Thursday, August 22, 2019

Technology ‘creating huge opportunities for farmers’

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

New technologies are transforming modern agriculture – creating huge new opportunities for the region’s farmers, conference delegates were told.

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman delivered the keynote speech at the Norfolk Farming Conference, held on 7 February at the John Innes Conference Centre, Norwich. The conference theme was 21st Century farming post Brexit.

“For too long the role of the agricultural sector has been undervalued in our economy,” said Mr Freeman.

“By investing in the right skills in our area, I believe we could become for agricultural technology what Cambridge has become for bio-medicine, driving a new cycle of economic growth and creating jobs and prosperity across our region.”

Driving productivity

Scientists at the Norwich Research Park, agronomists at Morley and engineers at the Hethel Engineering Centre were doing much to drive this change. Technology had further potential to transform the industry, said Mr Freeman.

Calling for greater focus on precision farming over reliance on cheap labour, Mr Freeman said technology had a key role in driving productivity. “British agriculture, with innovation, could be at the heart of a very exciting British bioscience and bioeconomy sector.”

Hundreds of UK farmers attended this year’s conference to hear industry leaders and experts debate some of the lucrative opportunities available despite the current anxieties and challenges facing British agriculture.

Changing diets

Other speakers included former government chief scientist Sir John Beddington, who addressed the opportunities and challenges posed for agriculture by a growing world population, rising middle-class and increasing  urbanisation.

Sir John’s speech also examined the consequences of climate change – especially the threat caused by crop disease – and the need to change diets and reduce waste.

Multiple speakers highlighted the need to give greater consideration towards the needs of the customer. Tulip managing director Andrew Saunders said online shopping would grow by 52% in the next five years, with consumer trends focusing on eating less and more healthily.

Andrew Fearne, Professor of value chain management at Norwich Business School, spoke of the need for farmers to collaborate – increasing the sustainability of the whole supply chain – and putting businesses in a better position to meet changing customer requirements.