Tag Archives: R&D

Delivering multiple benefits with manure management

The management and treatment of manures and slurries from livestock production is becoming an increasing issue around the world. The potential of manure to cause environmental harm and contribute to climate change when not correctly stored, handled or applied is significant. However, manures and slurries also represent a valuable resource and can return valuable crop nutrients to farmland in a way which does not rely on energy-intensive industrial processing.

In the European Union some 1.4 billion tonnes of manure is produced each year, the majority of which needs management ranging from simple, low cost methods – such as appropriate storage – to complex techniques such separation or anaerobic digestion (AD). However, estimates suggest that less than 10 per cent of the EU’s manure is currently actively managed.1

In many countries there are environmental restrictions on the application of manures to land, meaning that farms must have sufficient storage capacity for manure which cannot be applied directly to land. As up to 90 per cent of pig and cattle slurry is water, reducing the water content is an effective way to reduce the required storage capacity. Furthermore, being able to store manure so that it can be applied when the nutrients it contains will be of maximum benefit is good agricultural practice and can help to maintain or improve crop yields, as well as reducing potential odours and gaseous emissions during application.

Finding solutions

These challenges led to the creation of the EU-funded EfficientHeat project in 2011, which looked at an ‘Integrated and cost-effective solutions to reduce the volume of pig slurry; minimise pollutant emissions and process energy consumption’. The project, which was co-ordinated by HRS Sales and Product Development Director Arnold Kleijn, looked at how to improve the situation for pig producers in Spain, many of whom were reliant on off-site treatment plants to reduce the volume of slurry and manure produced.

By the time the project was concluded in 2013, not only had it cut treatment costs by 40 per cent, but it had also speeded up the treatment process, reduced energy consumption by 25 per cent, cut slurry volumes by 60 per cent and created potential revenue streams for farmers in terms of nutrients and potential biogas.

Arnold Kleijn explains: “We used evaporation because the thermal energy needed for evaporation can often be obtained from nearby combined heat and power plants at little or no cost. One of the keys to success was improving the scraping action in the evaporator and preventing the concentrated manure from sticking to the surfaces. This increases heat transfer rates two- to threefold, increasing efficiency and speeding up the evaporation process. By combining the various technologies, we reduced slurry volume by up to 60 per cent, resulting in less storage requirements and fewer tanker journeys.”

Following the success of the EfficientHeat project, HRS Heat Exchangers continued to develop the technology to improve its efficiency and make it suitable for practical use on farms. We utilised our Unicus Series scraped-surface heat exchanger technology to provide the necessary evaporation and used acid dosing to reduce volatile ammonia in the process.

The first commercial HRS plant was commissioned in Spain and treats up to 12 tonnes and hour of pig manure from a number of nearby farms. The system has reduced volumes and therefore storage and treatment requirements, while the concentrated manure is returned to the farms for use as fertiliser. Since this first plant, we have been involved in four other plants which manage and concentrate digestate from anaerobic digestion plants using a very similar process.

1 Inventory of Manure Processing Activities in Europe, 2011. Available at http://agro-technology-atlas.eu/docs/21010_technical_report_I_inventory.pdf

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£90 million to help feed the 9 billion

Applications for the first round of funding from a £90 million pot to revolutionise how food is produced, and reduce its environmental impact, will begin later this month the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has announced.

The Transforming Food Production Challenge, part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, will bring together the UK’s agri-food sector with robotics, satellite, data and digital technologies and artificial intelligence. It is hoped the Challenge will help make the UK a world leader in precision farming techniques.

“Precision farming is the future of farming and food production,” said Professor Melanie Welham, Executive sponsor for the Transforming Food Production Challenge at UK Research and Innovation. “There is an enormous opportunity for the UK to lead the world in deploying smart technologies to the field, farm and factory and truly transform the entire ‘farm to fork’ supply chain. We have to grasp that opportunity now, and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will help make that happen. We will be able to farm sustainably, produce healthy, nutritious and economically viable food, while preserving farmland and the wider environment for future generations,”

The UK agri-tech sector contributes £14.3 billion to UK economy, employing 500,000 people, with companies and researchers developing pioneering technologies from farming drones to 3D printing. The first funding competition call opens on Monday 20 August 2018 with an investment up to £20 million. The call has two main themes:

  • To drive productivity and improve environmental outcomes in crop and ruminant production systems
  • To develop new, highly efficient, high-value food production systems that maximise productivity and improve environmental performance.

Projects must focus on the development of enhanced decision support, precision agriculture technology solutions and systems.

Photo Caption: Professor Melanie Welham.

Photo Credit: BBSRC

The post £90 million to help feed the 9 billion appeared first on Hort News on 20 August 2018.

National Cut Flower Centre secures funding

AHDB has announced that the National Cut Flower Centre (CFC), based at Rookery Farm near Holbeach in Lincolnshire has secured a further five years of funding.

