Farmvention: partnering with the NFU to inspire tomorrow's farmers

In 2017 Defra released its annual ‘Agriculture in the UK’ report. The median age of farmers in UK has risen to 60 yrs from 59 yrs in 2013, with a third of all holders are typically over the age of retirement (65yrs). The proportion of young people aged less than 35yrs was around 3%. This problem was again highlighted in an article by The Telegraph which showed the increasing pressure on family farms and small holders due to an ageing population. Smaller farms currently provide 80% of the world’s food supply. Is this a crisis in waiting?

So, the Small Robot Company has partnered with the NFU for its awesome Farmvention competition, which aims to inspire young children into becoming interested in agriculture.

The competition also took a particular look at compaction issues, challenging children to design ‘tractors of the future’ and solve this problem. The perfect fit for us - we had to get involved! STEM education is also a cause that’s very close to us for personal reasons - our co-founder Sam used to be a teacher and helped start charity Jamie’s Farm, getting disenfranchised urban kids onto farms. Read more here as Sam talks to the NFU about why we got involved.

For the competition launch, we headed to the Thinktank Science Museum in Birmingham. Hosted by NFU President Minette Batters, she kicked off with an educational and inspirational talk challenging children to think about their food: “Do you know where your food comes from? Look for the Red Tractor!”

The launch included workshops in robotics using LEGO and sustainable eating, plus a talk from our Small Robots co-founder Ben Scott Robinson. And agricultural twitterati Hannah Jackson, The Red Shepherdess, got down with the kids to give some hands on support and inspiration.

Do you know any budding farmers - or urban children looking to find out more about farming? If so do challenge them to enter the competition! As part of the competition prize, we’ll be running an Innovation Workshop, working with the winning team of the ‘tractor of the future’ design to help make their dream a reality!

Read on for full details of our day at the Farmvention and more about the competition.

What is Farmvention?

Farmvention is a national STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths) competition by the NFU with the Small Robot Company aimed at Primary School Children. The competition is split into 3 problem solving based challenges: “Tractor of the future”, “Happy, healthy hens” and “A truly British snack”. The Small Robot Company helping to inspire and focus in on the “Tractor of the Future” competition. Each challenge can be completed in a team or individually and aims to support school curriculum with linked resources created with Association for Science (ASE).

The Small Robot Companies presentation by co-founder Ben Scott Robinson in the ‘Science Garden’ at thinktank, during Farmventions launch, helped stimulate the ideas of and motivate the children of local schools. This resulted in a small tidal wave of curious eyes and hands wanting to touch and ask questions about prototype Racheal robot, who was also attending the event, descend on Ben after the talk. Once all minds had been satisfied and badges/ stickers taken the Small Robot Company team went into Thinktank to help with the LEGO Robotics workshop.

From LEGO to Tractors of the future…

The LEGO robotics workshop was designed to get the children thinking about practical design ideas for solutions as well as introducing a simple form of coding into the designs to get them to come to life. The children were asked to think about current machinery on farms and what that machinery is used for, whether it be a combine or a water wheel. From this using the LEGO kits distributed between the group, a pair had to build, code and then present a piece of machinery they had thought would be useful on a farm showing off how they had used the code to make the model move. During the very quick hour session the Small Robot Company team in attendance went around the tables helping the pairs with brainstorming ideas, building and coding. From this we had everything from multi-tiered irrigation systems to mini combines, that always seemed to find their way under desks and between legs causing a Mexican wave of feet being lifted across the room.

The workshop fitted nicely into the “Tractor of the Future” problem which looked to tackle problems facing farmers; not enough people to pick crops by hand, the machinery being used is too big and compacting the soil whilst having a negative environmental impact. Therefore, entries to this must design a tractor which can overcome these shortcomings of current heavy machinery used within the farming industry. Entries are judged; ability to overcome these problems, creativity, innovation used, environmental impact and benefits to the farmers/food producers. The entries are then also split into 3 categories depending on the age of the individual/ team entering (KS1 (yr1 and 2), Lower KS2 (yr 3 and 4) and Upper KS2 (yr 5 and 6)) however, all entries will get a certificate for entering and a mini prize. Prizes for this competition include: A fully funded farm visit up to 35 children, £600 of robotics and construction materials to build a prototype, travel expenses for 5 children and 2 adults to attend houses of parliament grand finale, STEM learning kits for the individuals/ team’s classrooms.

What is the SRC doing to inspire the next generation?

Small Robot Company is revolutionising the way that technology is used to create food, reducing its cost on the environment. To do this, we are transforming farming with robots and artificial intelligence. Our farmbots Tom Dick and Harry will plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste. This model we are creating will use technology to catch up with the growing population to close the gap in food supply and demand that we are currently seeing in today’s market. We hope that this technology can be rallied behind with one big effort and push forward a new robotic era of farming in which, people of all backgrounds can find developing/new pathways into the agricultural sector e.g. Software developers, Robotic engineers and Computer Sciences.

Joining with ‘Farmvention’ and supporting the concept fitted perfectly for our ethos. We want to help stimulate the next generation into tackling the problem practically and get them engaged from an early age. Plus, if we as a company can help bring children’s dreams to life through the competition as well then that will help inspire us as well to keep working harder to achieve our goals.

Small is for the Future!