What will farming look like in 2030? Royal Norfolk Show offers an agri-tech vision of the future
PUBLISHED: 06:46 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 06:55 25 June 2019
The Innovation Hub at this week's Royal Norfolk Show will showcase emerging farming technologies ranging from crop survey drones and weather stations to soil sensors and early-warning systems for livestock diseases.
The exhibitions include cutting-edge ideas being developed by members of Agri-Tech East to analyse and utilise the torrent of data being generated in modern agriculture. We asked some of these tech entrepreneurs and researchers to describe how East Anglia's "connected countryside" could look in the next ten years.
David Aarons, co-founder of enLight, based at Loddon, said: "We see the future as the connected farm. Currently, agricultural data is collected and monitored using many different, disparate systems. Each one has its own login and password. enLight's vision of the future farm brings all this together, connecting existing data sources, trackers and legacy assets horizontally.
"From water quality monitoring to animal tracking to soil pH, as well as vehicle tracking, pumping systems and light levels, all of it will be in one place. "In addition, the system itself can make decisions when necessary. For example, if there's a problem overnight or during a busy period and farm personnel aren't able to monitor the dashboard, or as a reaction to an unexpected turn in the weather, instant changes can be made that may save water, energy... or even a crop. Future farms will allow agriculture professionals to see all their data streams in one place, on one dashboard, collected using cost-effective Internet of Things radio networks."
The company will be demonstrating a live feed from Honingham Thorpe Farms, a large contract farming company managing land up to 30 miles away from its central office, to show how real-time data can effectively be collected and displayed to assist remote management. Sensors in action on the dashboard will include water levels, bird scarers, power monitoring and grain store monitoring.
Another exhibitor is Cambridge firm Delta-T, which will be demonstrating soil sensors and profiling systems for canopy analysis. International sales manager Tony Peloe said communications between sensors, and with farm systems, will become increasingly important.
"We've seen the increasing adoption of sensors and drones; the next step is integrating their data into 'Smart Farming' frameworks which will enable farmers to maintain yields while reducing inputs and improving biodiversity," he said.
"If the Agriculture Bill is adopted with its emphasis on 'public goods', farms will need to make the tricky transition to an agroecology approach while maintaining yields. This will require new policies and practices backed up by sound science and networks of sensors and farm management applications that incorporate artificial intelligence (AI)."
Angie Curtis is sales director at Roboscientific, based in Ely, which will be demonstrating detection systems that use the volatile organic compounds given off by infected animals to provide early warning of diseases.
"I believe farming will be on a much bigger scale, possibly managed remotely as monitoring becomes an intrinsic part of farming," she said.
"Much of this will be automated and controlled using AI and remote oversight to identify precursors to disease and alert the farmer to deliver the appropriate intervention fast.
"Through improved prediction it will be possible to introduce preventative measures rather than trying to find cures. I am hopeful that this will reduce antibiotic resistance, drive an increase in quality as well as a reduction in wastage currently caused by diseases and infestations."
- UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA
Dr Brian Reid is reader in the School of Environmental Sciences and associate dean for innovation and engagement for the Faculty of Science at the University of East Anglia, based in Norwich.
He said: "'We borrow the land from our children' and opportunities exist to create future farming systems and landscapes where food production and environmental aspirations are realised in parallel. The building of soil carbon stocks, through sympathetic land management practices will be pivotal in sustaining gains for soil health, improving soil biodiversity and supporting enhanced delivery of soil ecosystem services such as food production, flood mitigation, water filtration and climate regulation."
The UEA is to showcase WeedingTech - a novel herbicide-free solution that uses a biodegradable foam from natural plant oils to suppress weeds.
Frederick South, UK business development manager at Sencrop, based in Cambridge, said: "New regulation and environmental schemes will mean that environmental monitoring will be increasingly important to ensure compliance. It will help farms become more efficient and at the same time will help keep tabs on how the environment is being impacted."
Sencrop will be showing two connected weather stations: Raincrop, a rain gauge that measures temperature, humidity, and rainfall; and Windcrop, an anemometer, measuring wind speed and direction. Both weather stations send data to a smartphone application.
- BRITISH BEET RESEARCH ORGANISATION
Vicky Foster, head of the Norwich-based British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), said: "As we reduce our reliance on chemistry we will need to look towards the use of biological control on a large scale and also increased use of risk management and forecasting tools as part of an integrated approach to help make agronomy decisions on-farm."
BBRO will be showing how soil can be visualised in three dimensions to help growers understand the way plants interacts with the soil.
To support alternative pest management options, BBRO has introduced a novel in-field aphid monitoring and testing system supported by web-based reporting. It will also demonstrate how the risk of virus transmission can now be mapped across the whole of the UK sugar beet growing region.
- MARTIN LISHMAN
Dr Gavin Lishman, managing director of Martin Lishman, based in Lincolnshire, said: "Reducing food waste must be a priority. 1.3bn tons of food are wasted globally each year, with almost 60% of crops spoilt, damaged or wasted during post-harvest operations. Climate change will increase the vulnerability of stored food to insect damage."
Martin Lishman will be discussing its Pile-Dry and FloorVent Pedestal crop cooling systems and ImpacTrack, a new low-cost data logger that replicates the movement characteristics of fruit and vegetables prone to damage and bruising during handling and transport.
- DRONE AG
Jack Wrangham, director of DroneAG, based in Alnwick, said: "We see a future where automated machinery will work collaboratively. For example imaging from drones will be used to direct sprayers to target specific areas of the field at exactly the right time, reducing costs and chemical use and minimising soil damage."
DroneAG will be showing its range of drones and how AI can be used to extract insights from raw data.
- The Royal Norfolk Show will take place on June 26 and 27 at the Norfolk Showground in Norwich. For more information, see the Royal Norfolk Show website.