New Norfolk County Farms tenants will be urged to embrace agri-tech opportunities

Analysing crop data from drones is one example of agri-tech which could benefit Norfolk County Farms

Analysing crop data from drones is one example of agri-tech which could benefit Norfolk County Farms tenants, says a report. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Potential new tenants for the Norfolk County Farms estate will be encouraged to demonstrate how they propose to use new agricultural technologies to boost their productivity and profitability.

Tracking cattle with ingested sensors, using robots to drive tractors, killing weeds with lasers, and picking fruit with autonomous machines were among the agri-tech innovations highlighted in a report to the county council's digital innovation and efficiency committee.

The committee agreed that exploring agri-tech options should be recommended when aspiring farmers submit their business cases to become tenants on the 16,900 acres of publicly-owned land which forms the County Farms estate.

Geoff Connell, head of information management and technology at Norfolk County Council, said advancing technologically could prove imperative for farmers, with uncertainty around Brexit meaning low-cost labour may prove more difficult to find.

He said: 'If we do not have access to low-cost labour, people will have to look to technological advancement, so it is important we promote this.

'This is a significant opportunity for us to work with our tenants and help them exploit agri-tech systems.'

READ MORE: Do you have what it takes to become a farmer on the Norfolk County Farms estate?

The report to the committee says agri-tech offers the council and its tenants an 'opportunity to increase our productivity and profitability' as well as a possible way to cope with the risk of a reduction in the availability of seasonal migrant labour after Brexit.

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'Agri-tech has been identified by the government as of national importance and one of the world's fastest growing markets,' it says.

'Norfolk's expertise in food, plant and health science, combined with an innovative farming community, offers business extraordinary potential to contribute to that growth.

'Although tools and technology have always been used in farming and agriculture, modern 'Internet of Things' (IoT) sensors, low-cost drones, low-cost big data systems, cloud services and a healthy, competitive supplier market mean that agri-tech is now able to make a real difference to the effectiveness of the industry.

'The likely reduction in access to cheap seasonal labour due to Brexit means that Norfolk farmers will be under increased pressure to look to technological automation in order to cope in future. Evolving legislation appears conducive to the adoption of agri-tech in farming.

'The pace of change in the sector is accelerating such that Norfolk's farmers and landowners will need to adapt and adopt new technologically enabled approaches or risk being left behind by their competitors.'

Committee chairman Tom FitzPatrick said: 'It is really important that we support our local agriculture in Norfolk to embrace new technological opportunities so that they can remain competitive with the rest of the market.'