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Let’s make sure post-Brexit agricultural subsidies support a digital future

By Tim Devine, PA technology innovation expert

One of the largest impacts of Brexit will be the withdrawal of the UK from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It will be a moment that will make a huge difference to the future of UK agriculture. We think innovation is crucial, no more so then when it’s addressing key issues for major sectors. So we think the UK government should take bold steps where it can to support innovation in agriculture.

A fully digital agriculture system will generate better yields

Digital technologies are going to be vital to driving improved performance from the UK agricultural sector. We’ve seen how important it is internationally and we’ve been working with clients in this area. Technologies include:

  • sensors which let farmers monitor fields so they can make immediate efficiency improvements,  and measure crop growth and fertiliser performance. These sensors can be connected with new, low cost wireless technologies

  • ‘lab on a phone’ technology that means farmers can have laboratory quality analysis when they’re out in the fields and detect early signs of disease

  • techniques, like freeze drying, just before or after harvesting to increase crop preservation and monitor them through to processing.

The end goal is to create a fully digital agriculture system where the sensor information, inputs from drones and farm vehicles and weather data are all used as a long-term, large-scale data source. That data can be analysed to optimise the performance of seeds, fertilisers and agricultural land – generating increased yields.

Digitising agriculture

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Build on the current subsidies to give the sector financial support

All of these opportunities are exciting in themselves but open up the question of how best the UK Government can encourage them. One opportunity is to switch the funds we use for the existing CAP subsidies to help the agricultural sector embrace these methods. For example:

  • Subsidising agricultural organisations at the start so that they can build the network of sensors and other data gathering systems that provide the input

  • Paying farms and other players in the agriculture value chain for the data, to create a centralised data source, from which insightful analyses can be drawn

  • Rewarding performance improvements by individual players through the value chain, this will mean making baseline performance assessments and then measuring improvements through data analysis.

The CAP has had a chequered past with serious questions over its impact. These new opportunities to give financial support to highly relevant technology initiatives will genuinely drive agricultural efficiency.

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