How does the UK agricultural industry meet the challenges of the next 20 years, to produce the high proportion of the food we consume and simultaneously reduce its environmental impact? Jeremy Taylor, agricultural technology lecturer at Scotland’s Rural College, writes for Farmers Guardian.
In the third agricultural revolution, we discovered how to improve yields of virtually all our crops and products. We did this through scientific research and an increase in external inputs of nutrients, many from finite sources, and energy, mostly in the form of fossil fuels.
The fourth agricultural revolution is beginning to break the relationship between increased output and increased input. It does this through making accurate use of the major asset we possess, land.
Farmers adopting new technology have been able to use the information gained from the magic combination of maps and data to change the use of unprofitable arable land to growing trees so it yields a profit rather than making a loss, and provides an environmental service.
The use of technology, such as mapping systems, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, to gather data from every square metre of the farm, helps farmers make accurate and informed decisions.
These decisions feed back into the loop to inform the fertiliser spreader to variably spread the exact nutrient the plant requires at the right time, in the right place. This reduces inputs and pollution and makes the process more profitable.
In dairy units, sensors on cows and housing are also used to provide a flow of data which improves the decision-making process and helps the farmer deal with problems prophylactically.
There has been global recognition of the power of technology to improve agricultural businesses. In 2018, the value of agritech investment increased by 40 per cent on the previous year and new degree courses are being developed to meet the demand for technical graduates in the agricultural technology sector and for science graduates who understand the whole agricultural system, from soils and land use to healthy food and environmental regeneration.
These include two new degrees being offered at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). The agricultural technology programme will produce graduates who understand the agritech industry and the how the data gathered can be applied to on-farm decision-making.
One of the greatest challenges for the next decade is how to meet the nutritional needs of the growing global population, while safeguarding the sustainability of farmland, curbing the current rate of species extinction and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degC.
These challenges are addressed in the sustainable food production and land use degree, which focuses on the latest research into increasing the productivity of agricultural and food production systems to provide healthy food using less land, water and resources and with reduced environmental impact.
These new degrees have grown out of a recognition that the challenges facing agriculture represent a significant opportunity for innovation, investment and commercial growth.
With a rapid and large-scale technological transformation taking place in the agriculture industry, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of it.
A new interactive digital magazine will coincide with the 2020 National Careers Week and the publication has been applauded by National Careers Week’s chief executive Nick Newman, who says agriculture is massively under-represented, despite the exciting opportunities it offers.
The launch is part of the #ThisIsAgriculture campaign which is being spearheaded by FG following research which revealed agriculture is rarely sold as an exciting option for bright minds in schools.
This, coupled with a huge lack of understanding about the career opportunities available, means many people still hold outdated, stereotypical views of what agriculture is and what it has to offer.
The magazine is being sent to secondary school teachers and career services advisers to share with their students and showcases opportunities in science, technology, engineering and food production.
Mr Newman says: “Job security, making a difference and achieving a work/life balance are top of the list for talented young people looking to embark on their careers.
“This new magazine highlights these benefits are there for the taking in agriculture. It offers great content, throws up interesting discussions and I applaud the direction the industry is taking.
“We are excited to share this content on a social media platform which sees stratospheric activity throughout National Careers Week.”