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East Anglia Future 50

From electronic sugar beet to GPS sheep trackers – farming innovations at the Royal Norfolk Show

PUBLISHED: 06:31 29 June 2018 | UPDATED: 06:31 29 June 2018

Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Dr Aldina Franco of the UEA with the tracking technology used to monitor sheep movements in a trial at Honingham. Picture: Chris Hill.

Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Dr Aldina Franco of the UEA with the tracking technology used to monitor sheep movements in a trial at Honingham. Picture: Chris Hill.

Archant

New data-gathering gadgets which could help farmers get the best out of their crops and livestock were among the ideas on display at the Royal Norfolk Show.

Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Map showing the movements of a sheep fitted with tracking technology in a trial at Honingham Thorpe. Picture: Chris Hill.Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Map showing the movements of a sheep fitted with tracking technology in a trial at Honingham Thorpe. Picture: Chris Hill.

The show’s Innovation Hub showcased emerging technologies aiming to drive farming productivity, including aerial analysis of crops from satellites and drones, and the state-of-the-art computer technologies and machine learning being used to aid plant breeding at the Norwich Research Park.

Another display allowed visitors to see mapped data from a solar-powered GPS tracking device, attached to a sheep at Honingham Thorpe, allowing visitors to watch the sheep’s movements on a monitor.

Dr Aldina Franco, from the school of environmental sciences at the UEA, said she initially developed the technology to track migrating birds, but the sheep trial aimed to see if the device could identify abnormal behaviour which could provide an early warning of health issues.

She said it had already delivered some “surprising” results.

Jamie Lockhart of Honingham Thorpe Farms has attached a movement tracker to one of his sheep -  and the results of this trial will be demonstrated by the UEA at the Royal Norfolk Show's innovation hub. Picture: Chris HillJamie Lockhart of Honingham Thorpe Farms has attached a movement tracker to one of his sheep - and the results of this trial will be demonstrated by the UEA at the Royal Norfolk Show's innovation hub. Picture: Chris Hill

“We thought the animal would congregate near the gate or at the bottom of the field, but as it got hotter and drier it was going to the middle of the field,” she said. “We were not expecting this non-random utilisation of the field.

“In June, it seems the sheep prefers the middle of the field, maybe because it is wetter or there are more minerals there. We don’t know. But we can start asking these questions about the movement which could help the farmer manage the grazing of field.”

The position, movement and angle of the device can indicate if the animal is walking, feeding or lying down – and at one point in the trial, the screen even shows the sheep had escaped the field, giving a valuable alert to its owner that it needed to be retrieved.

The hub brought together members of Agri-Tech East and was sponsored by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), which was demonstrating its own data-capturing innovation aiming to help sugar beet growers build upon last season’s record yields.

Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Simon Bowen of BBRO with a plastic electronic 'beet' used to assess crop damage. Picture: Chris Hill.Royal Norfolk Show 2018. Simon Bowen of BBRO with a plastic electronic 'beet' used to assess crop damage. Picture: Chris Hill.

A plastic sugar beet, packed with electronic impact sensors, is being trialled and calibrated to measure the potential damage to actual beet at harvest time.

Simon Bowen, crop recovery lead at BBRO, said: “We can put it through the harvester and the transfer to the trailer through the cleaner/loader, and on to the factory. It measures all the impacts and we are beginning to learn about how we can relate that damage to sugar loss.”

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