New appointment to support development of agri-business support programme 

Pershore College’s GrowAgri Worcestershire project, which aims to promote entrepreneurship in the county’s agri-tech sector, is set to go online in 2021 with the help of a new recruit.

Dr Chris Hatcher, a soils and plant nutrition scientist from Loughborough, has joined the GrowAgri team to develop methods for predicting crop yield and plant health using data obtained from drones.

The use of drone-derived data in agriculture is helping to modernise the way farmers grow our food by making production more efficient. This approach to farm management is based on observing, measuring, and taking action based on real-time crop and livestock data.

Dr Hatcher, who has a doctorate in plant ecology from Loughborough University, will be sharing his expertise as part of a brand new virtual business support programme set to start in the new year which features a range of topics from bioenergy and waste management to space and cyber technology.

Hatcher said: “Remote sensing in horticulture and agriculture is commonplace, but use of UAVs to generate high-resolution imagery that is then used for quantitative modeling is something that is currently underdeveloped in the agri-tech sector.”

“UAV-based remote sensing requires specialty across multiple disciplines. While this is likely the reason it is not more widely used currently, it presents the opportunity for a range of businesses to diversify into new markets and collaborate.

“Our 2021 virtual support programme aims to promote diversification of businesses into the agricultural sector, and also aims to support growers in advancing their methods for growing by incorporating new technologies into their established protocols.”

Starting in January 2021, five expert-led webinars will showcase the cutting-edge technologies that are already being developed in horticulture to revolutionise the way we grow our food by maximising productivity, data collection, precision and efficiency, whilst also benefiting the environment.

The webinars will also highlight the opportunities for Worcestershire-based businesses to be part of the future development of these technologies.

The agri-tech sector is viewed by the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership as strategically important for the growth of the Worcestershire economy. The GrowAgri project seeks to support those companies that sit outside the traditional agricultural primary production & processing, and support them to grow and innovate within the agri-tech domain.

GrowAgri Project Manager, Mark Harwood-Browne said: “We’re keen to engage with engineers, food technologists, agronomists, systems analysts or anyone who develops technologies that could be transferable across different industrial sectors.

“However, it is also a unique opportunity for Worcestershire enterprises not familiar with the sector to establish key contacts and get an introduction to horticulture and agriculture. Businesses who sign up to our virtual business support programme will get to hear first-hand about the challenges in the agri-tech sector.”

As well as offering a business support programme for eligible Worcestershire-based small and medium sized businesses, GrowAgri has a grant scheme offering funding of £1000 upwards to support Worcestershire enterprises to make capital purchases.

A total grant pot of £160,000 aims to help approximately forty businesses at a forty percent intervention rate, making a total investment of £400,000.

For more information about the GrowAgri Worcestershire project, email growagri@wcg.ac.uk go to www.wcg.ac.uk/growagri or call Project Manager Mark Harwood-Browne on 0300 135 7179.