It’s time for the second VirtualVet blog for February. Following on from this months first blog commenting on #Februdairy, this blog focuses on the recent 2018 NFU conference held in Birmingham. Following lots of interesting discussion this blog highlights two of the key points from the conference. 

At last week’s well attended and well reported NFU conference, two complementary calls attracted our attention. Being agricultural engineers and technologists, we welcomed the announcement that over £90 million will be invested in UK agri-tech. Greg Clarke MP (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) also commented on the proposed investment:

“Investment will include the creation of translation hubs that bring together farmers and growers, businesses, scientists, and centres for agricultural innovation to apply the latest research into farming practice. This should be a big boost to the knowledge exchange that already takes place across food and farming.”

Mr Clarke acknowledged the diverse skill set required to be a farmer, calling for the need to increase training and skills development in agriculture to mirror that already in place in other industries. Such a focus on skills development must be welcomed in an increasingly technology driven industry. Support for this also came for January’s AHDB’s productivity report which clearly sets out the need for greater productivity, which can be enhanced by the use of innovative agricultural technology on farms.

As well as enhancing productivity, we believe that the use of technology can also reduce stress for farmers. Innovative technologies can provide reassurance to farmers that animals are healthy, that their enterprise is running efficiently, and that yields are productive. This combination can contribute to the positive mental health for both farmers and their families. Not only is this important at a time where we are seeing suicide rates amongst farmers increase, but also as there is growing recognition that stress is a major contributor to farming accidents.

Another important topic of discussion at the conference was the need for improved Internet and communications infrastructure in rural areas, including mobile phone coverage. To combat this, it was stated that additional funding has already been committed to improving communications connectivity. This highlights an increasing awareness that expanding the agricultural technology industry, as well as exploiting big data and other innovations, cannot happen without basic infrastructure in all regions of the country. 

Considering this and following investment we see the potential for increased skills development, use of agri-tech, and productivity, as well as better rural communications. To our mind, we believe these are ways of enabling and empowering farmers to take the time to look after their own safety, both in terms of physical well being and mental health. Increasing safety awareness was echoed by the NFU, who have called both farmers and the farming community  to ‘turn the tide against an acceptance of poor practice industry wide’. The #SeeItChangeIt campaign is working to encourage farmers to see a risk and change it. This is promoting the wellbeing of farmers and improve all aspects of the farming industry. It is clear that both investment in infrastructure and technology will facilitate the use of best practice on all farmers. 

In conclusion and in wake of the NFU conference it is clear that both investment and development of agricultural technology and innovations, as well as improvements rural infrastructure are badly needed. This will be vital to ensuring both the future productivity of our farming industry, but also improving farm safety.