AI 'to play key role on East Anglian farms', helping productivity and environment, forum told

PUBLISHED: 11:54 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:15 01 October 2018

Delegates at the AI in agriculture East of England forum at the House of Lords Picture: ANNIE EAVES

Delegates at the AI in agriculture East of England forum at the House of Lords Picture: ANNIE EAVES

Annie Eaves/LinksEast

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to play a key role in improving productivity in East Anglian farming as the region fosters improved trade links with countries such as China, delegates at a House of Lords event heard.

LinksEast, a body promoting trade links between this region and China, organised a round table discussion at Westminster in September, aimed at examining the role AI can play, and is already playing, in the region’s food and drink sector.

The AI forum was hosted by Lord Tim Clement-Jones, chairman of the House of Lords select committee on AI, and included East Anglian representatives from organisations including the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Agri-Tech East, Easton and Otley College and West Suffolk College.

Will Wells, chief executive of crop data specialists Hummingbird Technologies, which uses information from drones, satellites and robots to help farmers, told delegates that despite incubation support, his business was being ‘held back’ in a number of ways, including Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) restrictions, preventing widespread technical adoption by the farming industry and putting the sector at a disadvantage to overseas competitors.

“Present regulations mean that qualified pilots or farmers must fly within Visual Line of Sight (500 metres) of an unmanned aerial vehicle. Whilst we acknowledge the need for stringent and cautious regulation of all types of aviation, we are keen to engage with the CAA to make our case that companies such as us who fly exclusively in rural settings should be the first to test Beyond Visual Line of Sight capabilities in a commercial setting, unlocking significant value in the rural economy,” he said.

NFU Suffolk county adviser Rachel Carrington, said the NFU was strong in its conviction that productivity improvements , and profitable farm businesses, are “vital” in delivering environmental objectives as well as food supply, and harnessing new technology would be “crucial” for farms in the years ahead.

Paul Rooke of the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) said members were investing more and more time and money into technology, including drones and diagnostic tools. Dr Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East said the region had a “strong track record” in AI.

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