A £2.9 million centre to support advanced agricultural engineering teaching and research has been launched at Shropshire’s Harper Adams University.
Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for natural environment and science, conducted the official opening of The Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre (AEIC).
The Environment Minister said: “Harper Adams's new £2.9m Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre for precision agriculture is a world class example of the innovation and agri-engineering expertise we have in the UK.
"We need to do all we can to translate research into new products, processes and technologies if we are to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, address the challenge of food security and enhance the environment."
The AEIC is home to the National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF), which aims to promote and evaluate the use of technology as a vital aspect of precision agriculture, and provides a focal point for the industry; offering a place for agriculturalists to meet and source information, and gathering and disseminating good practice from within the UK and abroad.
The building houses a range of “clean” engineering facilities and was developed thanks to an award of £1.5million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in October 2012, plus funding from the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, the University and philanthropic donations from, amongst others, the Douglas Bomford Trust and the Eric Lea Estate.
Lord de Mauley and invited guests enjoyed a tour of the centre’s facilities, which include an electronics/mechatronics lab, hydraulics lab, research lab for tractors and machines and a state-of-the-art lecture theatre, into which tractors and other machinery can be driven.
The AEIC supplements existing resources and provides a physical base around which university/industry collaboration can be stimulated. The building has many specialist features that support product development and training, and also provide a means to verify health and safety measures in the design and development of new agricultural machinery and precision farming applications.
Running concurrently with the official opening was an NCPF seminar on Unmanned Aerial Systems, attended by delegates from engineering organisations throughout the UK. In addition to presentations from a range of experts, guests including the Environment Minister viewed a flight demonstration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by KOREC, a company specialising in the supply innovative surveying, mapping, machine control and geospatial positioning technology.
UAVs can be remote-controlled or can fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans, collecting large amounts of imagery data and video in a short period of time, which has the potential to increase agricultural productivity.