With the 2019/2020 season an example of the extreme weather patterns the UK could be facing in the future, tech companies are working to find new ways of predicting, managing and mitigating weather risk within the food supply chain.
Reviewing the climate in East Anglia over the last 60 years, in the last 30 years mean temperature has been rising across all months of the year, Steve Dorling, CEO of weather forecasting and analysis company, Weatherquest, told an Agri-Tech E webinar focused on de-risking agriculture through weather-tech.
“The climate is changing very rapidly, but technology can help to monitor that rapid change,” he said.
“In most months, sunshine levels are going up compared to the 1960-1989 period, with only June bucking the trend. For rainfall in East Anglia, quite interestingly, February has been getting wetter in recent times, and March and April have been getting drier. That is very much a trend that this year has adhered to.”
Such high-resolution climatological data can help growers to make real decisions and be more resilient to change, he said.
“We have been using detailed data at one-kilometre resolution to provide some guidance on the growing climate specifically for maize. We have produced an updated 10-year average for growing maize. It is now possible to provide this type of guidance at high resolution to help growers to select the variety of maize that might be most successful in their growing region.”
Mark Hodgson of UK tech firm, Cervest explained how it was using intelligence to decode the climate, for a more secure food supply chain.
Mr Hodgson said it is now possible to accurately predict climate driven physical risk on all food supply chain assets, from grower level to Government and everything in between.
Data is used to map assets including farms, buildings and utility infrastructure to produce on-demand, personalised analysis of how assets have been previously affected by certain risks, and to produce predictions and alerts to future climatic events.
He said: “Climate volatility is causing uncertainty in what we can produce. Despite all the highly evolved logistics; crop science; data and support measures; agricultural know-how, supplies chains are still far from immune from sudden, unexpected environmental, health or political emergencies that befall us.
“The increasing global connectiveness of our food industry means a greater proportion of events globally can potentially affect us in the UK as consumers, operators and producers.
“Advances in technology are coming and we have got insights into what we can show and model. We believe through better knowledge and better decision making across everyone in the supply chain, there is now the ability to anticipate and respond with the right actions, rapidly and decisively using AI to make us more resilient to the unexpected.”
Looking at UK wheat price volatility over the last 20 years, most of the peaks and troughs seen were as a result of a weather event somewhere in the world, said Jamie Lockhart, farm manager at Honingham Thorpe Farms in Norfolk, offering a grower’s perspective.
“For us as a farm business it is about how we react to it. From a marketing point of view, we sell grain at various times throughout the season, we sell forward and we use marketing options to lock into a minimum price, but still have the ability to trade should an event happen.”
The farm is already using technology to drive input decisions in the form of weather stations and disease modelling, and soil moisture probes for irrigation, Mr Lockhart said.
“We are trying to ensure we do not get disease, so a lot of the time we are putting on sprays as an insurance policy. We need to use technology to try and become more current in those decisions based on two reasons – we need to be able to justify the chemicals we are using from an auditing point of view, but also clearly from a financial point of view.
“We are using technology to try to predict scenarios and we are recording data throughout the season so we can start to plot various scenarios from previous events.”