As it expands its presence in the UK, Saga Robotics is redefining the way strawberries are cultivated.

The company has developed an electric-powered robot, Thorvald, which provides a range of automated integrated pest management (IPM) services, including utilising shortwave light to treat plants at night.

By using this technology, strawberry growers can reduce fungicide usage for controlling powdery mildew, while enhancing crop yields and improving disease control.

Saga Robotics chief executive Anne Dingstad says the technology assists farms in their commitment to sustainability because it eliminates the need for diesel operations and reduces reliance on chemical fungicides.

Thorvald can also disperse predatory mites, cut runners and collect data in strawberry systems.

The company is planning to advance the data software technology further by incorporating yield forecasting and
disease detection.

Anne explains the robot will have labour-saving advantages too, cutting costs for growers.

“By implementing the Thorvald platform, growers achieve better control over the crops and contribute to increasing efficiency in food production,’’ she says.

Because the technology is modular, it is scalable, and that flexibility means it can be applied to different products,
customers, crops, and markets.

“This not only provides immediate value, but also allows for future flexibility and profitable innovation opportunities,’’ says Anne.

“Thorvald will continue to evolve, incorporating advanced autonomy features that optimise operational processes for farmers.’’

The robot is currently available to growers through a Farming-as-a-Service (FaaS) model.

Driven by the increasing interest in robotics within the agricultural sector, Saga Robotics has ambitious growth plans in the UK, where it aims to expand its operations and customer base. In 2022, contracts covered one full farm and 30 hectares – 2023 saw a doubling of that acreage. In 2024, Saga Robotics anticipates partnering with approximately 10 growers across the UK, increasing the contract area fourfold.

Its upcoming Thorvald III robot, which will be used in strawberry crops and grapevines, is expected to remove about 70 to 90 per cent of synthetic pesticides used in strawberry and wine production.

Dr Vincent Martinez

A pioneering technique has been used to develop an analyser which measures how efficiently bull and ram semen is moving.

Dr Vincent Martinez, co-founder of Dyneval Ltd, developed the concept behind the Dynescan semen analyser after realising that techniques based on statistical physics could be applied to light intensity fluctuations in a video of a semen sample under a low magnification microscope. This allows key parameters of the progressive motility and mean speed of semen to be extracted within minutes.

This data is important for breeders because when semen can maintain motility, conception rates will be higher.

By using the analyser to test semen, cows with uncertain heat timing can be inseminated with semen that has good
longevity, Dr Martinez explains.

“The Dynescan semen analyser can measure the percentage progressive motility – the percentage of cells moving
well – and the speed of progressive cells in a semen sample,’’ he says.

Measurements can be extracted from fresh, frozen, conventional or sexed semen.

Dr Martinez co-founded Dyneval with Dr Tiffany Wood in 2020, and the pair worked with product designers and software developers to bring Dynescan to the market in 2022. The analyser is now used pen-side by vets and  genetics companies.

For pre-breeding examinations on bulls or rams, the Dynescan will provide objective measurements and video evidence of semen quality.

“For straws or pellets used for artificial insemination, semen motility lifetime analysis provides vets and farmers with insight into how long the semen will remain motility in the female reproductive tract,’’ he says.

Measurements performed by vets have shown that conception rates are 8 per cent higher when semen samples are able to maintain motility for more than two hours, he adds.

“This increase will help the average UK dairy farmer of 200 cows retain profit of £8,204 each year, based on a fertility
cost of £5 per cow per day.’’

The company’s next challenge is to scale up the technology so that it can be used on all samples at bull studs to
allow every batch a time-dependent motility signature.

“At every stage during processing, transport, storage and prior to insemination, the Dynescan motility signature can be compared to provide reliable quality control, accessible to every user across the industry,’’ says Dr Martinez.

