Agritech is the use of technology in agriculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency, and profitability. Due to the landscape of rural UK, the application of 5G and agritech has the potential to transform the industry by streamlining agriculture and food production as we head into the future.

5G RuralFirst is providing a vital step change to connectivity in UK agriculture and rural communities, with a variety of use cases being tested across our Shropshire and Somerset test sites.

The Shropshire test bed focuses on achieving high speed connection to autonomous tractors and drones providing high definition image analysis of cross, weeds and soil on the “Hands Free Hectare” at Harper Adams University.  The Somerset test bed is home to Agri-EPI Centre’s South West Dairy Development Centre, a highly automated state-of-the-art dairy farm.  Here, 5G is being challenged to provide a vital high speed and low-latency channel for data exchange direct from sensors on and around the drone and farming equipment and associated emerging technology, with zero latency or delay.

Use cases include:

  • Biomass Use Case (Precision Grazing)
    • At our Somerset testbed we’re using a 5G enabled drone, equipped with multispectral imaging, to analyse grass across 42 hectares of grazing fields. This provides insight into the quality and quantity of grass available in the grazing area. Grass is the most important, yet often overlooked, resource for livestock production. Well-managed grassland provides the most economic feed throughout the year, either as grazing or conserved forage.
  • Aquaculture Health Monitoring
    • Salmon exports are a vital contributor to both Orkney and the UK’s economy. Keeping the salmon healthy is paramount. Sensors deployed at farms around the archipelago allow staff to measure pH, oxygen, salinity, and temperature levels from remote locations – and keep a close eye on the wellbeing of their stock around the clock.
  • Hands-free Hectare Autonomous Tractors
    • We tested the feasibility of precision farming, through the combination of a 5G powered drone and autonomous tractor. Considerable progress was made in exploring this use case, although full tests could not be completed in the time available in the project.
  • Drone Soil Analysis
    • Drone analysis and tractor control to spray fertilizer on needed areas.
  • AnimalCare
    • An Augmented Reality (AR) use case, smartposts will offer remote veterinarian diagnostics support, enabling farmers to ask advice and see how to care for animals in real time, using voice commands.
  • Connected Cows
    • Connected collars allow the farmer to keep track of a cow’s eating pattern, rumination, fertility, and day-to-day health. Accurate estrus detection alerts the farmer when an individual cow ovulates to optimise the timing of insemination and maximise the potential for pregnancy, and consequently milk yield.
    • In phase two of the project, we are adding pedometers to help score a cow’s mobility. The aim is to provide cows enough time and comfort to lie down and rest for 10-14 hours per day. Healthy lying times reduce risk of lameness and increase blood flow to the udder. Lying also decreases stress hormones and is positively associated with increased milk production. Milk buyers currently expect a cow to be scored on mobility four times a year, but this low frequency of assessment is not effective in detecting early onset of lameness in the herd. Using the pedometer tags, farmers have 24/7 visibility of their cow’s body condition to help them take a proactive approach to herd management.
  • Hyperspectral Imaging
    • This test was aimed at exploring whether 5G connectivity could enable the real-time identification and classification of grass and soil conditions from images collected by a plane flying at 900 metres above the ground. The information gathered by the plane’s hyperspectral camera would help farmers characterise the whole farm and improve the application of fertilisers. This use case didn’t progress due to challenges that could not be resolved in the time available in the project.