Technology in the agricultural sector is developing fast, allowing rural businesses of all sizes to reshape their future.
In the past, the technology which changed farming was heavy and expensive: combine harvesters, giant seeders and huge automated milking barns. Now, however, agritech is providing innovative solutions that don’t always break the bank, often by looking at the problem from a different angle.
Data from drones can predict medical issues for livestock, for instance, whilst apps can help manage crop health and reduce the risk of poor yields.
According to statistics from the UK government, the agritech industry currently accounts for £14.3 billion in turnover each year and more than half a million jobs. A new £22.4m fund to help agritech businesses develop new projects, with industry partners adding a further £8.8m, was announced last year.
Here are some of the key affordable technologies which are transforming the sector:
A strawberry harvester called AUTOPIC, currently in development, will be able to pick fruit faster than humans. It uses stereoscopic vision with RGB cameras to capture depth, allowing it to pick a strawberry every two seconds (human beings can pick between 15 and
20 a minute).
It might be another five years before the technology is in use. But for an industry which has relied heavily on temporary workers from continental Europe to pick fruit – a system which is under threat because of Brexit – it could be good news.
Other examples include robots used to seed fields, without the need for a 60-ton harvester or even a driver. This could change accepted wisdom that growing a single crop in each field is the most efficient way to farm.
Farmers are using apps to improve productivity, including CropProtect, 4 which helps with pest, weed and disease management. GPS tracking device Send For Help, meanwhile, helps farmers who work alone get medical help in an emergency.
Drones fitted with cameras and infrared sensors can be used to remotely monitor livestock health and find lost animals.
They can also be used to identify crops in need of pesticide and spray remotely from the air.
This technology can save farmers money. Researchers at the University of Sydney say targeted spraying of vegetables uses 0.1 per cent of the volume of herbicide used in conventional blanket spraying.
Smart collars can help farmers monitor animals remotely and spot early signs of disease.
Afimilk Silent Herdsman, a cow monitoring solution developed in Scotland, automatically detects changes in normal behaviour, related to oestrus, eating and rumination.
The company says this leads to optimum fertilization times, earlier health interventions and maximum milking efficiency.
Adopting agritech can help reduce risk by preventing animal disease, mitigating poor yields in the field and reducing staff numbers – so could lead to lower insurance premiums. But farmers should ensure new equipment, tech and robotics are covered and that business continuity is protected if new technology fails.
If you wish to speak to a CLA Insurance advisor about expanding your interest into agricultural technology and how this may impact your insurance choices, please get in touch.