As the Agri-Innovation Den judging day on November 21 looms ever closer, we ask our five judges why the competition is important and what they will be looking for from our six finalists.
Why do you think it is important to recognise and celebrate technology within the agricultural industry?
New technology is critical to farmers being able to add value and increase margins. It is important farmers have early sight of technological developments, as it helps shape long-term thinking around investment and business direction.
At a time of uncertainty, when people are taking stock of their current businesses and working out how best to proceed, technological improvements could hold critical parts of the puzzle.
The agricultural industry is at the forefront of many technological changes and is often overlooked.
In order to encourage new entrants into the sector, for students leaving universities and entrepreneurs looking to develop businesses, successes and amazing new technological developments in the agricultural industry must be highlighted.
Agricultural technology plays a huge part in driving the all-important incremental gains in farm output.
Of equal importance is how technology can be used to manage business efficiency and environmental gains, such as staff and equipment management, including the precise targeting of inputs.
One other area increasingly fraught for farmers is accessing sufficient skilled and semi-skilled labour to pick, pack and operate machinery; while automation technology has its objectors linked to replacing people with machines, businesses cannot survive without reliability and timeliness, particularly when it comes to harvest.
What have been the key emerging trends in the sector of the last 10 years?
Although there has been a significant focus on new hardware such as sensors that farmers can deploy in the field, the most emerging trends in recent years has been shifting from data collection to turning it into useful insights for farmers.
Specifically, use of data to enable farmers to ‘get more for less’ from innovations in decision management tools through to risk management and solutions that drive environmental sustainability.
GPS, mobile internet connectivity and smartphones are three technologies which have had a transformative impact on farmers’ processes over the past decade.
They have driven resulting trends in farming; data capture and sharing from kit such as drills and sprayers, auto and precision input application and easier real-time business decision-making and management.
Fundamental to making these activities possible has been the ability for farmers to connect devices to each other and often manage them from apps and tools on their smartphones.
Globally, precision farming has played a key part in the last decade. We have seen more targeted use of inputs through the use of technology, for example we no longer need to spray a whole area, we can be selective with our applications reducing cost and improving efficiency.
It is not just about technology; the knowledge of agronomists has grown and with it growers are saving time and having more confidence in their decisions.
Understanding what is happening in the field and a greater sense of transparency combined with a pro-active use of data has delivered innovative businesses.
What are your prediction of trends looking to the next 10 years?
Over the last 10 years, new technology has generated huge amounts of data, which is often in many different parts of a farming business.
I think the game changer in the next 10 years will be getting data to be able to move across systems so farmers can easily manipulate it to really gain long-term value from the data to support them through policy shift which will come as Brexit progresses as and when we have to face into a new Agricultural Policy.
The area I see a lot of promise in is diversification combining traditional farming with alternative agricultural techniques, such as vertical farming.
There is also significant innovation happening around reducing the number of steps in the agri-food supply chain, for example technologies which enable consumers to be closer to and gain deeper insight into food provenance.
I also see more focus on changing skillsets focused around on-farm human machine interfaces, such as how farm workers interact with robotics on-farm.
Key changes will be how technology will be used to manage reporting on regulation and compliance, such as proving which animal was treated with what and when.
The second is using these tools to demonstrate justification of inputs, allowing businesses to continuously monitor their financial outlay, ensuring efficiency, profitability and sustainability.
The third area will be connectivity and data flow between farmers, manufacturers and the supply chain, creating connections which improve the transparency and efficiency between suppliers and customers.
The last is a wider adoption of new technologies, driven by a stronger rural connectivity allowing more growers to benefit from remote access in the field and a greater desire to utilise tools due to early adopters demonstrating the benefits.
For example, variable fertiliser application is widely adopted and we are just at the start of this journey with plant protection products.
I think we will see a greater accelerator of trends as a result of regulatory demand. Increasing restrictions will bring with them a change in the agricultural industry generating more opportunities and interesting technologies which need to adapt to comply.
I see new business and service models helping farmers become more efficient with tools in the field. Environment will also play an even greater role, generating lighter machinery and innovative technology which prioritise soil health, biodiversity and sustainability.
What will you be looking for at the judging day when assessing at this year’s Agri-Innovation Den finalists?
There are lots of cool technologies out there. However, technologies are not in themselves products or businesses.
I will be particularly excited by ideas which not only have interesting technologies, but a thoughtful and scalable business model which empowers farmers, promotes environmental sustainability and is investable.
I will be looking for something really different which takes a problem and provides a solution that is different from any existing solution. Something which takes innovation and has a real practical value.
We try to connect fast-moving disruptive start-ups with networking, marketing and production opportunities at BASF, so I will be looking for interesting technologies, good digital interfaces and finalists who understand agricultural industry demands.
I also look for a company which can demonstrate excellent staff management, is economically valuable and has a strong business plan which addresses industry challenges.