Research Case Study

Insight: Working with industry to tackle global challenges together

Winner: Celebrating Excellence in Research and Impact Awards 2021 - Outstanding Interdisciplinary Research

Professor Tracy Lawson working in greenhouse

The Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC) brings together the research skills, expertise and technologies across our University to address many of the great challenges facing farmers, technologists and all those in the agricultural and horticultural sectors.

By combining our expertise, the Centre aims to deliver and expand research at Essex in agri-tech as well as providing us with the opportunity to explore new opportunities to engage with industry.

The challenge

There is a major concern amongst the business community that research should be relevant to industry and help address the many challenges it faces. There is a need in the agricultural and horticultural industry to ensure academic research is deeply engaged and listening to the problems faced by businesses.

The challenge was to launch a new Centre which successfully brought both sides together so collaborative and innovative research can be carried out to produce practical solutions to these many problems the agri-tech industry faces now and in the future.

What we did

From plant productivity and soil health to robotics and data analytics, researchers across Essex are working on a range of projects to help address some of the global challenges facing food agriculture.

A key player in this field of expertise is plant physiology expert Professor Tracy Lawson, from our School of Life Sciences, whose breadth of research involves interdisciplinary collaborations within the University, external academics and industry.

She knew there were already great links between academics at Essex and the agricultural and horticultural sectors, but she felt more could be done.

She launched the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC) to further expand the University’s interactions with industries to the next level and form an important part of the future development of this area of research for the University.

As the Director of EPIC, Professor Lawson knew the Centre could provide the ideal platform to bring together expertise from across Essex to try and address some of the key challenges along with industry and the industrial needs.

What we changed

EPIC has brought together the research skills, expertise and technologies across our Faculty of Science and Health (Life Sciences, Computer Science and Electronic Engineering) together with the Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS) and Essex Business School to answers the fundamental questions and real-world problems of the agri-tech and environmental industries.

The global challenges to food agriculture which EPIC’s researchers and innovators look to address include soil health, increasing crop productivity in a changing environment as well as changes in work forces.

The vision for EPIC is to bring people with different areas of expertise together to exploit knowledge that has been created at Essex to deliver for communities locally, nationally and internationally and its launch event saw the meeting of agricultural and horticultural industries with our experts in the fields of plant soil microbial interactions, plant productivity, robotics, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

Engaging with regional agri-tech industries and exploring new opportunities has already helped secure around £1.25million research funding across both the School of Life Sciences and the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering.

EPIC sets itself apart by centring on a commercial mindset where academic research can be effectively applied to industry needs. This ambitious approach will also help give the Centre and University a competitive edge in the UK research funding environment, which is increasingly concerned with supporting and establishing strong collaboration between industry and academic research.

The funded projects our researchers are already involved in include innovation in robotic automation, the development of hydroponic systems and the use of LED lighting for plant growth.

EPIC researchers have also already established multiple specific collaborative projects with industry including work with popular jam producers Wilkins & Sons, vertical farms systems suppliers iGrowing, and salad specialist farming company JEPCO.


Research team