Innovation Award 2013

The Innovation Award celebrates outstanding innovators in farming and growing across the UK. It recognises the achievement of individuals, teams, companies or organisations who are:

  • Pioneering practical new approaches to farming and growing.
  • Achieving real benefits for people, the planet or animal welfare.
  • Promoting sustainable agriculture in line with organic principles.

The overall winner received a cash prize of £3,000 and two runners-up received £1,000 cash each.

The shortlisted entries were invited to Day 2 of the Soil Association Conference in London on the 10 October, where they pitched their innovative approach to the conference. Voting took place at the end of the day and the winner and runners-up were announced.


The Ezee Tree Guard is a real alternative to the ubiquitous green plastic tree guard. Everybody has probably seen discarded tree shelters lying on the ground around newly planted trees. The Ezee Tree Guard avoids this as it is made from 100% waste cardboard and is fully compostable. It is supported by a bamboo cane, a fast growing natural resource. This tree guard does not harm animals and is completely sustainable and cheaper than the plastic alternative.

The conference audience said of Ezee Tree Guard:

  • 'novel approach to solve a plastic problem'
  • 'simple, low-tech solution'
  • 'currently land littered with plastic, why has nobody thought of this before?'
  • 'wide benefits beyond farming'
  • 'many areas for its application'
  • 'single, good idea, wish I'd thought of it!'
  • 'practical real world product that's really needed'
  • 'loved idea of children connecting with earth by decorating them (guards)'

Runners up

Aquagronomy is working to reduce the amount of water and silt that runs off fields. The frequent passage of vehicles along tramlines across fields compacts the soil which makes it easier for traffic, but creates conditions that favour water run-off and soil erosion. The unique design of the Wheel Track Roller creates small drainage channels within the tramline. Instead of running off the water collects and percolates into the soil.

The conference audience said of the Wheel Track Roller:

  • 'increased rainfall likely in future so need to prevent run-off and associated soil erosion'
  • 'because water is such an important resource'
  • 'innovative solution with environmental benefits'
  • 'simple, but huge impacts'
  • 'managing soil is at the heart of it'

FarmDrop is building the UK’s only online local food marketplace,  creating sustainable local food systems where producers can trade food with shoppers directly. Shoppers are able to place orders with a number of different producers. Then, at an agreed time and place,  shoppers and producers meet to exchange the goods. Since producers only take the goods that have been ordered, there is zero waste. Producers keep 80% of sales and are provided with the software to market and sell to a group of shoppers.

The conference audience said of FarmDrop:

  • 'potential impact, benefits of collaboration'
  • 'real push, gaining more control for farmers'
  • 'helping to build sustainable food communities, has potential to make a difference'
  • 'huge potential for higher returns for farmers'
  • 'this model could go far, everyone gains but the supermarkets!'
  • 'supporting local producers, a solution to a missing link'
  • 'ability to scale up'

Shortlisted entries

Broccoli harvester from Pollybell. One of the main problems when harvesting broccoli is the lack of uniformity in the way the heads mature. All of the heads are harvested and  this creates a huge amount of farm waste.  A collaboration between Pollybell and a British engineering company has produced an automatic selective broccoli harvester which could revolutionise broccoli harvests on farms. 
Neil Rowe of W. Cumber and Sons has designed a new beef production system. His new cattle shed and handling facilities have boosted production, allowed cattle and calves to be kept under the same roof, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The layout of pens around the outside and a central handling passage has created a calm, stress-free environment for the beef cattle to thrive, while the ventilation system has reduced the incidence of respiratory diseases and the associated use of drugs.
Robert Hodgkins of Wairere UK has introduced a New Zealand-based genomic test for his sheep, the first flock in Europe to be tested using this technology. This allows him to identify the genes carried by individual animals in order to select for performance, tolerance of parasites and other features, helping to boost productivity whilst reducing dependency on drenches.
AgrichatUK is a weekly discussion platform on Twitter. Every Thursday, there is a  two-hour Twitter discussion on topical issues affecting the rural industries. It gives farmers and growers the chance to interact with policy makers, farming organisations, and most importantly other producers. It is helping to build networks and create new online communities, as well as providing valuable information on new farming techniques such as low carbon and organic farming.
Ralph Messenger of Manor Farm, Dorset has designed Confeeder, a mobile, roofed cattle silage feeder that has improved the efficiency of the farm. It allows one man and a tractor to feed 280 organic out-wintered suckler cows and calves in a single journey. All the preparation for stocking the Confeeder is done in the yard, which avoids the potentially hazardous handling of silage bales near cattle. The Confeeder has enabled a two-man operation to become one, with improved animal husbandry and a saving of more than 100 tractor hours per season.
Paul Sousek of FieldPower Organics in Cornwall takes a whole-farm approach to producing food in a sustainable and resilient manner, utilising an integrated renewable energy system. His farm and home are powered by renewable energy, while the farm vehicles are powered by biodiesel resulting in a near-zero use of fossil fuels, and tiny energy and water bills.
With the number of bees in decline around the world, it is important to maximise the chances of pollination by positioning beehives in the best places.  The team at Simul Systems is working with mathematicians at the University of Essex to improve pollination outcomes for fruit and crop growers. They have developed an app that helps beekeepers to position their beehives in the optimum locations to ensure best fruit set. The prototype app called BEESWAX1 has already been proved to be successful, so a commercial version with more features, BEESWAX11 is being developed.
Now, more than ever, people want to know more about their food. The team at ‘Where’s This From’ has developed a free mobile app that gives shoppers an insight into the background of supermarket meat products. The app works with existing supermarket labelling, translating the codes found on labels into meaningful information about animal welfare, food provenance, food assurance and food standards compliance.
Not content with supplying more than 250 households with organic vegetables and meat, Whitmuir Organics is on the way to becoming Scotland’s first community-owned farm. Each year, the farm has 70,000 visitors and 50 educational visits. Not only does Whitmuir grow vegetables, raise meat animals, have a shop and café, it is also working on two biochar research projects with Edinburgh University, one involving a  pig feed trial and another involving 30 local households in crop trials. 


Find out about day 1 - Good food for all
Find out about day 2 - Giving it welly

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