What the Judges said

Innovative solution with rapid development to provide accurate on farm semen testing. Clear savings to farmers and opportunities to create a more accurate system for farmers and vets alike

The IAG Team

A vertical farming frame, which was founded by British agricultural technology company Innovation Agri-Tech (IAG), is capable of growing up to 17 crops a year.

The GrowFrame360TM can grow 3,250 plants at any given time without sunlight or soil, and also uses 98 per cent less water compared to cultivating the crop in a field.

The technology was inspired by IAG founder and chief executive Jaz Singh’s farming background in India.

Here, he saw how quickly arable land was depleted by traditional growing practices, and that indoor vertical growing – with crops grown in controlled conditions – offered a solution.

The GrowFrame360TM is made up of 10 grow panels per frame and can be used for crops such as leafy greens, herbs and chillies. It was developed at the company’s Bracknell site after six years of research and development, plus
partnerships with UK manufacturers, engineers and academics.

The grower places seeds in specially designed seedling trays. When they have germinated, the seedlings are transferred to the GrowFrame grow panels, which sit in a controlled environment. Both sides of the panel can be used to make full use of the growing space. The roots of the plants are suspended inside the panel, with an irrigation system intermittently misting them with water and nutrients, and there are sliding grow panels to help simplify harvesting.

The system is modular and scalable, which means growers can easily expand their operations. Without the need for
sunlight or soil, plants can be grown 365 days a year because the concept is not climate dependent. This means
that crops which might not be grown in open-field farming can be cultivated.

Jaz sees the GrowFrame360TM as offering growers a series of advantages, including increased yields, improved crop quality, sustainability, flexibility and scalability.

Going forward, the company plans to run further trials to expand the range of crops that can be grown, possibly venturing into medicinal and pharmaceutical species. It is also looking to develop plant varieties specifically tailored for controlled environment agriculture.

“We are working to establish difficult to-grow plants with our technology,’’ says Jaz.

Another area the company will focus on is how the system can use energy and water more efficiently.

James Duke

A new technology based on ‘intelligent venting’, which has been developed by ADF Milking, is improving dairy cow teat health and speeding up milking times on UK farms.

High mouthpiece chamber vacuum levels caused by inconsistency in the size of cow teats will result in external and internal teat swelling. The internal swelling, known as congestion, restricts the capacity of the teat canal, slowing
down milk flow and preventing full ilk-out.

When milk flow is slower, teats are under vacuum for longer, and also at a higher vacuum than necessary, risking

ADF Milking created a solution with InVent, which can detect when the vacuum level rises above a threshold kilopascals. When the threshold is crossed, a valve in the liner mouthpiece chamber opens, injecting clean, foodgrade air into the mouthpiece and reducing vacuum. Each liner is then the perfect fit on every teat during milking.

InVent can be used with ADF Milking clusters and liners.

The company’s founder, James Duke, says farmers using InVent report that cows are calmer and quieter.

“Some are getting an extra litre of milk per cow, with one producer seeing yields increase by two litres a cow,’’ he says.

“Controlling vacuum levels on each teat individually results in calmer cows, less teat damage, higher yields and faster milk let down.’’

Not only are cows milking out fully, but also faster and with significantly fewer cases of mastitis plus lower somatic cell count, he adds.

“One producer has seen milking times reduced by 30 minutes – they milk three times a day, so that is 1.5 hours a day or 548 hours in a year, equivalent to 68 eight-hour shifts.’’

James says the development of InVent is part of a strategy of continuous innovation within his business.

“Our talented research and development department has invested a significant amount of time perfecting the InVent system, both in the lab and out on-farm,’’ he says.

The on-farm trials involved some cows being milked on one side with vents, while on the other two quarters vents were disabled. Teat bringing, congestion and colour were significantly better in the teats milked with the venting system.

ADF Milking’s future developments will focus on cow comfort, improved milk production, environmental concerns and physiological issues.

What the Judges said

Clear knowledge of the problem working in line with farmers to develop a solution. Not just a tech solution but it was an initial Health and well being solution and affined to supporting British munfacturing