“Volatility, uncertainty and instability” are endangering UK farm businesses, according to the National Farmers’ Union.
Love him or loathe him, Clarkson’s Farm is bringing the critical issues that our British farmers are facing to the masses. From labour and funding shortages to high quality food demands, hiked fuel and energy costs and the stark realities and impacts of diseases such as TB and Avian Flu. Some are saying “Clarkson has done more to raise awareness for farmers' issues than any journalist in the past 20 years".
With astronomical hikes in fertiliser costs (133.8% hike between Sept 2021 and the end of Sept 2022) and an average increase in the production of cereals, oilseed rape and potatoes being up by around 40% (source; The Grocer) last year, business as usual is unlikely to be an option for the majority of our farmers, many of which are already turning to diversification and direct to consumer initiatives.
In a world that’s moving at pace and with consumer expectations being set by the likes of Amazon and Netflix…what does disruption, innovation and digital transformation need to look like in the UK farming industry to truly revolutionise and support the hardworking and deeply passionate industry responsible for feeding the nation?
It’s a fascinating subject that is hyper topical, and perhaps even a little controversial (although it really shouldn’t be). As the supply chain continues to feel the strain and UK supermarkets and consumers alike continue to battle with empty shelves, will further investment and more accessible innovation for British farmers be critical to greater food security in the UK?
But the agriculture sector is already innovating right?
The AgriTech sector is on the rise and it’s estimated that the UK AgriTech industry could be worth almost £13bn by 2027.
AgriTech is the broad term that covers a range of activities, from precision agriculture and crop monitoring to robotic and autonomous systems and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. In short, AgriTech is the use of technology in farming to help improve efficiency, sustainability, and profitability and its current use cases include improving crop yields, reducing the use of water and fertilisers, and increasing the efficiency of production processes.
AgriTech really will be the future of smart farming.
So why are farmers choosing to exit the industry, and where is the disconnect?
And why, if groundbreaking robotics for example, are set to revolutionise the way that farmers harvest crops and milk their dairy herds, are we seeing that only 6% of UK farms have implemented robotic milking systems?
The two biggest barriers look to be the technical complexities and knowledge gaps leading to uncertainty and lack of confidence in making the right investment alongside the obvious financial hurdles compounded by the aforementioned soar in production costs and reduction in funding.
On the back of a recent survey NFU Mutual found almost half (46.2%) of survey respondents said lack of knowledge was holding them back from investing in agri-tech on their farms. Lack of access to finance was the second highest reason limiting respondents (29.8%), followed by uncertainty about the future (17.1%) and supply chain difficulties (6.8%).
Charlie Yorke, farm insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “While many farmers are open to using technology, lack of understanding of new technologies and the investment they entail, means they are hesitating to take the plunge. Understandably, there’s a real fear amongst farmers that they could make the wrong tech-choice for their farm and end up with an expensive system that becomes outdated quickly. Holding back runs the risk of falling behind as global competition increases and UK farming support changes.”
So what and ‘how might we’?
According to the NFU online there are 7,000 less farming businesses in the UK today compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Is there a gap and a disconnect between the booming AgriTech sector and struggling food producers that needs to close?
Can action happen quickly enough to prevent small farmers and food producers who have been in the industry for decades being forced to leave it altogether?
Our ‘how might we’ questions turn challenges into addressable questions, to spark new ideas, thinking and solutions.
- How might we break down the knowledge gaps enabling farm owners to make unbiased, considered decisions on future tech investments?
- How might we adopt and utilise digital tools and technology to better enable farmers to make more informed decisions that they feel confident in, both now and for the future?
- How might we use digital tools and technology to further improve the day to day and solve real life problems for farmers?
- How might we maximise the strong sense of community amongst farmers and producers and enable wider adoption of technology?
- How might we utilise technology to facilitate stronger relationships between producers and retailers?
- How might we find new ways to educate and inform consumers about how their food is produced?
- How might we continue to future proof the industry by encouraging emerging new talent into the industry and inspiring younger generations?
At Freestyle we deliver smart digital solutions that solve challenges and problems - but what does that mean in practice? At the most basic level, we can build websites and mobile applications.
At a deeper level we build the complex stuff that lies underneath; configurators, booking or matching engines, data manipulation, a lot of the invisible technology that makes it seem seamless on the surface. Or it might be something brand new that makes the business work better - removing effort, saving time, connecting data points or processes.
We’d love to collaborate with farmers, food producers and businesses that share a desire to solve real life farming challenges, and improve the resilience of farming businesses across Britain, so if that’s you or someone you know, get in touch. You lose ground when you stand still, let’s get moving. Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Emma Simkiss, Managing Director, Freestyle