NEW INNOVATIONS in agricultural technology offer exciting, sustainable solutions to the plethora of challenges facing the food and farming sector.

Growers are increasingly looking to technology to mitigate against the impacts of climate change, the pressures on a dwindling workforce and the need to produce food for a growing global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050.

Pursuing a career in agricultural engineering offers the unique opportunity to be part of the response to these challenges and to mark ‘This is Engineering Day’ on November 3, The Scottish Farmer caught up with two individuals who are leading the way towards smarter, more sustainable farming.

Ben Crowther, LettUs Grow

Indoor growing technology experts LettUs Grow, design and build aeroponic technology and farm management software for indoor and vertical farms.

Co-founder Ben Crowther has been developing LettUs Grow over the past six years and told The SF how he found himself working in agricultural engineering and why he believes it is a fantastic career for those interested in supporting the drive towards sustainable food production.

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Ben completed a degree in Engineering Design at the University of Bristol which led him on to various internships and year placements to get a taste for different industries. But it was in agricultural engineering he discovered his passion to make a difference.

“I always ended up with bags of salad in the fridge which would go to waste, and I felt driven to look at how we could better reduce our food waste. It was from there, that along with my co-founders, Jack Farmer and Charlie Guy, that the idea for LettUs Grow was born.

“We began by looking at what technology we could develop which could build resilience into the food supply chain, especially given the growing climate challenges and extreme weather changes which are impacting growers. We wanted to be able to provide a stable growing environment as a possible solution, and one which could work in conjunction with conventional farming,” he explained.

Indoor farming is on the rise but is still relatively new technology and at the time when LettUs Grow was developed, it was very much in its infancy - mostly being explored in Japan and the US.

Ben and his partners have since developed the world’s first aeroponics farm in Bristol, which similar to the more commonly used hydroponics, grows plants without the use of soil.

In most indoor growing systems, people use hydroponics to flood the roots of plants with water but with aeroponics, you suspend the roots in a chamber which is then filled with nutrient-dense mist, which Ben explained can result in greater growth efficiency, pest resistance and less waste.

The technology has been used to grow tomatoes, strawberries, carrots and radishes, to name but a few, however, the focus has mostly been on leafy greens, with plans underway to upscale production.

LettUs Grow currently has 10 clients in the UK, with Ben pointing out that they have had a lot of interest from new entrants.

“We take the equipment supplier angle with our technology, but our service is very much hands on with farmers. We help them to build their own farm and deliver the equipment to whatever spec they require and once it is installed, we hand it over to the grower but are there to help and provide ongoing training support when needed.”

With consumers more interested in where their food comes from and the carbon costs involved, Ben hopes this will drive demand for their technology and allow them to scale up in terms of the number of farms they can supply.

In just six years, Ben and his co-founders have built up LettUs Grow from a company of three part-timers to a successful business employing 30 staff – attracting around £4.5 million in funding and grants.

“I have always been passionate about engineering but specifically about using it to solve world challenges, which would make an impact on people’s lives,” continued Ben who was keen to highlight that agricultural engineering can be a really diverse, interesting field to work in and it isn’t just dominated by middle class white males sitting behind a desk.

“I like to solve problems and you can’t do that in isolation, you need to bring together different skillsets which means working with some brilliant minds - which keeps things infinitely interesting.”

In recent months, labour shortages across the UK food and farming sector have shone a light on the vulnerability of our food supply chains.

With a home-grown workforce drying up, farmers are increasingly looking at new ways to reduce their reliance on people, with technological innovations in farming robots offering a possible solution to the current challenges.

Halvard Grimstad, Saga Robotics

Robotics company Saga Robotics, Thorvald, has been supplying robots to the soft-fruit agricultural industry for six years.

Originating in Norway, demand for their services has since led to their expansion into offices in the US and the UK employing approximately 50 staff.

Norwegian national Halvard Grimstad studied mechanical engineering in Norway before becoming an agricultural engineer at Saga Robotics. He moved to the UK in 2017 to set up Saga Robotics Ltd – the daughter company of Saga Robotics AS.

He told The SF what exciting projects he has been involved in and why he believes agricultural engineering is such a worthwhile career.

“One of the first things I worked on was an automated penetrometer, together with the University of Lincoln, which measures soil compaction on farms. It is a robot which can drive around autonomously creating soil compaction maps.

“I also worked on another project alongside the University of Lincoln and Berry Garden Growers, looking at using robots to carry strawberry crates at picking time.”

It is estimated that around 20% of a picker’s time is spent carrying crates, so the idea was to have a robot come and collect crates to alleviate some of these time pressures. He added that their robots are designed to work in conjunction with conventional agriculture not to replace it.

One of the current projects he is involved in, which is rapidly gaining global recognition, are the company’s UV-C robots, which have been highly effective in controlling powdery mildew.

These driverless robots operate mostly at night, exposing plants to shortwave light which has resulted in reduced fungicide use and higher yields.

Halvard explained that one farmer in Norway, who has been using four of these robots on his strawberry farm, hasn’t had to spray any pesticides, allowing for a powerful marketing tool at the consumer end.

“One of the main benefits of agricultural robotics is being able to get more outputs with less inputs. It is a more sustainable and smarter approach to farming,” he continued. “Our robots are electric, which means there are no on-field CO2 emissions.

“We have had tremendous interest from farmers - they want this technology yesterday,” he continued. “There is an impression amongst young people that farmers are rigid old people that don’t want to change, but the farmers we have encountered are super open to innovation and are very accommodating.

“Farmers want to use autonomous robots on farm, as it reduces labour needs and pesticide usage – which is very important as lots of pesticides are being banned or are made redundant due to resilience.”

The UV-C robots have been used on tomatoes and cucumbers, but commercially the team are mostly looking at strawberries and grapes.

Halvard and his team offer a service approach to farmers, they own the robots and farmers pay them per hectare covered. Although this is currently only available on a smaller scale, he is confident that this is going to be a huge industry going forward.

“There is a limit to how many robots we can supply at this time but in the next few years we would like to roll this out at a large scale,” he said.

Currently there are ten of these UV-C robots operating in the UK, at two soft fruit farms in Kent.

With challenges to recruit seasonal workers looking likely to continue in the years ahead, Halvard said there is a race underway to develop and deliver picking robots on a commercial scale, but that it will take time.

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“You won’t see large scale commercial operations with autonomous strawberry pickers for a few years, but there are companies out there pilot testing. Anywhere on the farm that we can help alleviate the need for labour we want to do that,” he continued.

The long-term goal for Halvard and his team is to become one of the biggest suppliers of agri robotics in the world and to keep proving to growers that their technology works and gaining the trust of the agricultural industry.

Halvard concluded by plugging agricultural engineering as a fantastic career to explore: “One of the best parts of my job is working with people from different backgrounds and skill sets – I work with plant scientists and farmers, and together we come up with solutions that we can put into the real world, that can provide a value.

“Many of our generation is concerned about climate change and through engineering you can actually contribute to help the wider world. It is a career which can really make a difference.”

Ben and Halvard are part of This is Engineering Day on November 3, 2021, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to highlight to young people that engineering is an exciting career that improves the world and is contributing to net zero. For further information visit