Agriculture is in the midst of a digital revolution. The industry is facing a number of uncertainties including the challenges of exchange rates, farm gate prices, customer confidence and the current debate surrounding Brexit. As the NFU President, Minette Batters, has recently said, this is a ‘vital moment in time’ for UK farming and now is the time to speak up for our farming’s future.
Today the modern farmer or anyone connected to the extended rural economy, not only has to grasp a thorough understanding of their own farming sector, but they must be multi-faceted entrepreneurs. Adopting the skills of a computer scientist, digital engineer, biotechnologist, nutritionist and increasingly with more technological and scientific advances, farming will only become an even more complex, innovative and stimulating career. With this digital evolution comes the requirement for the development of skills and training within the industry.
There are two overlapping concepts that we must address when we consider a sustainable farming future and the themes of skills and training. Firstly, is that of global populace – with a growing global population, there is overwhelming pressure on the food supply chain to continue to provide high quality, nutritious and affordable food. This is creating a tremendous amount of opportunity for farmers of the future to be innovative in their approach and mind-set and be willing to deploy inventions in their day to day farm farming activities. Traditional agricultural methods are simply not sustainable enough for us to achieve food security for a rapidly growing population, lower our carbon footprint and maintain the health of our livestock.
It is likely that the bulk of future demand in food will be met by increases in production per unit area and this will mostly be down to advances in agritech innovations in all areas, from crop and animal husbandry to intelligent use of data and greater emphasis on protecting the environment and our beautiful planet.
Secondly, the same logic will apply to opportunities that Brexit will bring about. Depending on the details of any trade deals with Europe, the UK agricultural industry will once again have to learn to feed the nation and reduce dependence on imports and EU subsidies.
Governments will be seeing Brexit as a once-in- a-generation opportunity to reform farming systems and farmers should see this as an opportunity for farms to reform too. There will be some farmers that thrive off the challenge and others that may be forced to leave the industry – this could free up availability for new entrants to trial pioneering ideas. Joint venture, contract and share farming may also be more widely explored and the integration of ‘young blood’ will provide a welcomed wave of innovation into the industry.
By supporting agri-business entrepreneurship and helping to develop new skills, agritech will help to convert agricultural innovation into commercial success and profit. Incubation hubs such as Farm491 who assist with business growth, idea development and provide crucial mentoring, academic knowledge, practical working space and expert guidance, will be hugely beneficial in facilitating this new wave of farming entrepreneurship for a sustainable future.