Tracking the travels of the tomato

12 May 2011

Research into how the Future Internet will transform the journey of food products, right from the farm to the consumer’s plate, has just begun at Aston Business School, thanks to European Union funding.

The European Commission is funding a major initiative on the Future Internet, providing foundations for transforming citizen’s lives and a variety of business opportunities. Aston Business School’s Centre for Sustainability and Innovation has been awarded funding of 217,000 Euros, or £192,402, over two years to carry out the research, in collaboration with twenty other partners across Europe specifically on the needs and challenges of using Internet technologies in the food and agriculture sector.

The Framework Programme Seven (FP7) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) project, entitled SmartAgriFood, will focus on the application of existing and emerging internet technologies to agricultural and food production, food logistics and food awareness.

Aston Business School is the only UK-based participant and is collaborating with 20 other partners from Spain, Greece, Germany, Finland, Hungary, and the Netherlands, under the overall coordination of the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. The project is one of eight currently being funded as part of the "Future Internet Public Private Partnership Programme” whose overall aim is to advance Europe's competitiveness in Future Internet technologies and systems and to support the emergence of Future Internet-enhanced applications of public and social relevance. It addresses the need to make public service infrastructures and business processes significantly smarter (i.e. more intelligent, more efficient, more sustainable) through tighter integration with Internet networking and computing capabilities.

SmartAgriFood aims to explore and identify actual and potential innovations in an attempt to achieve (1) more effective use of resources for production (2) minimising waste and energy to reduce the ecological footprint and (3) better handling and management of information to improve transparency and effective communication.                  

Dr Christopher Brewster
Dr Christopher Brewster
The groundbreaking research, which began this month, is being led at Aston by Dr Christopher Brewster, lecturer in  Aston Business School, and three colleagues.

Principal Investigator Dr Brewster said: “We are delighted to be participating in this research and are grateful to the European Commission for selecting us as a recipient of the funding.”

He added: “We should not underestimate the power and value of the Future Internet as it have the potential to transform many further aspects of our lives.  In SmartAgriFood, we will be focussing on what sort of Internet we will need to radically enhance food and agricultural production and make it more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and above all more transparent. Our expectation is that the EU supported project will enable an eco-system of innovative opportunities to arise for businesses and citizens as a whole. ”

The three key themes of this project are as follows:
  • Smart Farming – concerns first the use of sensors and monitoring, decision support systems and precise input application so as to make the use of resources more efficient in food production, and secondly concerns ways to improve traceability and the flow of data along the food supply chain.

  • Smart agri-logistics – concerns the intelligent matching of supply and demand followed by smart transport and logistics of agri-food products by eg. tracking of food products, conditioned transport using sensors and control systems, remotely controlled early warning systems, and better predictions of food transportation needs.

  • Smart food awareness – concerns enabling the consumer with relevant information eg. concerning safety, availability, health, environmental impact, and animal welfare.
Overall what this project means for ordinary citizens is better food produced with less impact on the environment, and greater knowledge and awareness about where our food comes from. For the food industry from agricultural production through to retailing, the project promises to contribute to lowering of inputs, reducing costs, increasing market relevant data for all people and organisations involved, and the recognition that farming and food production while technically challenging is central to our collective future.     

To arrange an interview with Dr Christopher Brewster, or for any media enquiries, please contact Dhiren Katwa, Press Officer at Aston Business School, on 0121 204 4954 or email d.katwa1@aston.ac.uk