M-SParc’s Green Eagle soars towards net-zero agri

Menai Science Park (M-SParc) secured SBRI Welsh Government funding for a Net Zero Farming project to create a low carbon solution for tacking weeds in agriculture, by working in collaboration with two of their tenant companies.

Along with Aerialworx and Fortytwoable, M-SParc have used this funding to respond to the call for decarbonising the agriculture sector, by bringing technological innovations to the field (quite literally!) to tackle the age-old issue of pesticide spraying. Their solution was The Green Eagle - a drone that identifies weeds and tackles them one by one; getting to the root of the problem.

The Green Eagle showcases how artificial intelligence, computer vision and drone technology can accelerate both the farming industry and growth in the Welsh economy. The project was developed to save costs, time, environmental impact, carbon emissions and improve farm safety. The work is normally undertaken by diesel tractors or manually by hand and covering acres of land, often with no need as weeds make up only a small portion of the field.

Dewi Jones, Farm Manager at Coleg Cambria Llysfasi where the drone was tested, is excited to be a part of this scheme:
“We were looking to identify ways of reducing greenhouses gases and implementing sustainable processes that will contribute to the development of the net zero farm project in the future.”

Stef Williams, CEO of Aerialworx, explained:
“Spreading pesticides on farmlands is a time-consuming process, and a lot of pesticide needs to be used to cover a whole field. Not only that, but it comes with an exposure risk to the farmer, and a spillage risk to the environment, wildlife, and livestock.

"There is a Code of Practice to ensure safety, but this increases the workload and the financial burden for the farmer. There must be a way we can reduce carbon while also making pesticide treatment more effective. We build and fly purpose-built drones every day, so we knew this was a project we were up to tackling.”

James Finney of Fortytwoable continued:
“The drones have cameras built in – that’s all I need to help me develop an AI, or machine learning, database of common weeds. Once the machine learns what is a weed and what isn’t, then the drone can be sent out to scan the field and target the weeds only.”

Pryderi ap Rhisiart, Managing Director of M-SParc said:
“The future of agriculture is loaded with challenges and opportunities for innovation and technology. This explored the challenges and opportunities, delivering a prototype and a glimpse of the future.

“This is a perfect example of what M-SParc does best; innovation and collaboration, for the benefit of the region. If we can commercialise the drones, then we can revolutionise how farmers spend their time and money, in Wales and beyond.

“This is a very exciting project, developed by Welsh companies here in north Wales. There is opportunity to continue this project, creating well-paid, specialist careers in developing this technology further. It’s just another way we are proving that rural areas can be, and indeed are, at the centre of innovation.”

The Net Zero Farm is one of the Growth Deal projects within the NWEAB's Agri-food and Tourism Programme.

Portfolio Director Alwen Williams is leading the team involved with the Programme, and said:
“Having grown up on a farm, I know first-hand how integral agriculture, as well as the businesses and industries founded on it, are to the North Wales economy. There is also a growing urgency to respond to climate change and the reduction of emissions.

“The Green Eagle project tested new concepts and technologies that put North Wales, its residents and communities at the heart of driving this change.

“Llysfasi’s Net Zero Farm is one of our North Wales Growth Deal projects, which when delivered will support 400 businesses in the region to decarbonise and diversify. This is an exciting first step on the journey to Net Zero farming.”

The Green Eagle was a concept project however it has proven that the technology does work. The team is now looking to take it to market for the benefit of national agriculture. The AI could be adapted to recognise native weeds in other continents, leading to the Green Eagle spreading its wings across the globe.

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