While day-to-day farm life may have been relatively uninterrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, a ‘virtual’ wave has hit all aspects of industry this year.
Fluctuating Covid-19 restrictions saw UK auction marts invest in digital technology, enabling buyers to bid for stock without being present at the ring-side.
Noting the ease and accessibility of virtual sales, Sedgemoor auctioneer Derek Biss said the consensus was in favour of ‘continued use of the technology’, especially for higher quality sales.
The pandemic also decimated the summer show calendar, but various organisations hosted digital events to foster and facilitate farmer discussion.
Mark Stoddart, chairman of the Association of Shows and Agricultural Organisations, said: “There was no ‘normal’ show as everyone did something slightly different digitally, depending on their size and capabilities, and it has been a learning curve for us all.
“But future inclusion of virtual elements cannot replace the important sense of community and competition that comes with the physical shows.”
Online training and webinars saw a huge surge in popularity, reflecting the greater level of convenience offered by digital awareness.
AHDB saw 10,888 people attend its webinars in the seven months from May to November, with one third of those responding to post webinar surveys stating they had not previously attended an AHDB event in person.
A levy board spokesperson said: "[Digital events] have proved to be a huge success and increased our engagement.
"However, we will also return to some physical events and hybrid (physical and digital) activity going forward.
"There will always be a place for face-to-face events at AHDB going forwards, with networking opportunities continuing to be of huge importance."
Concerned about the impact the lockdown was having on farmers’ mental wellbeing, charities utilised their digital platforms to raise awareness, with the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) launching an online service which included free one-to-one counselling with BACP qualified professionals.
“We believe early intervention and support are essential to ensuring good mental health and tackling the root causes of poor wellbeing,” Alicia Chivers, RABI’s chief executive said.
Education also went viral, with agricultural colleges and universities moving lecturers and seminars online in adherence to Government guidelines regarding social distancing.
Yet, online learning experiences were not restricted to students, with consumers accessing more information about the provenance of their produce this lockdown through initiatives such as Linking Environment and Farming’s (Leaf) FarmerTime initiative and dairy processor Arla’s digital children’s book.
Online retail also saw a huge resurgence, as shoppers turned their backs on supermarkets in favour of supporting local businesses.
Calon Wen organic milk producers said sales rocketed skywards and showed no signs of dipping.
“Ocado, who were our fourth largest customer, are now our number one,” Kirsty Willing, Calon Wen Dairy general manager, said.
Digital retailer, Jurassic Coast Farm Shop, run by James Sealey in partnership with his parents Eric and Liz, added while their 150 food service clients dropped off overnight in March, the pandemic saw them process 90 online orders a day.
“For a lot of our customers it was the first time they had ever shopped online so we needed to be able to guide them through the process,” Mr Sealey said.