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Technological revolution must be within reach of every farmer

A more technological approach to farming is crucial for meeting the needs of an extra 2.4 billion extra people who are expected to swell the world’s population by 2050, according to a new EU report.

Yet significant obstacles are preventing widespread use of automotive technology on farms that otherwise have the potential to vastly improve precision and efficiency, the report warns.

Such technology; known as ‘precision farming’ when used on the farm, is essential to achieving sustainable agriculture, author Anthea McIntyre says.

Her draft report, prepared for the European Commission’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, says that the unreliability and lack of adaptability to smaller farmland of the technology, as well as high costs involved in its development, is holding farming back.

Ms McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, says shrinking land availability, environmental loss, water shortages, increased energy demand and the emergence of new pests and diseases are placing considerable pressure on our natural environment, and that as a result, farmers are finding it increasingly challenging to produce food in a sustainable way.

“Technological innovation is a vital part of the solution,” she says in the report. “Agricultural technologies, in particular, have the potential to make farming more productive and more sustainable.

“We must ensure that the benefits of technological innovation are available to all our farmers.”

She calls on industry, the European Commission and Member States to work together to improve the performance and adaptability of precision farming technology, to ultimately increase demand and investment by farmers.

Some of the biggest barriers to investment in current precision technology were basic, said Dr Helen Ferrier, chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the National Farmers’ Union.

“While a very high percentage of our members have mobile phones, a much smaller percentage have reliable signal across their whole farm, or the land they farm,” she said. “Similarly very many have insufficient broadband speed for their business. This will impact on whether they are able to use the kinds of interconnected precision technologies coming onto the market.”

An arable farmer near York, David Blacker, who uses precision technology to control nitrogen inputs on his crops, said cross-compatibility of technology needed addressing by manufacturers so that precision devices can be interchanged between farm vehicles – from tractor to combine for example.

The UK Government said its Agri-Tech strategy had seen £160 million invested to take innovation “from the laboratory to the farm”, and in October, 21 agri-tech projects were granted total funding of £17.8 million to speed up the commercialisation of farming technology.

Projects in York involve scientists working to improve the use of crop protection products, and to develop new wheat varieties for use in biscuit and whisky-making.

During last month’s Spending Review, the Chancellor also announced £68m will be used for three ‘Centres for Agricultural Innovation’, covering livestock, crop protection, and precision agriculture, with £50m for two centres based in York.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: “The Government’s long term ambition is for Britain to lead the world in food and farming, including technology – we’ve got an excellent brand world-wide for this. For the industry to thrive it needs to address immediate challenges, raising productivity whilst also improving sustainability and protecting animal health are at the forefront – technology has a huge role to play in this.”
(Source –  http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/environment/technological-revolution-must-be-within-reach-of-every-farmer-1-7626543#ixzz3uQaR6Iz3)


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