Agriculture is one of the oldest industries, undergoing radical changes over the past 50 years, including advances in machinery, seed and irrigation. Now, agriculture is at the forefront of another revolution. The agritech industry has begun to see new emerging technologies and will most likely see more over the coming years.
This month we asked NIAB TAG agronomists: "As an agronomist, what technology would you like to see deployed on the farm in the next five years?".
Gary Rackham highlighted that he would like to see rapid acceleration and uptake of gene editing technology deployed on the farm. He added that consumers need to accept the technology due to the potential benefits it could offer society. He said, "this would allow the identification and selection of better plant traits. It facilitates the production of transgenic plants with desired qualities like disease tolerance, drought tolerance, pest resistance and high yield capacity". He believes that developments with this sort of agritech would allow for "a greater variety of crops to be grown in areas that were before less favourable by editing out traits hampering overall production, which would allow for increased production to feed a growing population with less reliance on pesticides, creating a more sustainable future for farming".
One of the biggest challenges to farmers is predicting the weather, especially as it is becoming more extreme. Steve Cook said he would like to see "a reliable weather forecast, preferably during harvest." Interestingly Steve had "seen many bits of tech come and go over [his]career, and none have survived or become widely adopted." Steve explained that lack of time restricts technology uptake within the industry: "The agronomists make the vast majority of crop protection decisions on the farm" he said that agronomists are under pressure to assess each field for disease levels, weeds, pests and crop health promptly. Steve went on: "some tech that has emerged in the past has taken too long to produce an answer; the tech must not slow us, agronomists, down". With agriculture being a fast-paced industry, "recommendations for the farm will be written, and products ordered that evening". He added that the "tech developed must be relevant". For example, "drone images are useful, but drones so far have not been able to cover enough area per day or do not fly if too windy or wet. The tech must work in all weathers". Steve drove home the time-saving issue, saying that "satellite images may be useful, but if we need to spend a few hours examining them before visiting the field, then it will not happen. Some farmers might make better use of some tech as they could have more time, but again it must be able to deliver savings".
Steve mentioned that "agronomists and farmers dislike spraying insecticides due to the environmental damage", and he would like to see agritech developments in management for barley yellow dwarf viruses (BYDV). He explained how "the cost of BYDV can be high, and the insecticide is cheap and that too much is used unnecessarily, but it is too high of a risk not to spray. Current risk models work on day degrees, but many other factors could be taken into account, e.g., wind and rain". By developing a "BYDV risk model then aphid flight conditions, the percentage of aphids carrying disease and a real risk score for not spraying" would be a positive agritech addition to the farm.
Thanks to Gary and Steve for their insights into what technology they would like to see on the farm in the next five years.
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