Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Technology on farms

It may be one of the oldest and last-standing manual industries, but farming is embracing modern technology to find evermore inventive ways to assist both farmers and consumers.

This week, Morrisons and Tescos were the latest supermarkets to launch high-tech initiatives, joining the likes of McDonalds, the NFU and of course EBLEX.  Morrisons became the latest in line to offer a mobile app for beef cattle farmers to help them with livestock management, with a feature enabling users to register cattle births, deaths and movements.  Farmers that supply beef to Morrisons can also use the app to automatically generate the Food Chain Information Declaration required by all farmers sending livestock to slaughter.

Tesco’s offering is aimed at consumers rather than producers, particularly school children, to help them understand the source of their food.  Known as ‘virtual field trips’, the innovation sees hundreds of school children from around the country link up with a live farm over an interactive video feed and given a tour of the facility by the farmers.  Tesco also provides the schools taking part with food produce from the farm so the children can make a physical link between the farms and the packets they see on the shelf.

The idea was developed in response to a survey that suggests that 20% of teachers have arranged fewer field trips this year than last, and three quarters of primary school teachers see cost as a barrier to taking children on farm visits.

In Australia, McDonalds has well and truly bridged the gap between consumer and farmer, by launching Track my Macca (the Australian nickname for the restaurant chain).  The smartphone app allows customers to scan their burger box and find out where the meat was sourced and then processed, before being cooked on site.

Anyone who visited Livestock Event 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham last week (we were there) will have noticed an increasing number of businesses offering digital tools and technology, evidence indeed that the farming industry is embracing innovation. 

Looking further afield than our shores, New Zealand sheep farmers are increasingly using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as drones, to keep a remote eye on their flocks and grass growth. 

The UK Government has also got involved with this scramble for technology, announcing a £160million investment as part of the Agricultural Technologies Strategy, which aims to develop cutting edge technologies and innovative products in response to the global demand for food rising so rapidly.

Which of the emerging army of robots, drones, virtual visits and apps pass the test of time and prove markedly beneficial to English beef and sheep farmers remains to be seen, but by embracing technology as it emerges the industry is banishing the tired stereotype of the ‘yokel’ farmer chewing a piece of straw on a swinging gate!