Opinion: Minister aims to put farming at centre of tech revolution

Technology has the potential to transform farming, writes Defra parliamentary under secretary Lord de Mauley.

The idea behind the Agri-Tech Strategy, co-developed by government and industry, is that we want the UK to be at the forefront of this agricultural revolution. We want the ideas developed by our top class universities and research institutes – places like Rothamsted, John Innes and Roslin – to make a difference on the farm. 

We are investing £160m to help make this happen. The £70m Agri-Tech Catalyst supports projects that help commercialise innovation, and speeds up the time taken for new techniques to reach the farmer and benefit the public.

Thirty-nine projects, worth £27m, have been launched so far and include developing a tractor-mounted scanner to allow farmers to decide precisely how much fertiliser their crop needs. Other projects are looking at tackling plant and animal diseases. The Catalyst remains open for applications .

A £90m funding pot will support a small number of Centres of Agricultural Innovation. These will drive the widescale adoption of innovation and technology, developing skills and capability in the food and farming supply chain.

My ambition is that industry and government do everything possible to support farmers to take advantage of innovation. That means skills and training too. The pace of change in the industry means that updating skills – or continuing professional development – will be increasingly important to keep up with the opportunities that innovations bring.

I welcome the work that is being done by the industry to develop modern employer-led apprenticeships. This is being led by Richard Longthorp chairman of the Agri-Skills Forum. Over the next few months, Richard and his partners will be developing new apprenticeship standards starting with three job roles:  Technician, packhouse operative and livestock manager.

What more do we need to do to ensure that we have the right skills for farming in the future? That is the question that we will be asking the sector at a workshop on 25 November in London. We are inviting farming businesses, farming representatives and skills and training providers to identify the skills we will need in the future.  The answers to this critical question will allow us to develop an action plan on agri-tech skills.

If you are interested in attending the workshop, please contact: agritechleadershipcouncil@defra.gsi.gov.uk

We are working with industry to ensure that UK farmers are aware of the opportunities that the Agri-Tech Strategy creates. We need to do more to get the word out about the potential for innovation to benefit UK farming and we will be doing that in the coming months.

You can keep up to date with the latest agri-tech developments by following @AgriTechGov on Twitter.

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