30 November 2021
The key to agri-tech success
NEW agri-technology is arguably centred around bright ideas – but when it comes to turning those ideas into reality then having the right contacts is key.
The Agri-EPI Centre’s Midlands hub is proof of that, having facilitated dozens of cutting-edge projects since it opened three years ago.
“We help people to get things done,” explains hub operations manager, Les Hurdiss. “My job is matchmaking companies and enabling development of practical, forward-thinking agricultural technology.”
The Midlands hub is located at Harper Adams University, meaning tenants have direct links to local farms, university researchers and – through Agri-EPI itself – assistance in securing commercial or grant funding. Comprising 10,000sq ft of workshop space and 6,000sq ft of officing and meeting rooms, it offers flexible solutions for tenants, from one-hour conference slots to full-time premises.
“Our aim is to inform, inspire and innovate,” said Les. This involves five steps: Identifying farmers’ challenges, finding firms with ideas to solve those challenges, giving access to university faculties to prove the concept, securing funding, and facilitating partnerships with farmers or other businesses to get it off the ground.
The networking element is therefore key. “Sometimes people get as much out of chatting over a cup of coffee as they do spending hours in research. The hub is a great opportunity for early and mid-stage agri-tech companies to come to one place where they have all the facilities and opportunities to meet like-minded people, farmers and academics to bring their ideas to fruition.”
So what kind of innovations are existing tenants working on? The technology includes hydroponic growing systems to autonomous crop management, drones, waste management to insect protein. There have been some notable successes, says Les.
“We work with DIT to bring companies into Shropshire as a landing pad. When UPL (an Indian company) came to the site just over a year ago, they liked it so much they bought a 65-acre research farm down the road.” Not only has that created new jobs in the area, but MagGrow – which is developing magnetic ultra-fine spraying technology with Agri-EPI – is hoping to hold field trials at the UPL site next year. “The Midlands hub is real ecosystem with opportunities across the whole farmed sector.”