One Agriculture gains ground as farming targets tech future

The battle of ideas about the future of agriculture will be the key theme linking speakers and exhibitors for next month’s REAP 2019 conference.

“Things simply cannot stay as they are,” says Rosie Begg, head of farm strategy at Gorgate Products Fruit Farms and a speaker at the agri-tech gathering. “Farming will become more sustainable because, I believe, it’s the only way to have a resilient business in the future.

“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 a phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme and reduction in the armoury of sprays, will drive the wider adoption of new technology and bio-innovations to increase efficiency and manage costs.

“Collaboration, in my opinion, will lead the way.”

Burwell-based soil sensor manufacturer Delta-T will have a stand at the REAP conference, which takes place on November 6 – during Agri-Tech Week – at Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket.

REAP is about meeting people, it’s an important networking event,” director John Newstead told the Cambridge Independent. “A more controlled farming environment is going to become much more important in the future as there is less land to grow on, and the population is expanding, so the industry is looking at alternative ways to grow – for instance polytunnels, growing crops underground or even growng vertically. The rooftop gardening industry is small but vibrant.

“There will be a lot more urban farming in the future. It’s all about growing in controlled environments and that’s what we do well.”

A sensor made by Delta-T in Burwell. Technology is essential to improve yields and maximise crop potential. Picture: Richard Marsham
A sensor made by Delta-T in Burwell. Technology is essential to improve yields and maximise crop potential. Picture: Richard Marsham

Delta-T, which started life in 1971 – “Edmond Potter, the original founder, still works here” – employs 33 people in the village. A wireless version of its soil moisture detector – customers are based in the Middle East, Turkey, and Southern Europe as well as the UK – will go on sale in 2020.

Meanwhile, Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, speaking ahead of the organisation’s annual conference, said: “Agri-Tech East believes this is the time for a ‘One Agriculture’ approach and this is our theme for REAP 2019. One Agriculture will require a combination of new technologies, improved knowledge, and enabling policies and regulations as well as collaborative, innovative thinking – and we are seeing growing evidence of this across the cluster.

“The question for society is no longer ‘how to feed the population’ but ‘how to feed it well’.”

Adrian Percy, global technology officer of the global crop solution company UPL, will chair REAP’s all-new Sofa Session.

“One Agriculture is a great theme for the REAP conference,” he says. “There is a need to drive innovation in a different way from what’s traditionally been done.

Dr Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East
Dr Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East

“The generation of entrepreneurs coming through are purpose-driven. I think they’re looking to have an impact that can be measured in many ways, including something that is good for the planet.”

On food security, Dr Newstead concluded: “To achieve food security, you need to maintain and grow crops and maintain uniformity of supply. In order to get that, you need to monitor your parameters. That might involve our sensors, loggers or controllers, helping you know when to irrigate or if you could save water – enabling farmers to crop and irrigate a larger area if they then wanted to.

“With turbulent times potentially ahead, in terms of Brexit and climate change, will we see interruptions to supply chains? Our equipment is not going to affect how someone drives a haulage lorry across the Channel, but it may help the way we grow moving forwards.”