The Agri-Tech East Special Interest Groups provide a unique opportunity for the farming community to meet with technologists and researchers from other sectors. This is creating a rich source of contacts for collaborative projects.
Robert Smith, of Russell Smith Farms, is looking forward to welcoming the Water for Agriculture SIG to his farm on 1st October and is also to hosting a Pollinator event on 22nd September.
We asked Robert a few question about how he sees the cluster developing:
Q. Russell Smith Farms is one of the first farms to become members of Agri-Tech East – why did you join?
I think agri-tech is something that is going to become vitally important in helping to feed the world. We are members of Agri-Tech East and from what I’ve seen so far –at the meetings I’ve been to – people have been massively enthusiastic. The content has been excellent and it’s been successful in putting people together and encouraging exchange of ideas. It’s a wonderful catalyst for working with people in different fields – both literally and in terms of different subjects – of crop production.
Q. There is a Water for Agriculture SIG meeting planned for your farm at Elmdon – is water a big issue for you?
We are based at College Farm just outside of Duxford (site of Cereals 2014), with about 2,500 acres, this is includes about 1000 acres of potatoes, onions and root crops that we produce for the major supermarkets.
We have quite light land, which produces good quality onions and potatoes, but only if they have sufficient water so irrigation is essential to produce crops of good quality and quantity.
We have invested heavily in irrigation and now have four reservoirs including one we’ve just finished which is about 100 million gallons.
We wouldn’t dream of growing anything without irrigation, it is vitally important. We’re using booms for irrigation – we’ve tried other forms of irrigation before but we’ve found booms are more accurate and they aren’t affected by the wind. The machinery is certainly getting better in terms of accuracy and better distribution along the boom.
To ensure the best use of irrigation we use inputs such as crop stages, soil types, transpiration rate – and someone goes out with a spade, which sometimes you just can’t beat!
Q. Big data and precision agriculture are terms that are becoming more common – what is your interest in these areas?
There are few aspects of farming where technology is not involved, all our tractors now have guidance systems to ensure consistent working, so that widths are all the same and there’s no overlap of chemicals, we even have computers to aid us with weeding.
At the last Agri-Tech East meeting about Big Data, we were talking to NIAB and the Microsoft guys and seeing all the things people are doing with drones and monitoring, and creating software to improve the analysis and visualisation of data, and it is all very exciting.
We are hosting the ‘Technology, Electronics and Software’ Pollinator on 22 September 2015 at College Farm and this should be really interesting.
Q. Do you think it is important for farmers to see new technology demonstrated in the field?
Yes I do. We are a LEAF demonstration farm so we have lots of visitors; it is interesting for us to gain the feedback from others.
We are also a Waitrose demonstration farm, and our current project is examining the environmental aspects of farming – how to farm for profit but keep an eye on biodiversity and environmental impact on the farm.
Also two of the main plant breeders are present on our farms – KWS and RAGT – and they do lots of fieldwork with early generation crops.
So we are very active on a number of levels and look forward to welcoming people to the farm.
The Water SIG event: “Balancing water supply and demand workshop” was originally to be held on 26th May but due to unforeseen circumstances we are postponing the event until later in the year.
The next Water SIG event is on 4th June 2015 at Salle Farms, Reepham, Norfolk, NR10 4SF
If you are interested in joining Russell Smith Farms as a member of Agri-Tech East please click here.