The remit of the CFC project will also be broadened to include new research into crop protection and nutrition. According to AHDB, “The CFC will continue to identify new commercially successful cut flowers to the UK market and begin new trials for 2018 include research into Fusarium on column stocks, in conjunction with University of Warwick, and weed control, supported by ADAS.

“Budget has been allocated this year to address petal spotting on field-grown sunflowers, which causes losses of up to 2.4million stems per year in the UK.”

The first output from the new remit was presented to attendees at the CFC’s open evening earlier this month, which also featured a mobile, on-site diagnostic laboratory giving growers the opportunity to bring in plant samples for examination and diagnosis.

Previous trials at the CFC have led to the introduction of 11 new commercially grown crops, with a combined potential farm-gate value of £2.9million over the previous five year period.

Photo Credit: AHDB Horticulture

The post National Cut Flower Centre secures funding appeared first on Hort News on 20 August 2018.

New glasshouse at STC

Stockbridge Technology Centre has added to its research facilities with a new 384 m2 three-zone glasshouse from Bom and Ebtech Glasshouses.

The new building forms part of the CHAP (Centre for Crop Health & Protection) Innovation Centre portfolio, funded by Innovate UK, and will create new facilities for evaluating biopesticides under semi-commercial conditions. It includes a suite of deep-water hydroponic units, allowing customized trials on a range of crops.

The 4 m high glasshouse (at the gutter) consists of three 12.8 m wide zones. The Bom group glasshouse is also fitted with aphid-proof netting on the roof vents, horizontal roof screens and a hot water piped heating system, with a Priva control system. “We can offer large or small scale projects to our clients, offering bespoke projects to the highest of standards required,” commented Ebtech managing director Tony Walker.

Photo Credit: Ebtech

The post New glasshouse at STC appeared first on Hort News on 12 July 2018.

Scout robot could revolutionise greenhouse crop protection

A new robot crop scout developed by Metazet has been nominated for a Greentech Concept Award which takes place as part of Greentech 2018 in Amsterdam in June.

According to the manufacturers, the IRIS! scout robot detects diseases, pests, deficiencies and other plant abnormalities at an early stage and also provides accurate fruit count and yield forecasting as well as detailed climate and environmental information. They claim that the system’s artificial intelligence brain and its ability to perform active learning make it unique.

The IRIS! robot can better predict crop stress development and provide unique intelligence that can make crop protection efforts more efficient. It consists of the patented SABER™ sensor mounted on a self-propelled trolley that operates autonomously in greenhouses with a tube-rail system. Collected data is securely stored in the cloud, and the robot brain is said to be protected against hacking due to a novel, patented cloud-based information protection protocol and state of the art security standards.

The Scout robot was jointly developed by Metazet-Formflex, Ecoation and Micothon.

Photo Caption: Established greenhouse technology company Ecoation is one of the companies behind the IRIS! robot

Photo Credit: Ecoation

The post Scout robot could revolutionise greenhouse crop protection appeared first on Hort News on 10 May 2018.

International teams enter autonomous greenhouse challenge

Wageningen University & Research says that fifteen teams have registered to participate in its Autonomous Greenhouses challenge which will take place in the WUR research greenhouses at Bleiswijk. In total, the teams comprise 90 individuals representing 15 nationalities from across the globe.

Teams represent both technology and horticultural companies, such as Microsoft Research, Intel, Tencent, Delphy, Philips Lighting and Syngenta. A number of start-ups are represented and WUR says that the teams also include several plant breeders with lots of practical experience.

The challenge, which is sponsored by Tencent (a leading provider of internet services in China) aims to boost vegetable production using artificial intelligence and autonomous greenhouses to improve vegetable production, and to explore breakthroughs that can help feed more people, deliver greater food security and create more food with fewer resources.

On 31 May and 1 June, the 15 teams will take part in a 24-hour ‘hackathon’ and based on the results, an international jury will then shortlist five teams to go through to the next round. This will involve breeding cucumbers remotely in a dedicated greenhouse section at Bleiswijk using intelligent algorithms, models and sensors, with as little human interference as possible.

The full list of participating teams includes: A Team, AiCU, Huxley, B-Mex, Deep Greens/UNAM, greenHU, iGrow, Modo, SNUPHPF, Sonoma, South China Future AG, The Croperators, The new (cu)cumbers, We Grow and Young Data Driven Growers.

Photo Caption: Companies already working in the greenhouse sector are represented in the entries

Photo Credit: Delphy

The post International teams enter autonomous greenhouse challenge appeared first on Hort News on 10 May 2018.

Drones could spot potato virus in fields

A US scientist is investigating the potential of using aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to spot symptoms of potato diseases live PVY.

