They say good things come in threes. At the recent Norfolk Farming Conference they seemed to come in fives.
From the breakthroughs expected to advance agri-food by 2030, to the key drivers of innovation in UK agriculture, and to understanding consumer insights and trends, it was all about the fives.
Five breakthrough opportunities that use a convergent approach to create advances in food and agriculture
A recent report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the USA highlighted five science breakthroughs that promise to advance food and agriculture by 2030.
Prof Sir John Beddington’s overview of these demonstrated just how well-placed we are in the UK – from research and companies – to deliver them
- Taking a “systems approach” to understand how different part of the food and agriculture system interact and how to leverage this for benefit
- Developing precise, accurate, field-deployable sensors and biosensors to improve rapid detection and monitoring
- Applying and integrating data sciences, software tools, and systems models to create advanced analytics for managing the food and agricultural system more effectively
- The ability to perform routine gene editing of agriculturally important organisms to improve traits.
- Understanding the relevance of the microbiome to agriculture and using this knowledge to improve crop production, transform feed efficiency, and increase resilience to stress and disease.
All the underpinning tech and innovation to do just this is either already in routine use in the field, or in the development stage in industry and academia in the UK.
Five ways investment in innovation supports UK agriculture
The question posed (and answered!) by Rt Hon George Freeman MP was whether innovation can help UK agriculture prosper. A rhetorical question, maybe, but the answer was yes, and for five reasons.
- Use of precision agriculture increases productivity
- The innovation agenda will attract people into the sector at the beginning of their careers
- Technology improves traceability – for delivering accountability, responsibility and even health benefits
- Contributing to the so-called “bioeconomy” – a recent strategy was published highlighting how harnessing the power of biosciences and biotech can deliver food, feed and fuels – and agriculture is a key part of this story.
- Innovation can create a platform for accessing and exporting to global markets.
Five macro trends that define consumer behaviours
The final five was from UEA’s Prof Andrew Fearne, who outlined the so-called “macro trends” – now very well understood thanks to data science applied to purchasing activities – that define consumer behaviours around food:
- A Changing Nation – ageing, increasingly diverse with more people living with parents or grandparents
- Health and Wellness – 60 % of adults claim to check the food they buy is “good for them”
- Redefining Value – whether it is price or a promotion, or brand loyalty that people perceive gives “value”
- Social Conscience – people claim to care about welfare and the environment, but actual change is slow to happen
- Confident and Connected – Millennials are embracing their “digital selves” and have an increasing appetite for other diets (such as veganism)
So among all these bunches of fives, where can more benefit be gained from adoption of new technologies on farm? The answer is simple – the impact of new tech must align with the business strategy. Whether the target is to reduce costs, improve biodiversity, increase efficiency, reduce waste or produce a higher value premium product, the tech must contribute to the overall ambition.
Finally, the question everyone should ask themselves when considering the adoption of new technology is “do I have the capability to use it – and will it help manage one of more of the following FIVE factors of costs, risk, yield, profit and sustainability?”
High fives all round…..