Farmers are suffering because the UK has the ‘least collaborative’ agri-tech sector in the world, according to a leading figure in the industry.
William Wells, founder and chief executive of Hummingbird Technologies, made the remarks at the East of England farming conference in Peterborough this week.
His business uses imagery from drones, robots, satellites and planes to help farmers detect invisible diseases, classify weeds at first emergence and provide early season yield predictions.
Techniques used in medicine and the military are copied by Hummingbird to add value to farms’ bottom lines.
But Mr Wells warned the UK industry is being held back by a lack of collaboration.
He said: “Having made very small strides since we began, we do have the benefit of being in a few countries, and I have to say UK farming is the least collaborative market we have by miles.
“Everyone says it is collaborative, but it is not because you have data silos stuck in publicly-funded institutions and you have oligopolistic businesses which do not share data or block you if you work with their competitors. It is pathetic and the farmer suffers.
“You have software businesses or machinery businesses which do not like being compatible with each other, so farmers have to log into about 30 different systems just to understand what weather it is outside.
“It is so confusing that even some of our best engineers cannot untangle the dark corridors of Gatekeeper’s basement or John Deere’s operating system.”
Mr Wells pointed to the US as an example of good practice, because it excels at creating massive, shared datasets such as a nationwide soil database.
“There are hundreds of thousands of young, computer-savvy data scientists who would love a database like that to try to open source code solutions which can help us all,” he said.
“There are incremental gains which could be had today, just on collaboration. If everyone shared, there is so much low-hanging fruit.”