LIAT takes an innovative and open-minded approach to collaboration, whether it is working with family-run businesses or multi-national corporations, and is proud to be a member of the UK’s Agri-tech East business-focused cluster. The Institute’s core aim is to connect academic expertise with partners in industry to pursue world class research which takes on real-world challenges and opportunities, not only advancing the state-of-the-art in agri-food technology but improving the bottom line for businesses. Here are some of the core disciplines in which LIAT researchers are active to help shape the future of farming.
LIAT brings together world-leading expertise in agri-robotics to realise the potential for improved productivity through greater automation of pre-harvesting and post-harvesting operations in agri-food industries. With its staff including the UK’s first dedicated professor of agri-robotics, LIAT brings together specialists in artificial intelligence and machine learning from the University’s Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems Research. Major agri-robotics projects include development of advanced 3D imaging and automation for robotic weeding and harvesting of vegetables. The Institute’s Thorvald agricultural robot supports a variety of field trials and experiments which are being rapidly expanded to address current industry challenges, including pressures on labour supply linked to Brexit.
Drawing on specialisms in energy control systems and food process technologies from Lincoln’s School of Engineering and National Centre for Food Manufacturing, LIAT is pursuing projects to develop novel dynamic control systems optimising energy use in industrial food refrigeration systems. New algorithms to control refrigeration temperatures with strict but variable temperature controls will be developed. This high level of control will provide opportunities to manage and control energy consumption in proportion to the National Grid availability. Other projects include looking at developing and enhancing greenhouse cladding materials to improve crop growth and quality.
Researchers in soil and water management at LIAT are delivering collaborative research of relevance nationally and internationally in their ambition to address challenges of drought, flood, environmental contamination and the spread of disease. The multi-disciplinary nature of LIAT’s operations enables access to a huge breadth of ideas and expertise, including soil scientists, geographers, crop forecasters and agronomists.
Projects include a study of the true economic cost of coastal flooding and how farmland damaged by saltwater can best be brought back into use to support Lincolnshire’s agricultural industry. This study is delivered in collaboration with farmers operating in and around the Lincolnshire Wash. Other projects are looking at agricultural practices and the protection and monitoring of drinking water with a view to influencing policies and governance going forward. Internationally we are investigating small holder supply chain development, using UK science and technology to improve rural livelihoods.
In efforts to address global challenges relating to food security, LIAT researchers are developing multi-purpose, user-trainable software technology which has a range of possible applications and overcomes the specificity of existing visual inspection systems. This research is achieving impact in several areas within the food industry, including quality analysis of fresh produce, food processing and food packaging. The technique was initially developed using off-the-shelf hardware to enable affordable detection, identification and quantification of common defects affecting potatoes.
We are also involved in a project conducting the largest known molecular study to track and trace Campylobacter through the supply chain. This whole genome sequencing will optimise a series of on-farm and factory interactions to reduce the contamination of whole chickens with Campylobacter.