In early 2023, concerns arose after Britain experienced its driest February in three decades, raising fears that crop yields in England would suffer due to insufficient rainfall. However, the situation has since reversed, with many areas in the UK experiencing their wettest summers on record, compromising thousands of acres of wheat throughout the UK. This sudden shift in weather conditions serves as a stark reminder of the intricate connection between climate change and agriculture. While weather patterns have always influenced harvest success, this year, with wheat either waterlogged in storage or untouched in the fields, farmers are finding it increasingly challenging to navigate the risks posed by a more volatile climate, particularly concerning UK food security. Furthermore, as an industry responsible for 11% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture cannot simply be a passive victim of changing climate—it must also play a pivotal role in combating it. The question is no longer whether we need to act, but how swiftly and effectively we can turn the tide.
Consistent and reliable food production is fundamental for society. Lowering the annual agricultural carbon footprint through a demand reduction approach is impractical. Given that 71% of the country’s total land area is already allocated to food production, the agricultural sector faces the difficult challenge of increasing food output within the existing (or shrinking) space, all while aiming to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Under these conditions, new Agri-Tech solutions become fundamental.
How Agri-Tech solutions can foster sustainability
As the CEO of Abaco Group, a leading Agri-Tech company in Europe, it is my job to deal with the challenges that the agriculture industry is facing due to extreme weather events and climate change. These challenges are more pressing than ever, threatening soil productivity, crop quality, and ultimately food security. However, I firmly believe that with every challenge comes an opportunity. In this case, it is the opportunity to harness technology and innovation to adapt and thrive amidst these evolving conditions. The agricultural sector must play its role in the environmental transition, and technology will facilitate this process, reducing the environmental impact of the sector.
With the rising unpredictability of weather events, the agricultural sector can no longer rely solely on traditional practices. Rather, it must leverage data-driven solutions to make informed decisions and take proactive measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Developing innovative digital tools that employ satellite observation systems, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to provide real-time insights into crop growth, water shortages, and increase agricultural efficiency is of fundamental importance to foster sustainability in agriculture. Such a data-driven approach enables farmers and companies to adjust their agricultural practices according to prevailing weather conditions and optimise not just their crop production, but the entire management of the workforce involved in the sector.
Agri-Tech solutions can also support governments and authorities in digitising and modernising their agricultural policies. Agri-Tech can simplify the process of fund allocation for agricultural policies by “taking to the field”, optimising, and monitoring agricultural practices. Such solutions facilitate more innovative resource management and allow governments to monitor compliance and KPIs in the context of agricultural policy and subsidies, as well as helping the authorities to disburse payments on time while dramatically reducing the overall percentage of paperwork.
The challenges ahead
In the realm of agriculture, the adoption of digital technology has been slow and encumbered by a number of factors. Firstly, the assessment of return on investment is not always straightforward. We understand that these technologies and services come with associated costs, and it’s crucial for farmers to have a clear grasp of the advantages, whether they’re economic, environmental, or tied to perceived value. Then, the increased value of such tools depends on how well they are integrated into the working environment. A technology, no matter how advanced, would be of no use if its adoption is hindered by its complexity. Additionally, the presence of ideological resistance to embracing new technological tools also plays a notable role in shaping this landscape.
The transition to a technology-driven agricultural sector is not just a choice; it is a necessity. We must act now and act fast. As weather patterns continue to become more extreme and the real impact of climate change is being felt, it’s time to embrace this shift toward a sustainable and resilient future. The path forward is clear: efforts need to be focused on continuing to develop technology solutions that simplify the relationship between the paying agencies and the beneficiaries of agricultural funds, increasing productivity, and ensuring the sustainability and resilience of agriculture amidst climate change. It is essential to understand what sustainability is all about and to start with real, reliable data, supported by technology in managing and monitoring this data so that it can be measured.
We are committed to making this vision a reality, but we can’t do it alone. We urge all stakeholders and governments to join us in this revolution, to ensure the future of food security and sustainability. The challenge of decarbonising agriculture in the UK can be an opportunity for the UK government to embed novel data collection and share processes and requirements into Sustainable Farming Incentives – thereby streamlining reporting processes and providing clarity for data capture for farmers.