We take a look at the evolving nature of technology and why it can prove to be an all-round positive game-changer for the industry.
Agri-tech as a sector is booming, with new thinking and pioneering ideas created from brilliant minds. Momentum is building and there are many organisations putting investment and resources to bring these emerging technologies to life, transforming global and grass-roots farming.
Farming methods have evolved massively over the years, from basic handheld tools to the modern and sophisticated technology used today. Such progression enables farmers to achieve their highest potential, as
business models are becoming more refined, less manual, and better-placed to increase yields.
Louis Wells, BASF solutions and services manager, marketing team, says: “We are all aware there is a broad range of challenges involved in farming, some of which are outside our controls.
However, some new technologies allow more precision and this can help offset some of the risks.”
Sarah Bell, who runs her own consultancy business, S.E. Bell Agri Food, alongside day-to-day involvement with her family’s mixed farm in Rutland, believes technology needs to yield profit as well as results.
She says: “I want to farm profitably and tread lightly. We are regenerative and agriculture-driven in our thought processes, but that has to co-exist with being profitable, the farm working and keeping us.
“Ultimately, as farmers, we take soil, sunlight and rain and convert it into something we can sell. Agri-tech will enable me to use land in the most efficient way by giving me the underlying data to generate information to be very sure about what business case works on individual pieces of land, to make me the money I need to earn.
“If we can do our bit in moving towards a cleaner model of farming that reduces climate impact, by producing animals and crops in the most efficient way with fewer inputs, that is where the productivity gains will come and that is where farming wins kudos with the public.”
Sarah Carr, outreach officer at Farm491, agrees profitability must be a key consideration for farmers adopting agricultural technology.
She says: “We are seeing a more holistic use of agri-tech, where insights are produced for the farmer which allow them to make informed decisions about their farm; the premise being that becoming more precise saves farmers time and money.
“Secondly, we are seeing the development of more of a systems approach, where factors which influence and connect with each other, both inside and outside of agriculture, are considered.”
She adds there are three key priorities emerging: reducing emissions (such as carbon negative farming and producing green energy); reducing nutrient pollution (reducing the use of chemicals and their toxicity); and finally, but crucially, reducing food waste.
Farmers should be engaged with technology right from the initial idea generation. Without farmer input, agri-tech products and services may not be offering a real benefit or solution for any current on-farm problems.
By understanding what farmers really want and need, it is more likely for the technology to be adopted.
Miss Carr says: “For farmers themselves, being engaged in agri-tech allows them to adopt better practices at the same or lower costs. Using agri-tech where possible is something we see as a way of becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”
Emerging technologies in the arable sector use earth observation from satellites or drones to build maps, identifying parts of the field which require closer inspection and allowing the division of a field into smaller areas.
Mr Wells says: “As there can be huge variability within fields, it allows for more precision when targeting inputs. Some companies are looking to obtain an accuracy of just one sq.cm.
“We are also seeing other emerging technologies, such as modelling capabilities. Models not only look at how the crop is growing, but also assess risk factors for pests and diseases.
“Modelling allows agronomists and farmers to make earlier, and more informed, decisions.”
Progress is of course not limited to the arable sector. In the livestock sector, thermal imaging cameras provide a new way of improving animal health and welfare, as do wearable devices, allowing early
diagnoses of health problems and fertility, hence increasing productivity and profitability.
Blockchain technology, for example, will capture and analyse sustainability in livestock production along the supply chain and is set to revolutionise the journey it follows.
Mr Wells adds: “The industry as a whole is very exciting at the moment. Over the next 10 years,
I expect to see this sector really grow as these technologies come to fruition, bringing tangible benefits to ever-increasing numbers of farmers.”
Hummingbird Technologies was a finalist in Agri-Innovation Den in 2017 and as business development director Arthur Soames says, the process helped build relationships with key industry experts.
He says: “Our mission as a business is to harness the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to help farmers make more informed decisions. This involves helping them target their
inputs, maximise their yields and minimise their ecological impact.
“For example, on a macro level, we use satellite imagery to assess how much nitrogen oilseed rape crops need and if they require plant growth regulators.
“We diagnose fields remotely and provide a recommendation, which can be a flat or variable rate applications map.”
Hummingbird Technologies are working on early disease detection which requires ultra-high-resolution imagery and hyper spectral imagery to detect disease markers which are present before the disease is
visible to the naked eye.
Visit Hummingbird Technologies to find out more.