New UK/China Agritech projects to help farmers make better decisions

20th November 2017

The Agritechina in China Network + funded new UK-China collaborations that use space-based technologies to boost China's Agriculture

Four new projects emerged from the first Newton UK-China Agri-Tech in China Network Open Innovation Forum in Beijing and Quzhou county, Hebei province, in early November.  Twelve participants from the UK met with over 20 Chinese delegates to discuss how space-enabled technologies can help China's agriculture meet the challenge of increasing productivity while reducing environmental  impact.


The group first spent two days in the Quzhou district of Hebei, in the North China Plain, seeing first-hand the challenges faced by small farmers and the progress being made through China Agriculture University’s (CAU) Science and Technology Backyard (STB) programme . The STB programme places student advisers in rural villages and takes an holistic approach to improving farmers’ lives, particularly through the adoption of scientifically proven and appropriate approaches and technologies.


CAU had identified five key needs for the STBs:

    • System(s) to link satellite data for decision-making and resulting recommendations to farmers
    • A village-level management information system that uses satellite and UAV-derived data for field-specific precision crop management
    • A system to delineate management zones, possibly using satellite remote sensing images
    • Robotic systems for grafting seedlings
    • County-level strategies and technologies for precision crop management

Once back in Beijing, the delegates -  a mix of industry innovators and academics, from the UK and China – were given the task of creating new parterships and projects that could directly help meet CAU's needs, with the issues raised from the Quzhou visit particularly in mind. 


After two intensive days, six new projects emerged, four of which were approved for funding from the Newton Fund, via STFC, and join a growing network of universities, research and development institutions, companies and others working together under the Agritech in China Network.


The successful projects are:

1. Management zone delineation and decision support system for small-scale farming at village level in North China Plain.

This project will test a prototype Decision Support System at an STB in Xushui village in Hebei province. The system will help determine the quantity of side-dressing nitrogen fertilization to be applied, and is targeted to the advisors who will advise farmers on site-specific management.  The system has been conceptualised to work with minimal data in order that it can be broadly applicable.

James Hutton Institute (UK lead); China Agriculture University (China lead); RSK ADAS Ltd; Rothamsted Research; Courtyard Agriculture; Hebei Agricultural University; Henan Agricultural University


2. NeWMap: Enhanced farm-specific NutriEnt and Water stress Maps

 About 70-80% of China's farmers have less than 0.5 ha, and it is very difficult and labour intensive to conduct field specific assessment so as to facilitate timely crop management, particularly fertiliser and water management. To mitigate this issue, this project will integrate UAV data and field-specific and local environment data collected from small-scale farms to automatically provide a nutrient assessment map and a water stress map. By closely working with China Agriculture University and other partners, the project will develop and demonstrate the techniques in the Science and Technology Backyards in Quzhou, Hebei Province, where automatically generated, precise, nutrient and water stress maps for small-scale farms are lacking. The techniques developed and demonstrated in this project are expected to be widely applicable to small scale farms in China, and support the Chinese government’s target of high yield and high efficiency of sustainable agriculture.

University College, London (UK lead); China Agricultural University (China lead);  Loughborough University; TT Aviation Ltd.


3. Scoping an Information Management System for China's Agriculture

Research in the application of new technologies in China's agriculture is becoming more commonplace, including in the Science and Technology Backyard (STBs) network of community farming development sites. It is vital that an integrated data management system is developed to store and analyse this growing volume of information. Such a system could be used by farmers to help them store their records, track changes in the performance of their crops and make management decisions. It could be used by advisors to help them provide the most appropriate advice and training to farmers, and it could also be used by researchers to monitor change, analyse cause and effect relationships, and develop models. This project will scope an information management system (IMS) for use in Chinese agriculture, resulting in a ‘user story’ for each type of application. We will conduct a review of existing systems in the UK to determine if some of their functionality could be applied, and then develop a detailed specification and ‘mock up’ system that could be further developed.

RSK ADAS Ltd (UK lead): China Agriculture University (China lead); Courtyard Agriculture; VIP Farms


4. Space Robotic Technologies for Plant Grafting (SR-Grafting)

"SR-Grafting" aims to develop a cost-effective and efficient grafting robotic system for farmers in China by exploiting space robotic technologies available within the consortium. The feasibility study will start with a deeper understanding of the grafting process and many parameters governing the success and quality of grafting. A systematic solution will be generated by developing a smart grafting mechanism for a robotic solution. The selected plant growth rate and its growth quality assessment will be investigated. Relevant literature will be identified through home developed search engine and keywords will be identified and listed to improve the review process.  Establishment of mathematical modelling of growth rate of a chosen plant and its rootstock will be studied to gain scientific understanding of grafting process, and prototyping commenced for application by watermelon growers in Houlaoying STB in Quzhou. 

University of Strathclyde (UK lead); China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (China lead); China Agriculture University; Shandong Agriculture University