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21 March, 2022 - 16:21 By Tony Quested

Missouri mission warms to East of England’s AgriTech innovation

A mission from the US state of Missouri has further strengthened ties with the East of England AgriTech community. Its visit to Cambridge was part of a series of exchanges designed to create fresh opportunities in both territories.

Governor Mike Parson, a third-generation cattle farmer, came to Cambridge with First Lady Teresa; Chris Chinn – also a farmer and director of the Missouri Dept of Agriculture – and members of the Missouri House and Senate, to meet members of Agri-TechE and to see for themselves the innovation emerging from the East of England ecosystem.

Annually, agriculture is a $94 billion industry in Missouri and nearly 50 per cent of US crop and livestock production is located within 500 miles of the State. 

The AgriTech cluster in Missouri includes international agriculture and food corporations and centres of plant science research including Bayer Crop Science’s Global Seeds and Traits HQ. It all makes Missouri a great launchpad for East of England companies looking to engage with US food production enterprises.

Governor Parson said: “As Missouri’s Governor, I look forward to the opportunity to strengthen relationships with business partners in the UK. For decades, Missouri and the UK have enjoyed a unique connection that is both culturally and economically significant. 

“Given the importance of international trade we’re grateful for this chance to promote Missouri agriculture and technology among other strengths that make the Show-Me State an ideal business location.”

The East of England meeting was hosted by crop science organisation NIAB. Of particular interest to the Governor was work on the use of naturally occurring microorganisms to unlock fertility in soil – improving the nutritional value of grass and reducing the need for inorganic fertiliser.

Agri-TechE members meeting the Governor included: Wyld Networks, simplifying sensor to satellite connectivity; Small Robot Company, developing robotics to support a ‘per-plant’ approach to agriculture which provides timely interventions to ensure crop health; PBD Biotech, developers of rapid blood test for tuberculosis in humans and animals; farmer Robert Smith of Russell Smith Farms along with Bayer, PWC and Cambridge Consultants.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, said following the Cambridge meeting: “Although the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of many aspects of digital agriculture, farming is still about people and the real world.

“The mission with Missouri has been invaluable in building business relationships and creating wider understanding of mutual opportunities and we are delighted to progress this agenda with the Governor.”

The relationship between the State and East of England agricultural enterprises has strengthened through a series of exchanges. Agri-TechE and Missouri Partnership co-ordinated a successful mission to the Missouri agri-food ecosystem in March 2020, just before the pandemic erupted. 

This followed a 2019 agri-tech mission from Missouri to the UK. Since that time Agri-TechE and numerous Missouri companies and organisations have been working together to advance AgriTech into the future and build strong connections between the two ecosystems. 

The Governor’s visit, organised by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, aims to build on those relationships and explore future opportunities for collaboration.

Updates from delegates involved in the two-way missions:

Wyld Networks, Cambridge
Wyld Networks simplifies sensor to satellite connectivity. The new generation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites will very soon provide near global connectivity, and this will offer a huge opportunity to deploy sensors in remote areas where there is little cellular coverage. Its product, Wyld Connect, enables sensors to send data directly to LEO satellites – at low cost, low energy and minimal investment.

Eric Hewitson, Satellite IoT Consultant, says: “Wyld learnt an immense amount from the Agri-TechE mission to St Louis in early 2020, making great contacts in some of the key companies and organisations and gaining an understanding the immense scale of agriculture in the region. In numerous ways this reframed how Wyld perceived its place and potential in the agri-tech ecosystem.

“Since the mission we have started projects with Bayer and KWS and have many other potential opportunities arising from people and companies we met.”

Wyld, in partnership with Bayer, is designing, building and testing a satellite connected beehive lid sensor. The project will gather data from hive health such as temperature, humidity and hive weight and combine this with the lid sensor data. Testing is taking place in beehive sites in the US, Canada and Germany.

Wyld, in partnership with KWS are testing satellite connected soil moisture sensors with a view to deploying across multiple field assets where cellular coverage is poor or unavailable. The need for connectivity everywhere at low power and low cost is critical for delivering granular data sets over time. Satellite IoT is the solution to meet this data demand.

Small Robot Company 
Small Robot Company is developing robotics to support a ‘per-plant’ approach to agriculture which provides timely interventions to ensure crop health.

Since the mission to St Louis, Small Robot Company has completed its SlugBot project, which aims to develop a robotic system for slug monitoring and identification followed by precision treatment with a new bio-molluscicide. The current chemical slugicide is being withdrawn as it pollutes water supplies and new bio-molluscicide is too expensive for widescale use in arable crops.

CMO Sarra Mander says: “The SlugBot project is successfully complete! We have completed the project to proof-of-concept prototype which involved identifying the slugs with hyperspectral cameras and also training the AI to recognise slugs with standard RGB cameras, these are much cheaper so a real win.”

Willand Group
Willand Group is developing an intelligent facility that offers the potential of net zero livestock production. The inflatable unit can be installed quickly and offers optimum conditions for animal wellbeing with all emissions captured. MD Daniel Larn said: “Willand found the trip to Missouri very useful and it really opened up many possibilities for expansion into the US/North American Market.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: (from left) Dr Nik Johnson (Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough); First Lady Teresa Parson; Governor Mike Parson; Sarra Mander (Small Robot Company); Dr Belinda Clarke (Director of Agri-TechE), Professor Mario Caccamo (CEO of NIAB) – with one of Small Robot Company’s robots.

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