Farmer Focus: Where is agriculture’s maverick pioneer?

At last the days are getting longer and the ground is finally beginning to dry out enough to travel.

Manure and slurry are being spread on spring drilling ground and winter crops are receiving compound fertiliser applications where required. Spring barley seedbeds are being worked down ready.

A recent highlight for me was watching online the maiden flight of SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket. SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk is a maverick who is pioneering frontier science and I, along with many others, am a big fan.

See also: Video: Crop emerges in second year of Hands Free Hectare project

It got me thinking: where is agriculture’s Elon Musk? In the next 40 years the world will need to produce more food than in the previous 10,000 years combined but still use less land, water and inputs than at present.

Despite this, farmers such as myself tend to be slow, suspicious adopters of new technologies, preferring to farm within our comfort zones.

Museum agriculture

Robotics, drones and AI control systems will all bring huge change but regrettably these are simply all tools to reduce agriculture’s labour requirements.

“Farmer Musk” will surely want to utilise biotechnology tools to develop new disease-resistant crops with lower water, fertiliser and pesticide requirements and also develop hardier livestock breeds.

Regrettably in the EU he would be constrained by the inward focus of European technocrats more concerned with continuing “museum agriculture”.

Hopefully the UK will strike a different regulatory path post Brexit, encouraging “trailblazer farmers” to thrive.

There is an online government petition (number 212068) circulating to make food and farming education part of the curriculum in UK schools.

This would conclude with an optional GCSE in agriculture. Given that food production represents the largest human use of land, this is a no-brainer.

These changes are needed to deliver unbiased facts to children and to encourage new blood into the industry; all farmers should consider signing this.


David Butler farms just south of Marlborough in Wiltshire in partnership with his parents. He also runs a contracting company and farms about 870ha of combinable crops alongside a herd of 280 dairy cows.