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Grain ‘swimming’ robot solution to food losses

POOR Autumn planting con-ditions, a Spring drought and the recent heavy rains have led to a very difficult UK harvest. And the challenges don’t end once grain is in store – uncontrolled temperature and moisture levels can lead to pests and mould which, due to the notoriously difficult task of monitoring the condition of stored grain, contribute to global post-harvest grain losses of more than 20 per cent.

Now, a new Innovate UK-funded project is tackling the problem. Technology start-up Crover Ltd,

Agri-EPI Centre and East of Scotland Farmers have teamed up to develop the first robotic device able to safely sample grain bulks at various depths and while still in storage, where existing methods cannot. Each one of the robotic devices, called the “Crover”, is expected to be able to save a total of 380 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) every year.

Over the next 18 months the Crover will be trialled at the East of Scotland Farmers co-operative in Perth & Kinross, at a farm in Northumberland and within Agri-EPI’s network of partner farms. The project is being supported with £250,000 of Innovate UK funding.

Lorenzo Conti, Crover’s Managing Director, explained: “Post-harvest losses have serious financial impacts for cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers and breweries. But they also have significant social and environmental consequences, wh-ich are becoming ever more more pressing due to threats such as increasing global food demand, intense price volatility, and harvest unpredictability due to climate change.

“Four and a half billion people per year are exposed to dangerous mycotoxins from grain moulds which contaminate 25 per cent of the world’s food supply. The carbon footprint from cereal storage losses equates to six per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

“Like a plane’s wings in air, or a boat’s rotor in water, the patented technology behind our Crover robot allows it to fluently “swim” through bulk solids, like cereals and grains, monitoring their condition while they are still in storage and without leaving any grain unchecked. Our aim is to improve grain storage systems, helping to build the resilience of the grain supply chain and the wider global food system.”

Unlike current grain solutions that can only reach near the surface and pose a safety hazard to operators collecting the samples, Crover’s remote probing device will be able to autonomously collect samples throughout the whole silo/shed. This gives early detection of potential spoilage allowing steps to be taken to reduce losses and maintain quality.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre, said: “Cereal grains

are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are significant and high.

“Through this new and very exciting collaboration, the partners will blend their technological and industry expertise to investigate how the Crover can respond to that challenge by working effectively in commercial grain storage sites, with potentially huge benefits to the agri-food industry and wider society.”

Robin Barron, General Manager of East of Scotland Farmers, said: “We have a special interest in obtaining representative samples from silos and stores full of malting barley, so that we can accurately assess their recovery from dormancy before being dispatched to maltster customers.”

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