Our food system is facing unprecedented challenges. From population increase to climate change, demands on productivity to environmental protection – these pressures will place further strain on agricultural value chains and influence the market forces which shape food production. The current consumer trends are at odds with the globalisation of food production and, as a result, new solutions are required to address these challenges.
Multiple and integrated digital technologies provide the speed, accuracy and autonomy required to enable such solutions. However, drawing upon multiple and vast data sources, these technologies require connectivity which is fit for purpose at a reach and scale capable of meeting the demands placed on our food system.
Rural areas within the UK are often characterised with poor connectivity and inconsistent mobile network services. As a result, the adoption of novel technologies on farms can be limited. Uniting terrestrial and satellite networks will ensure ubiquitous coverage for digital technologies and transform agricultural productivity.
This article, a collaboration between the Catapult’s agriculture and connectivity experts and rural network provider Wessex Internet, explores the various digital technologies requiring connectivity on farms. We look at the benefits and challenges to these solutions, as well as what the farm of the future could look like if ubiquitous connectivity is available on farms across the UK.
Technology & Use Cases
The implementation of ubiquitous connectivity on farm has the potential to increase farm productivity, improve efficiencies and reduce costs and make the entire UK food sector have less impact on the environment. What’s more, with seamless coverage across every element of the agricultural supply chain, real value can be added using innovative mechanisms such as:
Benefits to the Agricultural Sector
A combination of all this technology will transform the way data is collected on farms, enabling farmers to manage their crops better and allow them to share insights with other farmers and businesses across the supply chain.
With the data, farmers can improve crop yields, reduce operating costs, and increase productivity. This will, in turn, help add value to and create a more efficient food supply chain.
Under the new Agriculture Bill, which was passed into UK law on 11th November 2020, farmers and land managers across England will be rewarded with “public money for public goods” such as better air quality, thriving wildlife, soil health or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change – of which some of the above technology examples could support with.
Whilst many of the solutions will be suitable for larger farms, there are some – such as new types of low-power, low-cost IoT devices, 5G-enabled cameras or affordable satellite communications plans – which will be accessible for most farms. These advances could reduce operational costs and introduce more options to scale solutions for businesses of all sizes across the supply chain.
A lack of consistent and capable connectivity across farms is not the only challenge faced within the UK food system. Other challenges across supply chains limit the uptake of new technology:
The Farm of the Future
There are a wide range of views about what the farm of the future could look like and how our food will be produced in the years ahead. Enhanced connectivity across every element of the supply chain, from farm to the consumer will be fundamental to ensuring food is produced in a productive, environmentally-friendly and cost effective manner.
Internet of Things sensors and high-throughput devices, such as UHD cameras, will be key to this farm of the future, but we can only realise the potential of this technology through 5G connectivity. This will deliver a wealth of new information to farmers, allowing them to make better, informed decisions across their business whilst enabling increases in productivity alongside improving the farm environment. Through 5G, as new technologies, products and services develop, the accessibility and affordability also improves, allowing UK farmers collectively to address some of the grand challenges the food system is facing.
“Networks provide the fundamental basis to growth as ideas come together. The poor connectivity experienced in rural areas now provides the basis for a revolution. Agriculture is an industry which is perfectly positioned thanks to experimental agri-tech companies to boom – the vision is impressive. However, to be able to deliver this new era of agriculture, it is essential that connectivity companies and rural industry come together to deliver a solution which works.” – Digby Sowerby, Wessex Internet.
If your organisation is looking for the opportunity to engage with or benefit from ubiquitous connectivity in the agricultural sector, get in touch with us on 01235 428 199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been written in collaboration with Wessex Internet, a partner with us on the 5G RuralDorset project. Find out more by visiting the websites below:
5G RuralDorset – www.5gruraldorset.org
Wessex Internet – www.wessexinternet.com