The younger generation of farmers look set to embrace change and have high ambitions for the years ahead.
Five ‘next generation’ farmers or participants closely allied to the industry took to the sofa for a discussion session on innovation at Agri-Tech East’s REAP Conference 2019, chaired by Adrian Percy, chief technical officer, UPL.
The participants (see panel) were asked how they saw agriculture in the future. Tom Collison, consultant Collison and associates said: “We really need to look at soils and water management. In October we saw 130mm of rainfall in Lincolnshire in 24 hours. We need to invest in drainage which can deliver a 25 per cent yield increase. Growers need to be always looking at innovation – give it a go; try it on an acre.”
Rosie Begg, who came back to the family farm a year ago, having worked outside the industry said: “I have been to 13 different farms this year. Being one community is the key to us going forward. We need to share learnings. Working with scientists and technologists will be key. We also need openness with the public.”
Camilla Hayselden-Ashby, who is developing the fieldmargin app, which comprises a farm map and notebook that lets the user record and discuss work and observations with their team as they happen is also involved in the family sheep and arable farm in Kent. She said: “How do we build up resilience? Farming is complex – if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it. Fieldmargin can collect data to help you make better informed decisions.
“There can be tension between organic and conventional farmers but we need to collaborate and share ideas.”
Working on identifying key sources of genetic resistance to rust in legume species such as soya, Dr Brian Rigney believes using GMOs will have an important role in tackling crop disease in the future. “We need to have a debate over GM and the potential to use this technology,” he said.
Asked what is the biggest change in agri-tech that is needed in the next 10 years to move farming forward, Mr Collison said: “The culture is wrong. Researchers are not dealing with the majority of farms. It is not a community. Unless it changes we do not have a hope of delivering for nine billion people by 2050.”
Ms Begg said it was important to ‘share learnings’ and Ms Kelcher said it was important to ‘engage small farms as well as large’.
Moving away from farming as a lifestyle was important to progress, said Ms Hayselden-Ashby. “It is harming profitability, there is an aversion to change. Attitudes such as ‘we have always done it that way’ are stopping us getting new blood and ideas into the industry.”
Dr Brian Rigney, postdoctoral scientist, The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) said it was important to ‘open the doors to the public. They need to know what’s going on and the benefits’.
Questioned about the role of Government, Mr Collison said: “I don’t have much control over what the Government does or not. The political landscape is not making much difference to what we can do as businesses. We can look at inputs, for example, land drainage, fertiliser, variable rate drilling to reduce the seed bill. We should avoid the stuff we can’t control and focus on what we can.”
Ms Begg said the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) would be a key development. “We will need to look at the bottom line and how growing wheat compares with growing nectar mix.”
She added: “At the moment the Government is bank rolling a lot of farmers. If they are going to be profitable they will need to change radically, increase efficiency and increase technology use. There is likely to be a consolidation of farms or lots of land coming out of agriculture to a different system. A lot feel that we need to get the Government to bring in new carrots for delivery of public goods. But should you rely on Government money to survive?”
Considering skills for future farmers Ms Kelcher said: “We need to teach people how to use the digital age. Teams may be smaller but have a digital tech mindset.”
Ms Hayselden-Ashby said: “The main skills needed in farming are a readiness to change and adapt and to try new processes.”
Tom Collison, consultant, Collison and Associates
Mr Collinson is passionate about innovation, particularly vertical farming and aeroponics and was a Sainsbury’s Ag Tech Scholar in 2017. He is currently working on two H2020 projects focusing on short food supply chains and the bioeconomy as well as projects for the Internet of Food Things Network Plus and the Institute of Agri-Food Technology.
Rosie Begg, head of farm strategy, Gorgate Products Fruit Farms
Ms Begg works as head of farm strategy at Norfolk-based Gorgate Products Fruit Farms. Enterprises include blackcurrants, Victoria plums, arable and Countryside Stewardship.
Ms Begg believes everyone can start innovating in their own say and that collaboration, openness and data-led decision-making will be key to her farm’s success.
Emma Kelcher, technical manager, Elveden Farms
Ms Kelcher specialises in root vegetable agronomy. She has a strong passion to use research to improve on farm quality and efficiency in vegetable production. Ms Kelcher also enjoys encouraging and teaching new entrants into the agricultural sector, as well as sharing her passion for farming with researchers.
Camilla Hayselden-Ashby, head of product, fieldmargin (a farming app) and works on family mixed farm in Kent
Ms Hayselden-Ashby believes that there is a need for change in agriculture to make it both economically viable for farmers and environmentally sustainable. Integral to this is creating an improved dialogue between producers, consumers and policy makers.
Dr Brian Rigney, postdoctoral scientist for the 2Blades Group, The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL)
Dr Rigney was brought up on a profitable farming enterprise and has always been aware of the need for constant crop improvement. This ignited his interest in developing new types of selection tools for use in plant breeding.