‘Smart’ farms to transform how we produce food

The University of Leeds has launched a new ‘smart farming’ initiative aiming to give farms and business a competitive advantage and increase their value.

Farmers and agri-businesses are facing more challenges, including political climate changes, fluctuating trading patterns and the need to increase efficiency and productivity.

Academics from the University will work with partners to provide multi-discipline, systems-based solutions to help industry navigate future challenges for sustainable development of global food production.

Smart Agri-Systems

Professor Lisa Collins, the academic lead on the initiative, called ‘Smart Agri-Systems’, said the project would work in close partnership with industry and Government to develop a more sustainable future for food and farming.

“Farms and businesses can work with us to develop bespoke solutions,” she said.

“Drawing on a range of expertise from advanced monitoring technology and big data analytics through to using these smart systems to help inform decision making.”

Developing systems and processes to develop ‘smart farms’, the initiative will draw on the University’s expertise in multiple areas:
  • Precision nutrition, health and welfare;
  • Crop growth optimisation;
  • Agricultural policy, trade and governance;
  • Artificial intelligence and robotics;
  • Big data analysis and machine learning;
  • Mathematical modelling;
  • Environmental and supply chain monitoring;
  • Business systems and complex decision making;
  • Health and social sciences.

‘Smart farming’ at the university

The initiative’s development work will draw on the services of the University’s established 317ha commercial farm, where a separate investment is being planned to turn it into a ‘smart farm’ to underpin the research and act as a test-bed for commercial applications.

The farm, which is primarily arable, is also home to the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock’s (CIEL) leading pig research unit, a £10 million investment featuring both indoor and outdoor production facilities.

Working with business

The aim of Smart Agri-Systems is to offer practical solutions to agricultural businesses which need support to expand or meet modern challenges, rather than just carrying out research. Examples include:

On the farm

Sensors – either fixed, or on drones and robotic crawlers – can monitor soil temperature and humidity, map crop growth and density, assess groundwater composition, and track the weather, with data analysed to project crop performance.

Livestock production

Genomics data can be combined with real-time sensor outputs on environmental conditions, growth rates, feed consumption, and animal behaviour and health.

Beyond the farm

Combining data and expertise on supply chains and logistics, consumer behaviour, health outcomes, environmental monitoring, international law, trade and business to provide sustainable whole system solutions.

Smart Agri-Systems supports Government’s Industrial Strategy which commits ministers to placing the UK ‘at the forefront of the global movement to high-efficiency agriculture’.

The Government has provided £90 million funding for academics and industry to work together to develop new technology and innovation in the agricultural sector.

Supporting business growth through research and innovation is a strategic aim of the University, which is due to launch Nexus, its £40 million innovation and enterprise centre later this year.

The centre will provide incubation and expansion space for up to 60 businesses, and provide a gateway for industry to discover and access the University’s research expertise and facilities.