“May you live in interesting times” says the ancient Chinese curse.
I’m willing to bet that the word “interesting” has never been used with so many different inflections as it has over the last 2 years of global political change.
“Interesting” has really come to mean “uncertain” – particularly around agriculture, and this has posed a real challenge for farmers and the wider supply industry, with no clear vision for the kind of agriculture we can expect to develop in the UK over the coming decades.
I did a recent media interview where the “story” (ostensibly around the proposed changes to the British farm subsidy system) segued into a claim that British farmers are “not investing in technology and innovation due to Brexit.”
Our experience is the exact opposite. In these turbulent times, we do have one constant; the UK’s rich, world-leading pipeline of research, technology and innovation.
Since the days of Jethro Tull’s development of the seed drill in the 18th century, and the adoption of the Norfolk Four Course Rotation system across Europe, doing things differently – and better – has been central to the evolution and improvement of farming.
The current hectic season of agricultural trade shows, farm walks, open days and knowledge exchange events has clearly shown that farmers and growers are still keen to maintain this modus operandi.
The exciting cohort of agri-tech start-ups, the unlocking of the power of data analytics, and the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to develop working and robust predictive crop models are all hugely encouraging in this climate of uncertainty.
We are seeing overseas companies looking to the UK to set up a base here – in the past month I have had discussions with an Indian agri-tech company setting up a UK presence, received an approach from a Colombian grower co-operative looking to exploit aerial imaging technology, and accepted an invitation to meet an agriculture partnering organisation from the Netherlands keen to explore possible links. One of our members has even gone so far as to publicly commit to increased investment into innovation as a direct result of Brexit.
The UK as seen by the rest of the world as the place to do agri-tech business. Undoubtedly Brexit has brought with it significant challenges and uncertainties. Yet we must not allow the perception that it is somehow disrupting the industry’s long-standing quest for improvement, efficiency, profitability and sustainability.
When working with nature, as farmers and growers do, there will always be uncertainty. But let’s not talk down the industry and make Brexit into something it isn’t. Instead we must celebrate the fact that, thanks to research and technology development, the agriculture of the future – whatever it is – will be supported by the one constant factor across the industry: Innovation.
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