Dr Bill Parker
Research Director, AHDB
As environmental and social pressures continue to rise, the productive future of British farming and growing could lie with shared data and technology.
Harnessing the power of data and inspiring farming businesses to measure performance is one of the primary factors identified by the Agricultural Productivity Working Group (APGW), as a means to improve UK farming productivity.
A cultural shift in the use of data in farm management
The power of data, when combined with knowledge and skill, enables farmers and growers to measure performance and compare between farms. This allows for simple key performance indicators (KPIs) to be established and for policy incentives to promote data capture. However, that must be supported by a culture change across the industry and a shared understanding of the benefits for farm businesses of data collection and use its for management.
Moving to the future supported by large volumes of data, the ability to interpret and harness its power quickly will lie with technology, namely software.
Data can help farmers plan crop yields with field-by-field insight
One of the most recent and important developments to support farmers and growers to collect data from the land is the conversion of AHDB’s Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) to data for software. This will allow farmers and growers to create a bespoke planting plan for each field and for each crop. While it may not seem exciting, it is important due to Britain having a huge variety of different soil types and growing conditions – monitoring performance field-by-field using data will enable farmers and growers to decide whether to save or apply fertiliser, manures or slurry to maximise growth.
If data gathered on farms can be shared in the future, powerful comparisons could be made
Accelerating technological development means that farmers and growers stand on the cusp of another revolution, which could potentially transform productivity.
Climate change is regularly in the headlines, yet for farmers and growers, this change brings with it the threat of new pests, weeds and diseases. As the ability to use chemicals to protect crops reduces, new technology must help to fill the gap.
Automated weed-killing robot
AHDB has supported research trials of a new, automated weed-killing robot, which has reduced herbicide usage on crops by up to 95%. The new eyeSpot robot uses cameras to identify weeds in vegetable fields. Targeting weeds individually, it applies precise herbicide droplets with an ejector, which accurately fires treatment to the individual leaves of each weed.
Although the technology has not yet been released to market, it is an example of precision agriculture in action. The robot has significantly reduced the use of herbicides, while practically eliminating any harm to non-target organisms.
Increased productivity through use of big data
Supporting the use of big data in farming, imagery captured by eyeSpot also has the potential to be used for the observation of growth rates, enabling accurate scheduling of operations, early yield estimates and the detection of crop stress.
While it would be naïve to say that the future of farming could be solved with two developments, they give insight into the direction the industry could take, where investment in innovative technology, skills to support industry’s uptake of new solutions and collaboration could be the key to increasing agricultural productivity.