Friday, October 05, 2018

The limits of new technology

The new conventional wisdom is that agriculture is on the verge of a fourth revolution and that once the UK has Brexited this digital revolution can get under way in earnest, supported by domestic policy and unshackled from the CAP.

I am no fan of the CAP, but I think that some caution is necessary. One farmer commented to ‘Yes, however, there are challenges with farmers getting to grips with the very many and varied types of tech, as my latest tractor testifies, I am generally mystified by the number of possibilities and so find myself being overwhelmed. Tech needs to be simple and intuitive. It’s also expensive.’

Appropriate policy could, of course, help with the question of expense. But much of the AI and digital tech is still at a relatively experimental stage and not ready for on farm use.

Of course, farmers have been using data from near earth satellites for some time and that is now being supplemented by more fine grained information from drones. That enables decisions to be made, for example, about what quantities of fertiliser or agrochemicals are to be applied where with both business savings and environmental benefits.

It is also claimed that machinery using AI can spot when strawberries are ripe and ready to be picked. A downward facing camera is used. However, the berries still have to be picked by hand.

We do face the challenge of producing more food from a given area of land and in an environmentally friendly way. Technology is the key to sustainable intensification. But we also need to think more broadly. Should we try and move away from meat heavy diets which require large quantities of animal feed and livestock that produce methane, a particularly damaging climate change related emission?

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