Reflections on Agri-Tech Week 2018

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As we look back on an exciting and interactive Agri-Tech Week, it is clear that data, drivers and discussions are top of the agri-tech agenda

We still need some work on the user-interface to make it all inter-operable with humans at the centre of it – a hot topic with all the robots making an appearance during the Week.

The Data Tsunami

The practicalities of managing huge – really huge – amounts of data were highlighted at the Earlham Institute’s ATW event, where delegates visited an entire room dedicated to information storage and computing power (and the associated back up generator, cooling systems and sound-proofing).

Gerard Parr speaking at REAP 2018
Gerard Parr speaking at REAP 2018

As very few of us, including farmers, have our own computing servers we are all increasingly relying on “the cloud” to store our data. Far from being in the air, “the cloud” is actually software, storage or services that run via the internet. And it has transforming the way we do many things, including managing businesses, communicating and interrogating information.

UEA’s Prof Gerard Parr spoke at the REAP conference of the data “tsunami” facing farmers, a topic to which we returned at the RNAA event at Easton College.

Monitor constantly, by all means, but can the associated communications be reduced?

There was a discussion of the need for “appropriate” communications from the myriad of sensors…..do we really want or need a sensor chirping away constantly to say everything is OK – or should they only speak when there is something important to say?

Working together

Trust and the benefits of data sharing are never far from these conversations and the question arose about whether trust needs to be in place before data is shared, or whether sharing data builds trust. And how is it policed if someone breaches that trust?

The farmer breakfast at REAP also discussed the role of standards in data management – a topic we know is high on the agenda of a number of organisations in the UK currently.

One of the robots on show at the Essex event

Robots are one answer

Many speakers over the Week highlighted the growing population but also the need for safe, healthy, nutritious food, and the need to mitigate climate change.

The socio-economic and political drivers for new technology development and adoption remain stark and ever-present.

The band of agri-food robots showcased at REAP, the University of Essex and at the AHDB precision spraying event offer the potential to take dull, dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs out of the hands of humans, freeing the labour force for higher value jobs.

Ongoing discussions between farmers and researchers to realise this ambition are going to be critical.

Collaboration needs to be farmer-centric

We are more convinced than ever of the need for collaboration to drive open innovation. For example, the University of Hertfordshire’s crop protection event showed the connections being made between industry and academia.

The role of the farmer front and centre in this wave of development cannot be under-estimated. Seeing farmers discussing new spray technologies at the AHDB precision spraying event clearly demonstrated the wealth of knowledge and practice among the farming community – and the need to tap into this when developing new products and services.

NIAB’s soils event highlighted the Innovative Farmers project which also has research underway on farms – in this case looking at the impact of cover crops and additions such as digestate on soils health.

Upbeat mood for positive engagement

Agri-Tech Week 2018 - positiveFinally, a reflection from the Week. It was one of, perhaps unprecedented, positivity.

Regardless of the political events of the coming months, the mood was buoyant, upbeat and ready.

Farmers are responding to the indications of Government, there is a huge willingness to engage and a keenness to help Government develop policies that are fit-for-purpose. Researchers are looking beyond their traditional EU partnerships and forming exciting new collaborations with globally leading colleagues in Asia, South America, China, and India.

It’s been quite a Week. Huge thanks to all who took part. You are the reason we do what we do.

 

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