NFU members met this week with global IT solutions companies at a techUK event, as part of a joint initiative to build a new network in agri-tech for members.
As representatives of the biggest tech companies in the world, techUK and members discussed the data and technology solutions available for the production challenges faced by farmers and growers.
From improved crop yields using precision tools and sensors, to better livestock management through real-time monitoring and automation, techUK shared the tools that could be available to what is becoming an increasingly data-enabled industry.
Dr Helen Ferrier, the NFU’s acting Head of Policy, said: “The technology and data revolution is going to become increasingly available and important to farmers. Many of our members have already embraced different ways of working as a result and are seeing the benefits to their businesses.”
Self-steering farm vehicles, CT scanners for pigs, drone mapping of fields and floors that monitor the wellbeing of birds are just some of the ways in which farmers are improving productivity, efficiency and their businesses’ profitability.
The ‘Bridging the gap between technology and agriculture’ session included a lively panel discussion on how the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics help UK farmers. NFU members were particularly interested in the specific analytical tools that farmers can use to collect and interpret data and outputs that could be incorporated into changing daily practices on the farm.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a data revolution, with many opportunities for farm businesses. However, Dr Ferrier acknowledges that there are concerns among farmers about the security of sharing data across cyberspace, and the imbalances of power that can arise. “The importance of trust cannot be underestimated, and is the key to unlocking the potential of open and shared data for our industry, she said.
“We hope that these enlightening sessions the NFU is running with techUK will enable us to fully embrace the opportunities presented by exciting technological developments. techUK represents some of the biggest and best technology companies in the world. By collaborating with these leading companies, we are positioning British farming as a progressive and innovative industry – well placed to respond to the Government’s new Industrial Strategy.”
For poultry farmers, the days of being able to see, hear and even smell birds even out of the sheds is not so far away, thanks to new technology and sophisticated data analysis.
David Speller owns and runs Applied Poultry. He is a former Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year and now also consults and advises fellow farmers throughout the UK and abroad.
His business challenge was to accurately monitor the welfare of his chickens to increase efficiency and productivity. He solved this issue through the introduction of very sophisticated sensory, audio and video technology which has revolutionised how he farms chickens.
David said: “We started out with simple static sensors, measuring temperature and humidity, then moved into monitoring CO2. CCTV cameras provided us with visual analysis of behaviour and movement, then we added more sophisticated cameras recording distribution. Now it is much more sophisticated operation with sound sensors that listen to the noises the birds make,” says David.
“We have had a prototype robot in the house and even sensor that pick up on the signature smells of the birds which can indicate any health issues well in advance so we can treat them earlier.”