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Industry Sponsor Visit – Dyson Farming

On the 2nd and 7th June 2023 AgriFoRwArdS Cohort 3 student Garry Clawson, along with Cohort 2 students Haihui Yan and Jack Foster were invited to attend as Alec Dyson Studentship holders kindly provided by The James Dyson Foundation to Dyson Farming to see first hand their facilities as well as share their current research with the robotics teams.

2nd June 2023 – Visit to Nocton Farm and Glasshouses

On the 2nd June Garry Clawson and Haihui Yan visited the Dyson farming Nocton site to have an in-depth look around the facilities, see first hand what the farm does, and to see how the Glasshouses works.

More broadly, both Garry and Haihui were also given the opportunity to meet many of the Dyson farming team and farm operators to understand exactly how the business ran. Garry, Haihui and Jack were also able to provide feedback on how Dyson farming can further enhance their support for the students to ensure they take full advantage of the facilities available to them. Both Garry and Haihui started their Journey from the Institutive of Manufacturing, Cambridge, with a bus to the Nocton site in Lincolnshire. The journey took around 1.5 hours and went very smoothly. Upon arrival we were greeted with a wonderful view of the Dyson farming HQ which is situated in a wonderful mansion house with views across the fields. We were met by Richard Meredith (Head of Dyson farming Research), and also Ed Ford (Technology Manager), Dr Tom Storr (Research Agronomist), James Thompson (Technology Director), and Daniel Cross (Managing Director).

(L) Garry and Haihui meet with the Dyson team, (R) Dyson Farming HQ.

Richard and the team had created. Full agenda for the day which allowed us to see their business operations across the UK and also a full visit to the soft fruit glasshouses. We first met and discussed our research with the team while they also showed the scope of the farming operation across the UK. This ranges from Lincolnshire, Summerset and Gloucestershire. We also discussed what they saw as their main issues and how the research we were doing was working towards that.

We were then introduced to Ed Ford who took the time to show us the faculties and detail the traceability steps of wheat from field to store. This meant tracking the yield, quality and where and when it had been moved. Here we spent time inspecting the grain stores and discussing how the technology ensured full certification and assurance. What was evident was how immaculate and well maintained the whole premises was, from road verges to signs.

Dyson farming Grain Stores (One of several stores).

Upon finishing the visit at the HQ and thanking the team for sharing their knowledge, we made our way to the Nocton Glasshouses where a large part of the soft fruit operation takes place. This is around a 45 minute drive from the HQ and based in Carrington.

Dyson farming Glasshouses (Nocton)

Upon arrival we were treated with two fantastic things; a wonderful lunch, and an introduction to the super knowledgeable Angel Angelov (Glasshouse Manager).  Angel made sure were knew were we were by hosting the largest strawberries as a centre piece.

(L) Haihui and Garry at entrance to Glasshouses, (R) Strawberries from the farm

After lunch and a fact filled discussion around farm sustainability and glasshouse design with Angel we were treated to a tour of the Glasshouses.

Inside Glasshouses which grow strawberries

There was a significant amount to see from how they managed their energy requirements to how the mechanisms of the glass house operated to account for time of the day, wind direction, to CO2 management. We were also introduced to the automation technologies being utilised. There is a surprising amount of cutting-edge technology utilised with the glasshouses and was fascinating to see first hand. The tour took around 2 hours and we could have doubled that. At this time, it was time to depart and to ensure we did not go hungry we were gifted with a huge tray of strawberries which we gladly accepted (and shared with our research labs!).

Gift of Strawberries upon return

7th June 2023 – Visit to Nocton Farm and Glasshouses

To compliment the visit to Nocton Farming, Garry, Haihui and Jack were invited to present their research to the robotics teams at Dyson HQ in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. This again involved a full day or presentations and discussions. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken on the site.

  Image Credit: Dyson Careers Website

The day started very quickly. We travelled by train to get to the premises which took around 3 hours and were then immediately met by Juliet Charman (Global Head of James Dyson Foundation) at around 10:30. We were due to present at 11:00 to the robotics research team and then have a following presentation and meeting with the senior engineer at 13:30. Lunch was sandwiched (pun intended) in between.

We were requested to offer a 10 minute presentation of our research and support a 5 minute question and answer session. Haihui went first and shared her research on 3D printing and materials to support soft fruit picking. Garry went second sharing his current research on supply chain traceability and functionality, with jack closing of the session with his work on using AI to provide support to farmers on crop yields but in a knowable way.

As time was running out we had a meeting at 13:30 with a Dyson senior engineer, we were initially expecting a one-on-one but to our huge surprise we met with Sir James Dyson and were able to share our research directly with him for over 30 minutes. Sir James took a very active interest in what we were working on and how they all related, particularly as the studentship funding is in the name of his father (Alec Dyson). Very positive questions were asked with several takeaway points to help further develop our thinking. Sir James seemed to be very happy with the direction of our work.

Image Credit: Wired magazine

The meeting with Sir James Dyson flew by and as soon as we had started, we had to stop. However, it was a very memorable moment and hugely motivating. We then faced a 3 hour train ride back to Cambridge but that also flew by as we each discussed the day and how it went. We each look forward to presenting again next year, and hopefully in between.

A huge thank you to Garry, Haihui and Jack for taking the time to share the details of the visit and as well as Dyson farming and Juliet Charman for hosting and arranging both sponsor days.

Do you want to get involved in the CDT?

If you are interested in learning more about what we do and if you share a passion for agriculture and technology then go to our AgriFoRwArdS CDT website to see more about our research, how you can be involved, and how to apply to be a student in the program.

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