Precision vision heralds a farming revolution
There is great interest from farmers around the potential of precision agriculture.
Around 60 per cent of UK farmers already use some sort of precision agriculture on their farms, but many farmers are still cautious about the approach and the viability of investing in new technology.
There is no doubt that there are many benefits, including reduced input costs (fertiliser, seeds, fuel, water, fuel) as well as the potential for increased outputs, reduced workload and environmental benefits.
But there are barriers to adoption. Recent reports have explored the uptake of satellite-enabled agritech and concluded that the initial start-up costs and reliable mobile signal on farmland are reasons given for not planning to, or having stopped using technology, although recent improvements in RTK network signals have improved this in some areas.
Insufficient technical knowledge amongst farm staff was also highlighted as was the fact that major machinery manufacturers have, as yet, not adopted common systems which are compatible with each other.
Agricultural robots are now being developed to drive tractors, kill weeds with lasers to avoid using chemicals, pick and grade strawberries, mow grass, scout for pests, weeds and diseases, plant seeds, and milk cows.
Many will be aware that at Harper Adams University our Hands Free Hectare project produced a crop of spring barley farmed from start to finish without setting a single human foot inside the field – a world first for automation and robotics that might offer a glimpse of the global future of farming.
This new wave of smart machines has the potential to revolutionise the way in which crops are grown and animals are bred, housed and fed in the future by using targeted inputs and the intelligent use of sensors.
Hi-tech areas like this are expected to expand as the agricultural sector continues to seek efficiency improvements and adopts new technologies which ultimately, using the wealth of data this provides, should improve their wider supply chains.
It could be argued that those that could benefit most from this new agricultural revolution are not only the biggest farms but small family-run farms.
Given the UK agricultural sector is comprised mainly of family farms there is huge potential for precision agriculture to take hold. This could transform the outlook for many British family farms which may face many challenges should pressure on inputs increase and if there is continued volatility in commodity markets.
Precision agriculture could therefore potentially change the fortunes of the UK family farm, if they can justify the investment, get the machines connected and working properly and interpret the data! No mean feat, which is why Harper Adams is helping farmers to overcome some of these issues and fulfil their precision vision.
Simon Thelwell is Associate Head of Business Management, Agribusiness and Agrifood Marketing at Harper Adams University