The nine climate-friendly farm inventions chosen as the winners of an NFU education competition were on display in London this week.
The NFU’s 2021 Farmvention challenge asked schoolchildren for their ideas on how technology can aid sustainable food production.
With agriculture eager to show that the industry can be part of the solution to mitigating climate change in the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, the young designers impressed MPs with their ideas in the House of Commons on Wednesday 24 November.
The winning entries, from pupils aged five to 14, were announced earlier this year and included a targeted irrigation system for crops and a vertical farm to enable crops to grow on salt marshes.
MPs heard how the children were using science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) skills to develop practical tools for sustainable farming.
The Farmvention competition, now in its third year, was created to show how agriculture can help teach Stem subjects.
Josh Payne, chief education manager for the NFU, told Farmers Weekly: “The calibre of the stuff they have come up with is mind-blowing, some really viable ideas that could be taken forward.
“We have had really good support, more than 15 MPs visited who see the value of farming as a tool for education, predominantly the Stem subjects.”
As well as their parliament adventure, the winning schools have received £1,000 to spend on Stem or outdoor learning equipment.
Vertical farm for salt marshes
Dean Araj, Pip Bimson and Ben Sullivan from City of London Freemens School designed a vertical farming system to enable crops to be grown in salt marshes.
Dean said: “By keeping the plants off the salty ground you can control the water they receive, making sure it is clean water through irrigation or rainwater.
“It is a fairly simple design – all you need to do is elevate the plants and allow for some drainage. It could be implemented fairly cheaply using recycled or sustainable materials.”
Ben said to make more efficient use of the land, further layers could be stacked on the vertical farm to increase production.
Pip added: “Due to the fact it is above the salt marsh, our design doesn’t affect the salt marsh or the life on it, as it sits above it.”
Link farming to Stem
NFU president Minette Batters said the schoolchildren will be the workforce of the future, inventing the technology needed for agriculture to produce food efficiently and sustainably.
“They are stretching the imagination, and that is what we need to do. I think they are touching on every part of the journey to net zero, and linking agriculture to Stem learning brings it all together – agriculture touches all of those subjects,” Mrs Batters told Farmers Weekly.
Targeted irrigation technology for crops
Aryan Soni from Wootton Park School designed a targeted irrigation system for crops.
“My idea is trying to reduce water wastage and help farmers be more efficient and save money,” he said.
The kit consists of nozzles that could be fitted to a tractor and release the required amount of water at the correct moment, based on satellite data that has analysed the field’s needs using infrared technology.
Aryon said he built a prototype to show how the kit can be retrofitted to a tractor, to minimise cost for the farmer. He added the technology could also be used to manage fertiliser spraying.
The nine winners were: Alfie Roberts from Shoreham Village School; The Edenham Home Edders from Bourne Tuition; Gregory Laycock-Hammond from Yatton Junior School; Class 2 at Wark Primary School; Dean Araj, Pip Bimson and Ben Sullivan from City of London Freemens School; Aryan Soni from Wootton Park School; Millie Nabarro from Thomas’ Clapham; Samay Kachalia from Merchant Taylors School and Roland Christopher from Kings (The Cathedral School) Peterborough.