Advances in technology have driven a 64% increase in agriculture since 1973, but this is deceptive as Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East explained at a launch at the House of Lords of a new report “From grass roots to blue skies: a vision for agri-tech”.
She says: “Labour productivity has increased year on year but since the 1980s farm outputs have become static. Technology has enabled labour to be more efficient, producing the same amount but with far fewer people, thus reducing the input costs.”
“Although there have been many successes it is increasingly realised that the current model is not sustainable – economically or environmentally.
“There is little incentive with the current model for farmers to increase outputs as often a bumper yield means that prices will fall. In addition we have seen degradation of the soils, pressure on water and the increasing need for more resilience in the face of climate change.”
“This creates a challenge but also a huge opportunity to create a new approach to farming. We know there is the potential to do this as across the UK the yield and quality of crops varies greatly between farms, and even within an individual field or crop there is a scope to improve efficiency.
The multi-disciplinary membership of Agri-Tech East has identified a number of levers where productivity, sustainability and profitability can be increased.
Agri-Tech East’s membership has identified how performance can be improved
Agri-Tech East is a membership organisation that brings together farmers with scientists, technologists and investors to bring fresh thinking and new expertise to the challenges of production and land management.
Belinda continues: “We are concentrating on what works well, perhaps in other industry sectors or geographies, and seeing how it can be applied by some of the UK’s most skilled farmers.”
Belinda continues: “Our approach is to put the person with an intractable problem in contact with people that might have solutions. The key is to help all parties frame their challenges in a way that the others can appreciate.
“Farming is actually a complex business. By encouraging people with different perspectives to participate in workshops and networking events as a community we have been able to identify where innovation is needed.”
In just three years it has stimulated a number of initiatives that have enabled innovative producers to meet non-traditional players and collaborate in new ways.
The results have included projects such as:
- improved forecasting of demand for lettuces to reduce waste and release resources for alternative crops;
- development of a digital platform that makes data from multiple sources, including international markets, accessible to farmers;
- alternative methods for storing potatoes that overcome the withdrawal of current treatments.
This experience is captured in its new report: “From Grass Roots to Blue Skies: a vision for agri-tech” which also includes recommendations to support the agri-tech revolution.