AgriTech - the Future of Farming for Dorset
Game Changing Technology Conference - Kingston Maurward
The conference, held on the 19th May 2017, hosted a series of presentations from industry experts about the impact of AgriTech on food production methods and efficiencies.
Dorset LEP considers AgriTech as one of its strategic economic priorities and the event highlighted the STEM-related skills this sector will demand with continued growth.
Whilst the uptake of these technologies will further reduce the demand for unskilled labour on the farms themselves, the companies developing, maintaining and operating these technologies will in turn increase their demand for STEM skills. The new generation of farmers will need good e-skills and data management skills.
Dr Robert Merrell from the Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IagrE) reflected on the likely trend for tractors to decrease in size, powered by alternative technologies, whilst the Internet of Things (IoT) would lead to greater automation and specialisation in robotics (e.g small selective harvesting devices).
Clive Backer of Precision Farming Techniques noted that food production must increase by 65% before 2050 to meet the combination of population growth and improving dietary demands. This was a key driver for the adoption of technologies to increase food production output.
The Bristol Bioenergy Centre described the concept of microbial fuel cells, which could see self-fuelled robots operating in fields with specific tasks, such as selective destruction of local pests.
Precision Farming Technologies
Programmes such as 'Hands Free Hectare' and 'Agriculture 4.0' are demonstrating now just what impact existing technologies can have on food production. Existing farming methods cannot cope with variability, but these new technologies can target ploughing, fertilising, pest control and irrigation exactly where it is needed, thereby reducing energy and resource costs for an increased yield.
Products such as Wi Farm and Agrimatics offer interconnected farm components which can share data, allowing precision farming to take place, optimising ploughing, seed drilling, harvesting, use of fertilizers etc.
Similar products exist for livestock management, such as the 'cow collar', which can monitor health and offer early warnings for disease etc.
Dorset's AgriTech Sector
Dorset's AgriTech sector generates £108m to the local economy and employs over 700 people. It is one of the LEP's strategic economic priority sectors and therefore should be of prime interest to the county's students considering their future careers.
Dorset is collaborating with other LEPs on their SW Rural Productivity strategy and recognises the importance of communicating the emerging STEM opportunities in this sector to both pupils and STEM teachers.
More Information on AgriTech
For STEM teachers and careers advisers, the Euractiv website contains an excellent section on AgriTech, with the latest thinking and developments on this sector. This includes predictions for the essential skills/factors needed to support its growth:-
- big data management
- a robust and fast rural broadband infrastructure