‘Smart’ farms to transform how we produce food

The University is launching a new initiative to give farms and business a competitive advantage and increase their value.

The University is launching a new initiative 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 innovative, multi-discipline, systems-based solutions to help industry navigate the complex future challenges for sustainable development of global food production. 

Smart Agri-Systems

Professor Lisa Collins, pictured below, the academic lead on the initiative – called Smart Agri-Systems – said: “The aim of the Smart Agri-Systems initiative is to work in close partnership with industry and government to develop solutions for a smarter and more sustainable future for food and farming.

Lisa Collins

Professor Collins added: “Farms and businesses can work with us to develop bespoke solutions, 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.”

Competitive advantage

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.

University farm

The initiative’s development work will draw on the services of the University’s established 317 hectare 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.

Farm, pig

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 ground water 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.

Industrial Strategy

Smart Agri-Systems supports the Government’s Industrial Strategy which highlights agriculture and food production and commits ministers to placing the UK ‘at the forefront of the global move 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.

Artists view of Nexus building

Supporting business growth through research and innovation is a strategic aim of the University, which is due to launch Nexuspictured above – its £40m 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. 

International impact

The Smart Agri-Systems initiative is part of the University’s Global Food and Environment Institute, a new multi-disciplinary research hub creating networks with academic partners, industry, policy makers and non-governmental organisations worldwide to deliver the impact required for global change. It aims to tackle many of the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations.

To contact the Smart Agri-Systems team, call 0113 343 7910 or email smart-agri@leeds.ac.uk

Further information

Journalists with questions or interview requests should contact Peter Le Riche in the University of Leeds press office, on +44(0)113 343 2049 or email p.leriche@leeds.ac.uk.