Photo credits: Simon Vine, Justin Slee
Farmers face a set of issues more challenging than at any other time in our history. Climate change, ever-shrinking biodiversity and powerful market forces dominate farming methods. Researchers are pooling different areas of expertise to develop sustainable farming for the future.
The world’s population is increasing – expected to approach 10 billion by 2050 – but so is the demand on its land and resources. This year’s UN State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report highlighted how biodiversity and soil health is at risk due to land management practices. This is largely linked to farming methods required to meet consumer trends.
Humans have become increasingly reliant on a smaller number of crops, with only a handful of the 6,000 plant species cultivated for food production accounting for more than half of the world’s total crop yields.
Farm-led experience with multi-disciplinary research offers solutions
Lisa Collins, Professor of Animal Science and N8 Chair in Smart Agri-Systems at the University of Leeds, explains that a radical approach to agricultural research is enabling academics and farmers to tackle multiple challenges together.
“There are multiple issues affecting pre-farm-gate production – with a decline in biodiversity being just one. Now, larger-scale projects, which allow us to incorporate expertise from many different fields at the same time and place mean we can get to the heart of these very complex sets of challenges in a much more holistic way and provide better decision-making support.”
Looking at a complex, competing set of agricultural challenges and working out how to break them down takes expertise from a wide range of areas.
Research from the University of Leeds aims to find solutions for commercial arable and livestock farming, with cutting-edge agricultural tech and research expertise.
Environmentally-conscious farming can have financial benefits
Tackling the breadth of environmental issues set out in the UN report in a cross-sector approach that combines both experience and expertise can benefit a farm’s bottom line. Professor Steven Banwart, Global Food and Environment Institute Director, explains: “Solutions that safeguard biodiversity and soil health may mean more profitability in the longer term for a farm.
“For instance, farmers adopting precision agriculture to reduce overall inputs of pesticides and fertiliser would likely see improved profit margins through lower overheads. On top of that, if you can demonstrate that it’ll improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the farm, that’s a powerful result that benefits everyone.”
The university’s approach to ‘smart farm’ technology is empowering farmers to increase their own farm’s efficiency, while reducing the impact of modern farming on the ecosystems that are essential to sustaining farm value and productivity.