Centre

Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC)

Part of School of Life Sciences, School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering

A row of black plastic plant pots, from the front of the photo to the back, with small green shoots growing out of the pots, and a window in the background.

Blue sky, green thinking

Welcome to EPIC – the Essex Plant Innovation Centre.

The Essex Plant Innovation Centre brings together the research skills, expertise and technologies across our science faculty (Life Sciences, Computer Science and Electronic Engineering) together with the Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS) and Essex Business School to address the grand challenges facing farmers, technologists and all those in the agricultural and horticultural sectors.

The Centre aims to deliver and expand our research in these areas as well as our engagement with industry and end users.  Combining our expertise in these various areas provides us with the opportunity to explore new opportunities to engage with industry.

Our mission is to take the best of our science to meet these grand challenges by creating synergies across departments and collaborating on solving the important questions facing the food industry. We have the ambition of developing a sustainable funding model for our plant/environmental research fit for the rigours of the emerging UK research environment.

We reach beyond the confines of academia as EPIC has a clear mandate to work with to all parts of the agri-tech and environmental industry to address both fundamental questions and deliver solutions to real-world problems through a productive relationship with academic researchers and business partners.

We’re different because we bring a commercial mind-set to our work. It’s in the simple things that make for great customer service in the business world, and we embody those in our everyday thinking. We’re responsive to your needs. We work hard to make sure you are getting the outputs you want, when you want them. We’re not bound by tradition, and offer fresh perspective and innovation in all we do.

We want to be the people you think of first when you ask the difficult questions.

Official launch

Official launch event

Over forty companies and as many academics came to the launch of EPIC on 20th September 2019. We had presentations from all parts of the Agri-tech industry which outlined the key challenges. Watch this space for outputs, collaborations and grant-funding wins, and read on to see why we created such a buzz.

Launch report

Our report (.PDF) discusses our launch event, including the key themes discussed by our academics, and the actions we will be taking over the next three months and beyond.

Academic presentations

Soil health - Professor Alex Dumbrell (.PDF)

Robotics and sensors - Dr Vishwanathan Mohan (.PDF)

Data science and artificial intelligence - Dr Spyros Samothrakis (.PDF)

Plant productivity group - Professor Tracy Lawson (.PDF)

Corporate presentations

Green Futures Biofuel - Arturo Lopez (.PDF)

Sensors, Systems & Phenotyping - Dr John Molloy nd Dr Imran Mohamed (.PDF)

Transforming food production - Katrina Hayer (.PDF)

Can agricultural R&D do better for the industry through stronger partnerships? - Graham Jellis (.PDF)

Challenges of glasshouse growing - technology & system production - Abbey View Produce Ltd (.PPTX)

Key research themes

  • Plant productivity
  • Soil health
  • Abiotic and biotic stress
  • Bio-aerosols and bioremediation
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Agricultural robotics
  • Social and environmental impacts

State-of-the-art technologies

  • Plant phenotyping
  • Gene discovery
  • Remote sensing
  • Data analytics
  • Computer vision
  • Soft fruit picking and packing

What we do

Our work anticipated and responds to some of the challenges covered in three major documents:

EPIC’s research offer is tailored to meet the needs highlighted in these three policy documents in a number of key areas:

  • Plant science, particularly in understanding plant productivity and  its molecular underpinnings.
  • Soil science, notably in managing environmental concerns and the rhizosphere – the community of bacteria and fungi that interact with plants and the soil.
  • Computer science and engineering, where technological innovation to meet Agri-tech needs gets done.
  • Data science, while it’s very easy to generate data in the modern age, the interpretation remains a complex task requiring specialist skills.

Our impact

We hope and believe there will be manifold and tangible societal benefits. Of course, successful research should help meet national and international crop productivity targets, with benefits for food quality, quantity and availability. But more than that, our research will also ensure environments are improved not degraded as a result of our interventions.

We believe EPIC can be a source of high-quality long-term jobs in the region as innovative processes and products are commercialised.

There is a strong educational component to EPIC, and our vision is to align undergraduate and masters teaching along with doctoral research to give students the skills they need to work in Agri-tech.

Contact us
Professor Tracy Lawson School of Life Sciences
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