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Farming matters: Richard Anscombe - 'The agricultural sector is faced with a technology gap'

Technology has been a saviour for most industries during the pandemic and digital disruption shows no signs of slowing down.

 Richard Anscombe - Lead agri consultant at My Future Cloud
Richard Anscombe - Lead agri consultant at My Future Cloud

Necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere has this been truer than in the business world under Covid-19 restrictions.

 

Strict Government legislation has given businesses no choice but to pivot business models to communicate and trade digitally.

 

The learning curve has been steep for us all and while we may be eager to say goodbye to some aspects of life under pandemic restrictions, there have been important learnings.

 

Our increased use of technology has highlighted opportunities for efficiency gains, costs savings and streamlined business models, and organisations are naturally reluctant to let these improvements revert to older and less efficient ways of working.

 

Actually, organisations should be looking to capitalise on this and see how much more can be gained.

 

Margins are growing ever tighter and the pandemic has placed even more stress on the agricultural industry, be it upon the supply chain, labour force or demand.

 

The agricultural sector in particular is faced with a technology gap and falling behind now in such an uncertain climate could be fatal for technology companies and agribusinesses alike.

 

One of the most fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour during the pandemic has been the spike in
e-commerce.

 

Recent history, including the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the SARS outbreak, tells us such changes in consumer habits will persist.

 

One report estimates the shift to e-commerce will drive more than 70 per cent of sales growth across food and beverage categories through to 2022.


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As a direct result of the impact of Covid-19, the consumer base is also now much more aware of the value of locally produced food, the carbon footprint of food production and of waste and plastics pollution.

 

Consumers in the UK are six times more likely to search for ‘veg boxes’ than this time a year ago.

 

But how do farmers and the agricultural supply chain make sense of this?

 

Currently only 17 per cent of fruit and half of vegetables are grown locally and the pandemic, coupled with the forecasted impact of Brexit, begs the questions of how sustainable our imports will be in the future.

 

Technology has often been seen as an add-on for agriculture. However, making digital capabilities a central focus when developing a business strategy means businesses can streamline processes, reduce costs, become more efficient and utilise new and better insights to produce more.

 

Data is an area that requires particular attention and can offer substantial rewards.

 

At every level, farmers and businesses are producing a huge amount of data, but this is often siloed or isolated and, therefore, they struggle to make the most of the value of it.

 

Innovation around the use and management of data in agriculture stands to be a game-changer for the industry. New technologies and approaches are emerging which make managing and analysing this data simple and cost-effective.

 

It also seems likely that the next few years will bring a rise in the use of robotics, which play to the significant labour challenges, environmental targets and overall carbon footprint of a farm.

 

There is immense opportunity for businesses to leverage AI and robotics and deliver significant reductions by targeted (reduced) use of carbon- based inputs, predominantly fertilisers, chemicals and fuel.

 

Farms and the wider supply chain should look at the significant changes in consumer views of our planet, the resultant changes in buying behaviour and the rise in online purchases.

 

It is essential for the sector to focus on building digital capabilities to support business decisions using advanced analytics, AI and machine learning.

 

Digital solutions are the only way we can make sense of changes in consumer behaviour and the tsunami of data that businesses have to cope with.

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