to the UK market, they will have to learn to abide by British law and British standards or kiss goodbye to any trade deal and join the back of the queue.”
Mr Eustice is now, at least superficially. in a much stronger position to put his words into action.
As the responsibility for sorting out a new support mechanism was handed over by the Welsh Government to the Westminster, the short to medium term future of Welsh farming rests in George Eustice’s hands. Meanwhile, the Cardiff Bay government’s plans, which contained more pie in the sky than an explosion at Peter’s Pies’ factory, are stalled while it waits to see how much it can carve out of farm subsidies to fund its dream of reducing the amount of Wales’ sustainable farmland.
Responding to George Eustice’s appointment, CLA President Mark Bridgeman drew attention to the new Secretary of State’s record at DEFRA.
“We warmly welcome Mr George Eustice to his role at this pivotal time for British agriculture,” Mr Bridgeman said.
“As a long-standing Farming Minister, he will know the scale of the challenge ahead. We will work closely with him to help achieve the full potential of the rural economy.”
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker also drew attention to Mr Eustice’s ministerial experience, saying “We hope to continue our strong working relationship with him as agricultural policy evolves in the future as we enter into new farming support schemes and trade arrangements.”
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn was enthusiastic about the appointment
Mr Dunn said: “It’s great to have a Secretary of State at DEFRA who really wanted the role. George Eustice has the depth of experience, enthusiasm, passion and ideas to really make a difference in this role at such a crucial time for the farming industry as we move into a brand-new policy era.
“George has been particularly mindful of the needs of the tenanted sector of agriculture and we look forward to working with him in his promoted role.”
While NFU-Cymru President John Davies congratulated Mr Eustice about his promotion, he also sounded a note of caution.
Mr Davies said: “The new Secretary of State will have a vital role to play in ensuring the industry can capitalise on the new opportunities afforded to us now the UK has left the European Union. As we embark on this new era, we urge the new Secretary of State to work with his colleagues in the new UK Government Cabinet to ensure that the standards which form the solid foundation of the UK food and farming industry are not compromised in forthcoming negotiations over future trade deals. Mr Eustice’s predecessors have vowed to protect and uphold these standards and we would welcome his commitment to reinforce this pledge at the earliest opportunity.”
John Davies continued: “NFU Cymru is keen to meet with Mr Eustice in the coming weeks to outline our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable food and farming industry in Wales and the role that the UK Government can play in helping us to realise our vision.
“The union’s officeholder team and staff have met with Mr Eustice on several occasions in his previous capacity as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We look forward to continuing that good working relationship.”

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Farming

‘Government won’t be able to blame Brussels’

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BREXIT could have British farmers reap the benefits of international trade thanks to a leading British product, National Farmers Union vice-president Stuart Roberts suggested.
Brexit could help British farmers take on a leading role on the world stage thanks to great dairy and meat products created in the country, according to Mr Roberts. Asked whether leaving the EU could benefit the farming industry, the National Farming Union (NFU) vice-president insisted Brexit will offer the UK more freedom to trade with the rest of the world.
Speaking to talkRADIO, Mr Roberts said: “There are several benefits. If we talk about trade, there are certain parts of the world where I think we can have some real positive trade deals.
“Our dairy products, for example, are ones that we can lead the world on, we can add value to.
“When you look at our sustainable meat production in this country, people are crying out for this around the world. I think there are some opportunities in trade.”
The NFU vice-president also suggested leaving the European Union will grant the UK to have full control over farming regulations in the future.
Mr Roberts also said Brexit will force British politicians to be more “accountable” for the decisions they will take in the coming years.
He continued: “There are also opportunities in terms of the regulatory environment.
“We are now, at least, in a position where the politicians in this country will make the decisions and be responsible for it.
“They can’t blame someone else, they can’t pass the buck. In every aspect of society, probably for all of us, it was convenient to blame Brussels for things.
“Going forward people are going to have to be more accountable.”
The UK will no longer abide by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at the end of the transition period scheduled to conclude on December 31, 2020.
in December 2019, former Chancellor Sajid Javid announced farmers could enter the new year with confidence that they will be able to “thrive” after Brexit after he confirmed just under £3 billion of funding for 2020.
The cash – to be spread over two years – will be used to support farmers once all Brexit phases have concluded and the CAP direct payments scheme ends next year.

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Farming

NFU Mutual Tudy Farms Award

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NFU Mutual Tidy Farm Award: 2019's winner Gareth Davies with Grandson Aron Davies

THE NFU MUTUAL Tidy Farm Awards will return to Wales for a second year, after a successful launch in 2019. Entries for this year’s awards opened this month and close in March, promoting farm safety and offering cash prizes to farmers who have addressed common hazards on their farm.
The winner of Wales’ tidiest farm will be awarded £1,000, with £500 and £250 awarded to the second and third place entries. Farmers can nominate themselves, or local people can nominate a farm in their area. Family members and friends can also make nominations.
Entries will be judged on eight submitted photographs which show how common farm hazards have been addressed to reduce the risk of an accident.
The photos should show how the farmer:
• Separates their farm and home
• Stores their vehicles, machinery and equipment
• Uses signs and mark routes for delivery
• Fences off dangerous areas
• Minimises the risks of slips, trips and falls
Details of the award and how to apply are on a dedicated page on NFU Mutual’s website: www.nfumutual.co.uk/tidyfarmawards
Entries close on the March 23 and the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony taking place at the Royal Welsh Show in July.
The award judges are Stephanie Berkeley, Farm Safety Foundation; Gwyn Barlow, NFU Mutual Manager for Wales; Dan Killingbeck, Sales Consultant at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Wales; Hedd Pugh, Rural Affairs Board Chairman for NFU Cymru.
The initiative is being supported by NFU Cymru, NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Limited, the Wales Farm Safety Partnership and the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity set up by NFU Mutual to help farmers work safely.
“The Tidy Farm Awards were set up to recognise farmers who have really gone the extra mile to ensure a safe, tidy and healthy working environment,” said Gwyn Barlow, NFU Mutual Manager for Wales.
“After the competition saw a positive response in 2019, we were keen to re-run the event in 2020 and refresh these vital messages. This year, we’ve extended the number of pictures we will consider per entry from four to eight, giving farmers the best opportunity to showcase what can be done to make farms safer.
“As a mutual insurer which is closely connected with many farms in Wales, we are all too aware of the heartbreak farm accidents cause. Because most farms are homes as well as a workplace, we’re running this award scheme as a reminder that safety should be front of mind for the whole farming family.”
Stephanie Berkeley, who manages the Farm Safety Foundation, said: “Farming and food production play a crucial role in the life and economy of Wales, but every year we have to reluctantly report that agriculture still has the poorest safety record of any occupation here.
Six farm workers lost their lives on Welsh farms in 2018/2019, showing no improvement from the six fatalities in 2017/18. But even one death will always be one too many. All too often, these life-changing and life-ending accidents are avoidable. We know there are farms out there operating safely and efficiently and it’s time to celebrate them and reward those who have created a safe and tidy farm. The Foundation is proud to work with the Wales Farm Safety Partnership and help in their efforts to raise awareness of farm safety and help improve the health and safety of the local farming community.”

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