The government-backed partnership, led by Cambridge Enterprise, aims to revolutionise the creation and uptake of early-stage agricultural technology (agri-tech) opportunities.
The market for fresh mushrooms in the UK is worth ￡450m and growing annually, but until now, the picking has had to be done by hand to prevent damage to the delicate mushrooms.
Existing robotic harvesters are not suitable for mushrooms – which is a major issue as the industry struggles to cope with the current labour shortages. But Ceres spin-out Agaricus Robotics is developing a robot that can harvest even the most challenging dense clusters of mushrooms.
“In the UK alone, approximately 4,500 people are required every day to pick mushrooms—with labour costs representing a third of total production costs,” said Agaricus Robotics founder Bashir Al Diri. “It takes up to six months to train a picker, and their skill determines the productivity of each mushroom bed.
“But our patented intelligent mushroom harvesting robot can pick whole crops without bruising the mushrooms and will lead to 20-30% yield increases from optimised 24/7 harvesting 365 days a year. The backing of Ceres is proving invaluable as we now accelerate the commercialisation of our technology.”
Another Ceres spin-out companies is Cellexcel, which has developed a novel industrial-scale patented process to make water-resistant materials from flax. The global market for composites - materials made from resin-reinforced fibres - in car manufacturing is predicted to reach nearly ￡20bn by 2024. But the most popular composites, such as fibreglass and carbon fibre, are non-renewable and energy intensive to produce.
“Replacing fibreglass and carbon fibre with renewable bio-based materials like flax promises to increase sustainability and reduce carbon footprints, as well as improving vehicle safety—as bio-composites do not shatter on impact,” said Cellexcel co-founder Richard Stephenson.
“However, currently available flax-based composites are not water resistant and therefore cannot be used on car exteriors—severely limiting their applications. With the help of Ceres, our novel process is now set to drive down the carbon footprint of car manufacturing and add value to agricultural products and agricultural waste.”
An AI-based initiative to improve strawberry yield forecasting, and a new bio-materials project aiming to reduce carbon footprint of car manufacturing, are also among innovations funded by the Ceres partnership.
Alongside Cambridge Enterprise, the collaboration’s other partners are the universities of East Anglia, Hertfordshire, Lincoln and Reading as well as the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre.