Published by AMTEC on 07th Feb 2024
In this guide, we’ll take a look at advanced farming techniques that farms, facing challenges feeding the UK and ensuring profitability, are already testing and putting into practice.
Farming is constantly evolving as farmers continue to face enormous challenges feeding the UK and ensuring profitability.
Part of this is due to a growing population. According to World Population Review, the population in the UK in 2024 is 67,855,910. By 2034, it is projected to reach 69,800,000, and it should peak in 2052 at 71,800,000.
The demand for food is increasing, and global demand will go up 70% by 2050, according to some estimates. Issues like labour shortages and climate change are also exacerbating the problem.
Fortunately, new technologies continue to emerge, and these are helping farmers to increase not only their yields but also their profits.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some advanced farming techniques that large farms are already testing or putting into practice.
Precision farming, or precision agriculture, is a resource management strategy that involves collecting data, processing it and getting insights that help farmers to optimise the quality and productivity of the soil.
Precision farming as a whole comprises several different technologies, including drones, sensors and automation. The data points are then used to make management decisions regarding the efficient use of resources, improving sustainability and productivity.
Farmers are increasingly making use of precision farming because they can use it to control variables like soil condition, moisture and more to increase output.
It’s also a way to diversify crops and improve food security in the UK, allowing farmers to grow more food in the country rather than relying so much on imports.
Bell Labs Consulting predicts that yield increases could go up by as much as 300 million tonnes annually by 2030 if a quarter of farms adopt precision farming.
The precision farming market is also predicted to reach $16.35 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research.
Where precision farming focuses on the soil, smart farming, also called farm automation, involves a combination of factors including machinery, electronics, sensors, computers and data management.
These work together to improve the operation of equipment and help with decision-making to reduce human error.
This leads to less need for human labour, higher yields and more efficient use of resources. These benefits mean the technology is being adopted widely.
With smart farming, technology is used to carry out repetitive tasks. For example, drones and automated harvesters are used for seeding, weeding and more, freeing farmers up to focus on more critical tasks.
It also allows for more efficient use of chemicals like fertilisers and pesticides. For example, automated precision spraying using sensors and field data can adjust the volume of the spraying to be more effective.
Smart farming helps to reduce costs, improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of farming practices. It also helps farms make better decisions regarding the inputs to apply, like seeds and fertiliser, when to apply them, and how quickly.
It’s still a niche area, but it is sure to become more important in the coming years.
2023 was a challenging year for UK farmers, and this was primarily due to extreme weather. While high costs were a problem, the climate was at the top of the list of priorities
2023 broke lots of records:
As such, irrigation solutions are becoming increasingly important for farmers. But standard irrigation techniques are wasteful and can lead to overwatering and carrying excess chemicals like fertilisers into rivers and lakes.
For example, micro drip irrigation systems can be used to deliver water to the roots of crops slowly, reducing water usage and improving the quality of the crop.
Soil moisture probes can be used to gather data and transmit the data wirelessly, while other probes can measure the evapotranspiration rates of plants.
Aerial imaging using satellites or drones can also be used to measure moisture levels in the soil, and weather stations monitor things like humidity and evaporation rates.
All of these technologies can be used to improve water management and reduce the environmental impact that traditional irrigation practices can cause.
RTK technology is used to increase the accuracy of various tasks on farms. While using a GNSS receiver like the ones in our phones is only accurate up to about two metres, RTK receivers provide far greater accuracy up to the centimetre.
It makes use of satellite positioning via the GPS receiver as well as a base station or several base stations nearby, and these combine to provide the precise location of a receiver.
This is then used to guide equipment like tractors, opening up several types of advanced positioning technologies like VRT (Variable Rate Technology).
Essentially, it improves the accuracy of the tractor and means the farmer can carry out fewer passes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
It also helps to increase yields. No parts are skipped, which is a common problem, especially where the terrain is uneven or there are obstacles in the way.
By getting rid of overlap, it also helps to reduce costs and enables farmers to reduce the materials they need to use, including fuel, while saving them time.
The RTK system can store the paths so the farmer can carry out further operations with greater ease, reducing soil compaction and avoiding damage to rows.
It can also be used for other purposes, like improving drainage systems to reduce runoff. And it’s not just used for tractors – it is also used to direct drones more accurately.
RTK can be used to help create more detailed maps, including soil characteristics, boundaries and elevation. And because it helps with steering vehicles and drones more precisely, it can be used for autonomous operations like spraying and seeding.
Overall, it improves efficiency, prevents the compaction of soil, improves the quality of the crop, reduces waste and reduces fuel consumption.
It also has challenges. The cost of hardware and software, and the complexity of using base stations, radios and controllers, create a barrier for many farmers. That being said, adoption is likely to grow considerably in the coming years.
Farmers often face restrictions on yield based on the surface area they have available. But with vertical farming, these limits are less important.
In vertical farming, produce is stacked together in a controlled environment using growing shelves. These shelves are usually hydroponic or aeroponic, and the crops get their nutrients this way rather than through soil.
There are many benefits of using this farming method:
Vertical farming has a big future in the UK and could produce the majority of our food in the years to come.
Not only does it increase the amount of space available to produce food, but its ability to make use of renewable energy means it has a low carbon footprint.
On the other hand, setup costs are high and it is still a niche market, which could slow its progress.
Several farm s are already using vertical farming in the UK. Jones Food Company in Gloucestershire is the largest vertical farm in the world, and its goal is to eliminate imports of several crops, including herbs and soft fruits, within a decade.
Another example is Growing Underground in Clapham, a hydroponic farm built in World War II tunnels. And Vertical Future in West London grows kale, lettuce and microgreens using vertical farming.
As the challenges facing UK farmers continue to grow, technology can help them in many ways.
These advanced farming technologies are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and around the world for the numerous benefits they provide. With the ability to increase yields, reduce costs and reduce the impact of farming on the environment, it’s likely we’ll be seeing many more of these techniques used on UK farms in the coming years.
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