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Agriculture runs deep in Cornwall’s roots. The region has been producing dairy and farming crops for generations, taking advantage of the longer growing seasons and wealth of natural resources.
Today agriculture is faced with increasing challenges that require new approaches to empower farms to become more efficient, more productive and more environmentally friendly.

Agri-tech Cornwall is working to address this by supporting next generation ideas through its £10m Agri-tech Cornwall Project. Led by Duchy College Rural Business School, in partnership with leading research institutions University of Exeter and Rothamsted Research, Cornwall Agri-tech has the expertise and the resources to facilitate true innovation in agriculture.

CleanGrow is part of the first wave of businesses to benefit from the grant and will be starting a research project at Rothamsted Research in September 2017, to develop its phosphate ion selective electrode technology as part of its broader nutrient analysis technology. The multi-ion analyser combines the intuition of a smart phone with advanced sensor technology, the device is the first of its kind in the world, allowing for simultaneous measurement of up to six ions and lab-quality results in real time and a recent winner of the prestigious Royal society of Chemistry emerging technology award. This data-led approach enables farmers, consultants and those working in the sector, to make better informed decisions about soil and fertiliser management, saving time, money and resources.

Roy O’Mahony developed the sensor, having worked as a molecular biologist on ions for many years and also in the area of vertical algal oil and farming. “I wanted to develop a smarter way of growing plants that used less water and less fertiliser; so I did a Google search for devices that measured nutrients in the water and there wasn’t anything, that’s where it all started.” Roy and his business partner began to develop the concept, collaborating with a number of businesses throughout Europe on the manufacturing aspect before eventually bringing the entire operation to the UK. Leading on business development, and with ambitions to capitalise on the unique capabilities of their device, Roy attended the Innovate UK 2016 event and began building a network of contacts, meeting people from the South West and learning about Cornwall’s Agritech offering. “I was introduced to the Cornwall Agri-tech fund and phosphate development is one of its focus areas so it was a natural fit. I began having conversations with the organisations that are facilitating the fund and it snowballed from there. To have the opportunity to work with Rothamsted is phenomenal, the insight and expertise is world renowned and we are able to apply it to a truly innovative concept so we’re very excited to see how things develop.”

CleanGrow’s research project will work with farms and agriculture businesses throughout Cornwall to develop the device for commercial application. “Working out of Rothamsted’s Research Facility we will be developing the device for commercial application so that farmers, consultants and environmentalists can get the most value out of the data it creates.” The shift towards data-led decision making is one that is felt across the spectrum from healthcare to energy production and agriculture is no exception.

“In recent years there has been an explosion of data – dairy farms, beef, horticulture, everything is being measured to understand how processes can be more efficient and more environmentally friendly.”

Roy O’Mahony

The project will be led by Martin Blackwell out of the North Wyke research station. “Rothamsted Research is incredibly well connected to Cornwall’s agricultural colleges so we will be drawing on their network to employ a researcher and a consultant to facilitate the project.” It will be working closely with farms throughout Cornwall, engaging the region’s agricultural community with the device and the benefits that the data can bring to their business.

Alongside the Cornwall Agri-tech project, CleanGrow is also working with the European Space Station as part of the Horizon 2020 project, the biggest EU Research and Innovation project ever. Clean Grow will play an important role in Horizon 2020’s work in Future and Emerging Technologies, providing expertise in nutrient analysis as part of its bio-technologies research. “It’s fantastic that our expertise has been recognised and that we are able to contribute to such important future proofing research. Sensors for space is an area that we’ve accidentally fallen into but it’s a fascinating area and complements that work that we are already doing in Cornwall.”

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