Agri-Tech in the UK: What you need to know

Published on 14/06/2022 by Sukanya Awasthi

The United Kingdom is a becoming a growing market for agricultural transformation. In 2021, a £1.3 billion investment was made in Agri-Tech deals in the UK. In this article, we will look at the state of Agri-Tech in the UK, the sentiments of farmers around the same, and which technology are helping drive this digital transformation.

Agri-Tech aims to improve farming methods through the use of technology

With the rising demand for food around the world and decreased harvests, current farming practices may not be able to support the growing population sufficiently. To provide enough sustenance for everyone, it may be important to find innovative methods of farming in a world of increasing needs and decreasing resources while also keeping the consequences of climate change in mind. 

In 2021, a press release by the UK Government presented a ‘Net Zero Strategy’ that lays a detailed plan for how British companies and customers will be supported in transitioning to clean energy and green technology, potentially helping to lower dependency on fossil fuels. As such, agricultural systems may necessitate the adoption of new and sustainable methods of operation in the agriculture industry. In the following sections, we will look at the adoption of Agri-Tech in the UK along with different Agri-Tech methods that can help improve agricultural productivity.

What is Agri-Tech?

The term ‘Agri-Tech’ comes from the combination of the words agriculture and technology. It is the use of technology in agricultural practices with an aim to improve the output and efficiency of the farming process while also increasing profitability. Agri-Tech potentially allows food producers to increase agricultural production by utilising data and technical input, thereby helping to reduce the time taken and increase cost-efficiency.

State of Agri-Tech in the UK

The UK government published its ‘Strategy for Agricultural Technologies’ in 2013. Agricultural technology was recognised as a distinct business, with the United Kingdom potentially at the forefront of transforming food production to cope with the growing population and diminishing resources on a national and global scale. The plan emphasised some critical components that both public and private companies must have to invest responsibly in research and development (R&D).  

Recently, Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, gave her comments during the Agri-Tech and Environmental Sustainability Conference 2022:

‘We have just increased the Farming Investment Fund for small technology grants from £17 million to more than £48 million – supporting over 4,500 farmers with their investment plans this year. Alongside that boost in funding, we have also provided £25m for round one of the large technology grant offer – Improving Farm Productivity, which supports farmers and growers to invest in robotics and automation technology to increase farm productivity and efficiency. Last month, we opened applications for a further £20.5 million from our Farming Innovation Programme. The Farming Futures Research & Development Fund will provide up to £12.5 million for innovation projects that help boost a climate-smart farming sector.’ 

The government has also launched the UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP), ‘a new forum that will bring stakeholders from around the UK together to discover and strengthen collaborative working on shared agricultural concerns’. The forum aims to initiate discussions on topics like optimising the role of science and Agri-Tech in assisting food production, on-farm use of water, and ideas to minimise pollution and carbon emissions in the industry.

4 Types of Agri-Tech methods to improve agriculture

Technological advancements in farming technology are typically multi-faceted and the combination of traditional farming —like harvesting— with modern and digital practices can help farmers improve their farming outputs. In this section, we will look at some of the technology which are helping drive this digital transformation.

1. Precision farming

Precision farming is an approach that uses technology and analysis to improve the yield of crops, fertility of the soil, water usage, and other agricultural aspects. Precision agricultural technology could allow farmers to control all operations related to their farm from afar through remote monitoring, like which area which has to be fertilised next and optimise the available resources. A study by Ernst & Young calls precision farming as one of the key elements of digital agriculture. It also states that precision farming has allowed farmers to precisely ‘measure, map, and manage any variations in a field’, resulting in much higher yields and cheaper production costs.

2. Satellite technology

Satellites may be employed in a wide range of applications today, including satellite navigation, mobile phones, weather forecasting etc. According to an article by the Global Center on Adaptation, satellite technology is changing the way farmers manage their crops and cattle. The article also states that at heights of up to 36,000 kilometres, satellites can see enormous swaths of agricultural areas from their perch, and provide us with information that is difficult to fathom from the ground by mapping, measuring, and monitoring the land.

3. Drones and robotics

Robotics and drones may potentially tackle agriculture problems by increasing productivity and lowering the demand for human labour. An article by the BBC states that farms that are largely self-sufficient are approaching and presents an example of the use of robotics in agriculture. It talks about the use of harvesting robots which can do autonomous tasks like picking fruits from trees, removing weeds from crops, and drones that can perform tasks like spraying crops.

4. Big data

Big data are large data sets regarding a particular subject which can grow exponentially with time, and are used to analyse patterns and make decisions. According to an article by Mobile Magazine, big data may bring together a large amount of data from numerous farms at the same time. Individuals can share their data with other local or regional farmers throughout the UK, or even around the world. The ability to gather and analyse data in real-time may potentially lead to huge increases in productivity.

What farmers think about the adoption of Agri-Tech

In this section, we will look at the ways farmers are responding to these strategies and initiatives, and their thoughts on the adoption of technology in the agriculture industry.

A recent survey done by Propel and Farmers Weekly gauged farmers’ views and conducted assessments of the problems and possibilities they may encounter. The report states that farms provide raw materials worth over £100 billion to the food industry and ‘form the backbone of the UK economy’. Other findings from the survey are as follows:

  1. 75% of respondents are looking to acquire assets —like equipment and machinery— in the next 12 months. Tractors (40%) and trailers (24%) top the list of assets that most respondents want to buy.
  2. The study also found that three-quarters of respondents are interested in new agricultural technologies. Advanced weather forecasting is a top priority for 31% of farmers, followed by soil DNA testing (30%), and drone mapping and crop spraying (29%).

Another study by Barclays states that smarter farming facilitated by technology has the potential to deliver benefits to the UK agriculture industry. The report also presented some other findings listed below:

  1. 45% of the respondents have either invested or are planning to invest in emerging technology to initiate process innovation.
  2. 59% of UK farmers who prioritise smarter farming feel that technology investment can help them achieve their goals, while 43% of the respondents who prioritise smarter farming have already invested in technologies that could assist them in achieving their goals.
  3. 54% of the respondents who prioritise increased productivity feel that technology investment is critical to tackling the issues that the industry faces. 

What does the future hold?

There may be many factors which can affect the agriculture industry, from climate change to COVID-19, population rate increases, and economic disparity. Technology can, at the least, assist farmers and food producers in using scientific advances and R&D to better prepare themselves for current and future farming challenges.

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About the author

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.