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Norfolk firm’s agri-tech investment in potato store monitoring

PUBLISHED: 07:43 18 November 2015 | UPDATED: 07:43 18 November 2015

Ray Andrews of Crop Systems with the firm's new web-based potato store controller called SmartStor. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Ray Andrews of Crop Systems with the firm's new web-based potato store controller called SmartStor. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

A Norfolk crop store manufacturer has launched a software innovation which allows remote access to control systems – and improves safety for lone farm-workers.

Crop Systems, based in Gimingham near Mundesley, specialises in the design and installation of storage controllers and equipment for the agricultural industry.

Its new SmartStor controller will give users access to the control settings from any internet-connected smartphone or computer, allowing them to react to faults and environmental factors, such as colder weather which could affect energy costs.

It continually monitors all aspects of the store, including temperature and carbon dioxide levels, and issues alarms if anything goes outside pre-selected parameters.

But one of the key benefits is a “lone worker alarm” via a swipe card or keyed entry system, which will issue an alert if any the worker fails to “log out” from the store within a given time, and trigger a visual alarm on site.

Managing director Ray Andrews said: “The lone worker issue is one of the biggest issues on farm at the moment. If you go into a potato store on your own it is very easy to slip and break your leg, and it can be difficult to get a phone signal.

“Store owners need to know that if someone goes in and something happens, then they will get an alarm. That is one of the big selling points.

The system also offers full data recording and graphing which can also be examined remotely.

“We have nicknamed it the potato store in your pocket,” said Mr Andrews. “You can go on holiday and as long as you’ve got wi-fi you can check that your store is OK.

“Store managers will have complete peace of mind because they will know their crops are being stored in optimum conditions, and the store itself is operating as cost efficiently whilst reducing financial risks. If storage equipment fails, the system will give you the information to take control before crop quality is compromised.”

Grant funding creates opportunity

Crop Systems was able to take advantage of a major sales opportunity for its new product thanks to a grant which allowed it to speed up the research and development process.

The company received almost £25,000 from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, which enabled two working prototypes to be built in time for the biennial Potato Industry Event, which took place in Harrogate last week.

Managing director Ray Andrews said: “Without that backing, I doubt we would have got it to the show, which is a really big shop window that we needed to be in.

“The grant was approved seven or eight weeks ago, which enabled us to get stuck in and push things through really quickly.

“In this industry you need to be in the right place at the right time, and for us we needed to be at Harrogate to launch it. There is not another big potato show in the UK for another two years.”

Chris Starkie, managing director of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “Food, drink and agriculture businesses form the largest sector in Norfolk and Suffolk, employing over 100,000 people and worth more than £2.2bn to UK plc. Crop Systems are at the forefront of the sector and it is great to support them and other businesses that are investing in research projects to increase their efficiency and productivity.”

The Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative is run by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership with support from New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the local authorities covering this area.

Grants are available for specialist equipment, new market and supply chain development, ways to improve productivity and efficiency, and the application and commercialisation of research and development.

For more information on grants from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative see www.agritechgrants.co.uk.

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