“While Gove’s vision for a sustainable future post-Brexit is clear, the technology to deliver this is not quite ready commercially. Gove places much emphasis on no-till, automation, robotics and AI, but this still needs to move from field trial to field,” says Sam Watson-Jones, co-founder, Small Robot Company.
“We will be one of the first companies to make the groundbreaking technology developed at Harper Adams university a reality, and yet we are still currently trialling our prototypes. There’s just about enough time to get this in place by 2022 when subsidies transition. Agritech robotics promises exactly this sustainable future for farming. It can give farmers the granularity and precision to make farms more profitable and productive, plus the time to diversify and move up the value chain, while also being kinder to the environment. But there needs to be decisive action and investment from the government to make this a reality.
“From the conversations we’ve had with farmers at the OFC, they agree change is necessary. Current farming practices are not sustainable. Not in terms of productivity, nor profitability, and certainly not environmentally. Farming, and in particular farm management, needs to become a fully digitised process. With a granular view of the land, it can be deployed to best advantage – whether that’s agriculture, reassignment or development – to make farms much more productive businesses.
“One glaring omission in Gove’s speech was our post-Brexit commitments on chemicals. To what extent will EU regulations be transposed to UK law? He placed great emphasis on public good and natural capital, but despite concerns raised by many parties this aspect was not clear.
The sustainable farming vision can however also help address this. An end is already in sight for chemical pollution: agritech robotics will almost entirely remove the worries around the application of chemicals on our food. Farms that use robotics could see up to 95% reduction in chemical use – and at the same time see profits improve by up to 40% and a 10x improvement in the amount, the quality and the useability of data that is gathered on farm. In 2018, there’s a clear opportunity to take farming forward for the next generation. Let’s take the first steps.”