Ceres Agri-Tech to fund mushroom picking robots

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Ceres Agri-Tech, a partnership between five UK universities and three agricultural research institutes, has revealed that a mushroom picking robot will be among its supported innovations.

Ceres Agri-Tech

The government-backed partnership, led by Cambridge Enterprise, aims to revolutionise the creation and uptake of early-stage agricultural technology (agri-tech) opportunities.

As one of three companies that have emerged through the collaboration, Ceres spin-out Agaricus Robotics claims its new robot will harvest ‘even the most challenging’ of dense mushroom clusters.

The innovation responds to a growing market for fresh mushrooms in the UK, currently said to be worth £450m. Picking has until now been done by hand to prevent damage to delicate mushrooms, the company said, meaning existing robotic harvesters are not suitable and current labour shortages continue to present an issue.

“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.

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“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 per cent yield increases from optimised 24/7 harvesting 365 days a year.”

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 our commercialisation work with other projects in the pipeline, we are now also embarking on the next phase of Ceres and exploring new funding opportunities to enable us to accelerate our supply of innovative solutions to address the agri-tech problems of today and tomorrow,” said Dr Louise Sutherland, director of Ceres Agri-Tech.

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.