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Most farmers are happy to embrace technology - but many doubt its ability to help them meet net zero targets, reveals a survey. Uncertain role for agri-tech in net zero target

Most farmers are happy to embrace technology – but many doubt its ability to help them meet net zero targets, reveals a survey.

The nationwide study by the Agri-EPI agri-technology centre sought to understand how and why farmers are using agritech, identify barriers to its use and explore the technologies farmers think will be most useful in the future.

It found that 78% are using some form of agritech, with the highest adoption rates among younger farmers and those with large farms. The biggest reasons for its use are increased productivity and profitability.

The same percentage (78%) of farmers believe it is important to reduce their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions. This rises to 94% of farmers under 45. But only 35% are confident that technology will help them reach net zero carbon emissions.

Greater skills

One reason could be that farmers need greater skills and support to understand the benefits of technology – and to adopt it successfully, suggested Agri-EPI chief executive David Ross.

The research found only half of farmers rate their skills in using agri-tech as ‘good’, with less than half (43%) of all farmers interviewed feeling well-supported in introducing or making better use of existing technology.

“While the majority of UK farmers recognise that agri-tech has an important role in supporting their priorities of productivity and profit, we are struck by the fact that only around a third felt tech has a role to play in environmental sustainability.

“Technology is one of the solutions to helping farmers reduce their emissions – agri-tech that helps farmers be more efficient and productive usually offers a win-win for sustainability.”

Mr Ross said the research findings were an important insight for everyone with a role in developing, evaluating and promoting technology – particularly the agri-food sector, policy makers, agri-tech companies and the R&D community.

“The farmers we spoke to told us they need accessible training, funding, and more evidence and independent advice to help them make the best use of agri-tech,” said Mr Ross.

Partners

He added: “We want to collaborate with partners across all of areas to ensure the benefits of agri-tech is make clear and the avenues to adoption are easily accessible.”

Of the farmers interviewed who are using agri-tech, popular technologies include machine guidance systems (40% reported they are using this), soil mapping (35%), livestock growth monitoring (30%) and variable rate application (28%).

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm.