The agriculture and farming industry will undergo a huge transformation over the next ten years. The RSA’s Food Farming and Countryside report was published in July 2019, following a two-year inquiry. This report identified that the UK’s current farming and food system had “damaged and depleted our precious and finite resources”.
The report went on to say that unless urgent measures were taken to overhaul the agriculture and farming industry, it would face significant risks. These include pollution, climate change, soil degradation, wildlife loss and deforestation.
In the wake of the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to push forward with Brexit. But what impact could this have on UK farming? A report by Dr Séan Rickard suggests that half of all UK farms could fail if Britain leaves the EU. That is if it does so under a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Even if a deal is agreed upon, the UK will no longer form part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This policy makes up nearly 40% of the EU budget. To put this into perspective, Britain was granted roughly €28 billion in CAP funding between 2014-2020.
But not every farmer views Brexit negatively. For example, many farmers in Exmoor believe Brexit could offer an opportunity to redesign agricultural policies. As with everything Brexit related, time will tell.
Artificial intelligence, data management and robotics will become more commonplace in agriculture and farming to address issues including:
- Reducing labour costs
- Reducing how much time it takes to produce food
- Improving business analytics to help farmers better manage their land. Smart farming technology can help to predict outcomes, improve yields and increase profitability. Previously, farming data was solely about looking back, but today there are predictive tools to help improve future farming practices
There will be a shift towards only using insect control, fungicides and fertilisers where they are needed. This will be used instead of taking a blanket approach and applying these products to entire crop fields. This method will have environmental benefits, as well as allowing farmers to increase their profitability through reduced outgoings.
In England, Countryside Productivity Small Grants are set to award around 3,500 farmers with a share of £22 million. This money can be used towards investment in equipment or technology to help farmers save time, improve productivity and efficiency.
Similarly, in Scotland, £80 million will be distributed to active farmers and crofters. Funding will be offered to farmers working in island areas, hill farms and marginal uplands.
The popularity of shared economy models is rising. That could allow farmers to have access to expensive machinery that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. This will mean better value for money.
Customers are becoming increasingly interested in exactly where their food comes from. There is a higher level of interest in farm to fork production methods. As a result, transparency and quality will be high on every farmer’s agenda. People are showing a preference for producers that use IoT (internet of things), smart labelling and blockchain. These are able to provide information on the origin of the product and methods used during production.
In addition, many consumers are making purchase decisions based on plant-based diets, climate change and environmental impact. Having these issues at the heart of business operations will be key to the success of many farmers.
Another key area for focus is ensuring products are delivered promptly, using methods that are convenient to consumers. This could include offering an online ordering system, click-and-collect or home delivery.
Sustainable agricultural methods offer farmers opportunities to enjoy potentially higher yields through reduced labour levels, less water and fewer chemicals. Controlled systems that help with this include aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical farming.