Donna Delparte, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Idaho State University (ISU) discussed her research at the Idaho Potato Conference in January.

“They are very much the future, especially when we’re working on trying to expand the technology and look at new and novel ways to use UAV, such as crop-invasive species,” she said.

Using a special camera it’s possible to fly a drone over a field and determine the precise locations of plants infected with PVY with a reasonable level of certainty. Delparte’s team created a profile of what an infected plant looks like with a hyperspectral camera, and then took that profile to the field to identify infected plants. The results were ‘ground-truthed’ and after tuning the algorithm reached an 89.8 percent success rate.

The drone imagery combined with a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS system, provided the location of the PVY infected potato plants. “Imagine we send a farmer a dot on a map or a GPS that says, ‘this is where you should be able to find PVY infected plants,’ and be able to do some sort of mitigation,” Delparte explained.

Despite the promise, the costs of the camera and the computing power required to crunch the large amount of data generated are both issues which need to be overcome.

Photo Credit: pxhere

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Could micro magnets detect pesticides?

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a novel way of detecting pesticide residues in fruit and veg – ‘micro magnets.’

The scientists developed a rapid and highly sensitive screening technique capable of detecting minute amounts of pyrethroids, and say their new method can reduce the screening period for the chemical to less than two hours.

Assistant Professor Yang Hongshun and his PhD student Miss Yu Xi developed polystyrene coated magnetic nanoparticles which can effectively extract pyrethorid residue from vegetable crops for analysis via simple magnetic separation. The nanoparticles are first added into a liquid sample obtained from vegetables, serving as ‘micro magnets’ to attract pyrethroid molecules. Pyrethroids bound on the nanoparticles are then washed off by a small amount of organic solvent and collected for analysis.

This innovation allows analysis to be completed in less than two hours, and is able to detect pyrethroids at a concentration level of as low as 0.02 nanograms per gram of vegetables. The nanoparticles can also be reused up to 30 times.

Yang, said, “Existing screening methods require long processing time and hence it could be challenging to apply such methods to detect pesticide residue in a large batch of samples, which is vital to ensuring food safety. Our method therefore offers a faster and more effective alternative.”

He added that the next stage is to detect pyrethroids in other foodstuffs, as well as looking to detect other types of pesticide and chemicals including mycotoxins and antibiotics.

Photo Credit: National University of Singapore

The post Could micro magnets detect pesticides? appeared first on Hort News on 5 April 2018.

Plants increase flower production within a day of soil nutrient application

The molecular mechanisms which enable plants to quickly adapt their rate of flower production in response to changing nutrient levels in soil have been revealed by researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory.

A team of plant scientists has revealed that that increased soil nutrients in the form of nitrate lead to a response in stem cells in the shoots in less than 24 hours, both at the cellular and whole plant level.

First author of the paper, Dr Benoit Landrein said that it was already well established that the availability of nitrate can affect various aspects of plant development, and that while it was known that cytokinins were involved their exact role in mediating the response of the meristem to mineral nutrients had not been described before.

“Within one day of the root cells detecting additional nitrate, the cytokinin hormone precursors had travelled through the plant and converted to active hormones at the shoot meristem, which started influencing the shoot’s growth,” he explained. “The speed of this process was very surprising – the roots had not only responded to the change in environment themselves, they had rapidly communicated this information from the roots to the stem cells at the very top of the plant. We observed shoot meristem cells were starting to respond within 24 hours of the application of nitrate.

“This research provides us with improved insight into how mineral nutrients influence plant architecture and could be used to better understand plant response to environmental inputs and to develop cultivars with increased yield.”

Photo Caption: The researchers say plant meristems responds rapidly to soil nitrate.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Engineers make wearable sensors for plants

Scientists at Iowa State University in the United States are developing graphene-based, sensors-on-tape that can be attached to plants and can provide data to researchers and farmers about water use in crops.

The tool, dubbed a “plant tattoo sensor” by researchers, is a tiny graphene sensor that can be taped to plants. Graphene is a carbon honeycomb which is just an atom thick, and is great at conducting electricity and heat, as well as being strong and stable. The graphene-on-tape technology has also been used to produce wearable strain and pressure sensors, including sensors built into a “smart glove” that measures hand movements.

“This fabrication process is very simple,” says lead developer Liang Dong. “You just use tape to manufacture these sensors. The cost is just cents.” In the case of plant studies, the sensors are made with graphene oxide, a material very sensitive to water vapour. The presence of water vapour changes the conductivity of the material, and that can be quantified to accurately measure transpiration from a leaf.

The plant sensors have been successfully tested in lab and pilot field experiments, and a new three-year, $472,363 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will support more field testing.

Photo Caption: Iowa State University researchers have developed these “plant tattoo sensors” to take real-time, direct measurements of water use in crops.

Photo Credit: Liang Dong/Iowa State University

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