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Agri-tech start-ups address real-world problems

Winners of Agri-Tech East’s 2017 GROW agri-tech business plan competition, aimed at stimulating entrepreneurship in the sector, were announced in June [4].

Farming Data

In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers grow 80% of the food produced. They primarily subsist on what they grow and sell surplus crops for income.

Crop production accounts for a large proportion of smallholders’ household income and it is thus essential that they receive a fair price for their produce. However, due to small crop volumes and poor dissemination of market price information, they are often in a weaker bargaining position and more vulnerable to exploitation by middlemen, who offer substantially lower prices at the farm gate. Poor infrastructure and few transport options further limit their access to markets.

The GROW Judges’ Award went to Farming Data, which is developing a digital platform that enables direct transactions between farmers and buyers through SMS, smartphone application and an internet-based portal.

The platform calculates aggregated crop prices that are geographically relevant to the user, allowing farmers to make informed decisions about when and where to sell for the best price. The platform also streamlines the management and payment process using SMS and mobile money and enables farmers without smartphones to access essential features.


The audience at Agri-Tech East’s 2017 GROW business plan competition also had an opportunity to tip their own winner with money from the ‘Bank of Agri-Tech East’. They chose SoilSense, an aerial soil sensor that can provide a detailed map of moisture content of the soil – even through vegetation - for a whole farm in minutes.

The co-founders of SoilSense – Maciej Klemm, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol with specialist knowledge of antenna design and microwave technologies, and Dallan Byrne, an expert in remote sensing – developed the concept for the moisture sensor when investigating improved methods of detecting tumours in the body.

A unique feature of the proprietary sensor and algorithm is that it is capable of detecting water by using its reflective qualities and an electromagnetic pulse. It can distinguish between water contained in foliage and water in the soil and so is able to give a direct measure of soil moisture content regardless of crop cover.

The SoilSense monitor can be mounted on a drone and provides an accurate MoistureMap visualisation of the entire field in minutes. This offers the potential for smart irrigation controlled by actual water need.

Typically soil moisture is measured using sensors ‘planted’ at intervals across the field. These are time-consuming to install and only give an accurate measure of a single spot in the field. Larger fields require tens or hundreds or these sensors installed, which is impractical. An alternative is an aerial sensor but the current technology is passive radiometry, which is sensitive to adverse weather conditions and prone to interference.

Smallholders grow 50% of the world’s food and 40% of global food production relies on irrigation. Smart water usage is essential for many parts of the world, including the dry east of England, so being able to adjust water usage based on soil moisture content is a major breakthrough.

The company is looking to work with developers of drone and smart irrigation technology as the sensor can add value to other systems or be offered as part of a service.

Pictured above: David Godding of Farming Data receiving the award from Howard Partridge of Innovate UK



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