‘Things cannot stay as they are’ – Can millennial insights inspire a fresh approach to food and farming?
Gorgate Products Fruit Farms
Farmers have been urged be more open to educate the public about their environmental work – and insights from millennials could help change the conversation about how food systems are managed.
A generation of growers, entrepreneurs and researchers has been raised in the digital age, and many are returning to their farming roots bringing experience in areas such as genomics, data analytics, consumer insights and marketing from other sectors.
Among them are Rosie Begg, head of farm strategy at Gorgate Products Fruit Farms near Dereham, which grows blackcurrants for drinks firm Ribena as well as arable crops and Victoria plums.
After gaining her degree in business management she worked in London for six years, gaining experience in finance, PR and marketing before deciding to return her family's Norfolk farm.
She said greater collaboration across the farming generations is crucial for the industry's progress.
"The future of farming is faced with an unprecedented level of uncertainty but this also brings with it huge opportunity," she said.
"Things simply cannot stay as they are. Farming will become more sustainable because, I believe, it's the only way to have a resilient business in the future. I hope that exemplary farmers will be kind enough to share their expertise and wisdom with the next generation to facilitate progress. Collaboration, in my opinion, will lead the way.
"We have a new generation of conscientious consumers who care about provenance, health and farming practices. An emphasis on the farming community's responsibilities as custodians of the countryside and environment, along with the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme [the EU's subsidy system] and the reduction in the armoury of sprays, will drive the wider adoption of new technology and bio-innovations to increase efficiency and manage costs.
"Farming is certainly part of the solution to protecting the environment but if we are going to see environmental changes at the speed and scale that is needed we must be more open and educate the public on our practices to encourage joined-up thinking where everyone is part of the solution."
READ MORE: Agri-Tech Week 2019: How 'One Agriculture' vision can help farmers feed a fragile world
Mrs Begg said Gorgate Products had introduced several measures to improve the farm's environmental credentials.
"On our farm we are trialling combination crops within our blackcurrant plantations: yarrow to help reduce snails, and phacelia planted every eighth row in one of our fields to encourage not only pollinators but also hoverflies to eat the aphids and reduce the need for pesticides," she said.
"We recently counted 75 bees over five different stretches and some were absolutely huge so it is definitely working.
"Another change we have made is to introduce precision farming to optimise fertiliser usage, save costs and reduce the environmental impact."
To continue its development, she said the farm would need "a lot of investment" during the coming years, which would need to be prioritised through improved analysis of data to determine what was affordable, and what inefficiencies are threatening the farming business.
"I believe that data driven decision-making will be key to our farm's success and we have already benefited from that approach," she said. "We analysed our blackcurrant data from the past ten years to look for evidence of any patterns in yield and costs. The findings showed a significant drop-off in yield after year ten at one of our farms. We also noticed that despite the virgin blackcurrant land being too far away to irrigate, the benefits from this soil outweighed the lack of irrigation. This data allowed us to plan our rotations for the next ten years and will be analysed regularly.
"Sometimes the changes required to our farm seem overwhelming, but data will allow us to plan informed step changes over a timescale we can afford. Panic fixing things at a higher cost when they go wrong is not a sensible course of action."
- Rosie Begg will speak at the Next Generation Innovation Sofa Session at the REAP 2019 conference during Agri-Tech Week, which runs from November 4-8.
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