Robots, vertical farms and virtual fencing could soon be part of the British farming landscape, according to a trailblazing report to be launched at NFU Conference on 19 February.
The Future of Food 2040 report highlights the importance of establishing a future domestic agricultural policy that enables the farming industry to increase its productivity, profitability and resilience in the future, which will be crucial for businesses to thrive in an increasingly volatile world.
The report looks 20 years beyond Brexit to how Britain will evolve socially, technologically and environmentally. It explores how changing trends will impact food production, delving into what we’ll be eating, how we’ll be buying it, and how food will be produced.
It poses the question, what impact will this have on British farms and what’s needed to ensure the UK can take full advantage?
The report features three case studies:
- Wilkin and Sons, a producer of preserves which is working with the University of Essex to develop a prototype robot to pick strawberries.
- The Small Robot Company, which is working with farmers to develop robots to provide autonomous crop care on a plant-by-plant basis.
- Scotland's Rural College, which is developing 'virtual fencing'.
They showcase the cutting-edge technologies that are already being developed to revolutionise the way we farm by maximising productivity, data collection, precision and efficiency, all while benefiting the environment.
NFU head of policy services, and author of the report, Dr Andrea Graham said:
“This report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can start to plan ahead. It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to put domestic food production as a strategic priority in all policy making. This includes a future domestic agricultural policy, which must enable farm businesses to take advantage of the many opportunities that will present themselves over the coming years.
“Farming is a progressive industry which is always looking ahead for new opportunities and developments, and over the next 20 years we will face potentially seismic changes in all aspects of society. An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate against climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment.
“2040 also marks the year that the NFU aims to reach its ambition of net zero agriculture, and increasing productivity and efficiency through innovation is going to be key to achieving this goal.
“Even now there are technologies being developed that can care for crops on a plant-by-plant basis or control the grazing of cattle without physical fences, and by 2040 this type of technology will be commonplace in farming.
“We will also see a significant shift in how businesses are managed as the world evolves and grows increasingly volatile. Risk management and business resilience are going to become ever more important. While 20 years may seem a long way away, planning for that future must start now.
“There are many possibilities for the future of farming, but one thing is certain; food is a fundamental part of life and British farmers will continue to put the public goods – including the provision of safe, quality and affordable home-grown food – at the heart of all they do.”
See the themes of the report discussed at NFU Conference on Tuesday 19 February:
11.45am-12.45pm: The Future of Food - where are we going?
Dr Andrea Graham, Head of Policy Services, NFU
Jack Bobo, Vice President for Global Policy and Government Affairs, Intrexon Corporation
James Walton, Chief Economist, IGD
Chaired by Guy Smith, Deputy President, NFU
4-5.30pm: The Future of Food - how do we get there?
Trefor Griffith, National Head of Food and Beverage and Consumer Markets, Grant Thornton
Iain Ferguson CBE, Co-Chair, Food & Drink Sector Council
Sue Davies, Strategic Policy Partner, Which?
Chaired by Stuart Roberts, Vice President, NFU