Innovative plant health tool honoured in agri-tech awards

A ‘smart farming’ tool developed by a John Innes Centre researcher to help farmers apply fertiliser more efficiently has been recognised in one of the UK’s most prestigious agri-tech competitions.

Dr. Pawel Mikulski, a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre, reached the finals of the GROW Agri-Tech Business Plan Competition, held by Agri-Tech East and sponsored by Innovate UK.

Dr. Mikulski’s innovation addresses the problem that current fertiliser use is not environmentally sustainable and costly for farmers.

AgriOptimizer aims to use the plant’s molecular signature to precisely determine plant health issues at an early stage and create a fertiliser with a bespoke prescription.

AgriOptimizer can also be used as a testing platform to assess general plant health status under treatments with new agrochemical products including biostimulants.

Dr. Mikulski explained: “Healthy plants and those with a disease or nutrient deficiency have well-defined distinguishable molecular signatures. Our test would build on this knowledge, identifying how the plant growth is being impacted and providing a prescription for optimising its performance.

“Next step in business development is to validate these molecular signatures on the farms, collaborate with the agronomists and agri-tech companies to match our solution to their plant diagnostics problems.

“The novelty of our technology lays in the capability to assess the level of multiple nutrients within the plant at the same time before visible crop health symptoms arise.

The end goal is to establish a commercial platform that offers comprehensive, early crop diagnostic service for agri-tech.

Dr. Mikulski works in the group of Prof. Dame Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre focusing on developmental transitions in plants.

Dr. Jonathan Clarke, head of Business Development at the John Innes Centre, said: “The ability to precisely monitor plant health in the field will be a valuable tool for agronomists and farmers.

“Applying AgriOptimizer technology to evaluate the performance of new agronomy products and practices will play an important role in building farmer confidence and encouraging early adoption.”