What is the future for British food and farming?

Posted on 19 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

The UK population is projected to surpass 70 million by 2030. How can we ensure and sustain an adequate and sufficient food supply?

Restaurants, tours and taprooms are services increasingly being offered by SME food and drink manufacturers - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Farming and food production is rapidly changing – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

British farming continues to undergo significant changes in production and consumer demand. It is a time of challenge for British farmers, but also one of great opportunity.

A new report published by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) explores just how farming is transforming, and how robots, vertical farms and virtual fencing could soon be an everyday part of the British farming landscape.

It looks 20 years beyond Brexit to how Britain will evolve socially, technologically and environmentally. It explores how changing trends will impact food production, examining what we’ll be eating, how we’ll be buying it and how this will impact on British food and farming.

Technology in farms like never before

Technology has the potential to remove many traditional farming jobs and create greater precision and efficiency of operations.

From robotic fruit pickers and the precise application of fertilisers for crop health, to the real-time monitoring and management of livestock; opportunities are vast across the industry.

Case study: Small Robot Co.

Small Robot Company has won a award for helping farms to increase yields and profits.
Small Robot’s agribots monitor crops on a plant-by-plant basis – image courtesy of Small Robot Co.

Agricultural robots, or ‘agribots’, are gradually being deployed across the world to assist farmers.

One business attempting to introduce this concept into the mainstream is Small Robot Company. It has engineered a compact four-part robotic system to monitor plant and soil health, and autonomously look after feeding, seeding and weeding on farms.

Small Robot’s agribots monitor crops on a plant-by-plant basis, which the company believes will minimise waste from excess chemicals and maintain individual crop health. This detailed processing of every plant would be impossibly complicated and time consuming for humans to replicate.

Quantum technologies could also offer many benefits in the future and could transform the speed and capability of agricultural methods.

Quantum sensing and measurement could allow the mapping of invisible underground features, including different soil types and water resources, through the detection of minute differences in gravity.

Quantum is a new field of physics and engineering that uses the tiny energy levels of atoms and sub-atomic particles to create real-world applications.

The use of intelligent (IoT) ear tags for livestock with built-in sensors could enable earlier warning of any potential health issues, as well as real-time monitoring of animal health.

According to the report, sensors may also be used to remotely manage grazing and act like virtual electric fences to reduce overgrazing in certain areas.

Food chain transparency

There will be a high demand for transparency in all aspects of the food chain, as consumers, retailers and the further supply chain now increasingly request this.

Farming also has the opportunity to embed new technologies like blockchain that could enable monitoring, data capture and traceability at every point in the food chain.

The report also suggests that the “health agenda” in consumer habits will increase in priority, along with more diverse diets. Practicality, price and taste will remain key drivers in food choices, however consumers choosing foods they consider to be healthier and more ethical is set to grow.

Case Study: Doisy & Dam

The cocoa bean is found inside the cocoa pod - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The cocoa bean is found inside the cocoa pod – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Chocolate company Doisy & Dam was created to deliver chocolate that was delicious, had a positive impact on the environment with a fully traceable supply chain, and didn’t contain the unnecessary ingredients that might be present in your average bar.

Co-founder Richard Wilkinson previously told TM: “We are pretty unique for a business our scale. We buy directly from plantations we have visited ourselves. We have a really positive direct relationship with producers, suppliers and growers. Our cocoa bean supplier is actively involved in making social change to areas in Colombia producing the crop.”

He explains that Doisy & Dam buy its cocoa beans through Casa Luker, a company who has been in the chocolate business for over 100 years. “The team has an incredible knowledge of Colombia and the crop, and are consistently investing in quite radical new ways of producing cocoa.”

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