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Farmer interviews – the social impact

Video of interviews with farmers discussing the social benefits of using agri-tech.
So in terms of the social considerations, thinking about the people that work on your farm with you, but also the public and the public’s perception of farming, what would you consider to be the sort of benefits or possibly any drawbacks of the use of precision farming in agritech? Do you think there are any in terms of your workforce? I don’t think there’s any drawbacks in terms of my workforce. They’re more than happy with it. You do need a workforce that’s able to adapt to these new technologies and they need to be happy using them. Otherwise, as a manager, you spend an awful lot of time reminding them how it all works and how to get the best out of it.
So if you have this equipment, it is expensive, you’ve got to get the best out of it. Therefore, you need employees that are able to, firstly, adapt to it, and secondly, happy to use it. In terms of their well-being, it has made life easier for them using hands-free steering. It means there’s less for them to have to think about so they can concentrate on getting the best out of the implement or whatever they’re doing. So I think long hours in the tractor, this does help, using this technology, yes. Coming to my workforce and you ask about how quickly they adopt, I would say it depends. It depends. And it’s a very personal dependent.
I mean, each person adopt these technologies with a different let’s say speed or abilities. It’s just harder for the older generations to understand and get their heads around. I mean, dad, who is, you know, he’s mid-60s, but he researches so much. You know, he really understands how to use it, what it can do to the farm, and you know, that’s why he justifies buying them. And the guys who work on the farm, you know, they don’t quite do the research and they don’t– you know, dad expresses how amazing it could be and what it will do, but actually getting on and using it, I think that’s just where the communication sort of stops. It’s, yeah. Yeah.
It’s a shame, really, that that little bit of communication, the middle process is the bit that completely ruins actually implementing it. It’s not just about on-farm technology and improvements. It’s also about farmers talking more with farmers and engaging with farmers in technology, so both sharing technology, sharing information, sharing market data, sharing–
I think data going forward’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Both understanding markets, understanding how varieties have yielded, sharing farm information will become a big thing. So there’s that kind of link socially between farmers, as well, that I hope will get bigger and more engagement with farmers. So I can see, as I said to you earlier, a situation where farmers work together with technology rather than just simply by themselves. When it comes to the people who do the work, the knowledge must be higher than before probably to be able to use these systems.
It also can help because if they use this technique and they are able to use it and you give them all the information, they cannot make huge mistakes anymore. My son is 12 years old now. And I know when he’s going out for cultivating, I know he’s driving with electric systems that don’t have to think about that he drives the field 1 and 1/2 times, and not just one time because he’s just overlapping too much. So this is really, really helpful also for having efficient working with people who are not as well-educated as we probably would need them for this job. I also wondered whether precision agriculture and agritech in general, is that filling a knowledge gap?
Or do you feel that there’s a danger or a potential for this, sort of, traditional knowledge of the land to be lost? Or is that relationship changing in any way? No, it’s a different relationship. So that knowledge of the land is always needed. What we’re actually doing now is recording what was been in somebody’s head. So I know that end of the field has never been as good as that end. Well, we’re now actually confirming that. And we’re putting in virtual boundaries basically so that we can actually then apply different techniques, different inputs to those areas that we always knew were there, but often you treated them all the same. Science and technology can’t tell you everything.
And sometimes the human element is really important, especially with agriculture because you’re working with nature. And nature isn’t a scientific calculator. Nature is a living thing that requires understanding and reasoning beyond the comprehension of a simple computer model. So yes, I think we’ve got to be very careful not to lose traditional understanding and ideas and practical knowledge that a lot of farmers have built up over generations but also farmers just gain over their career. Do you feel there’s any drawbacks of this technology on the workforce? I’ve got a wonderful picture of a GPS-driven tractor pulling down a pylon. And if that had happened on my watch, I could definitely have said that that was a disadvantage.
Over-reliance, it is a real concern. You know, I’ll get at least two calls a year saying I can’t drive my tractor because the satellite won’t switch on. And you go, well, you know, there’s still a steering wheel in front of you, which gets, ooh, sucking of teeth and the [HEAVY INHALE] yeah, I’m not sure I can do that, you know? So in most cases I think the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

Watch this last of Dr Alice Mauchline’s talks with farmers from across Europe to hear their thoughts on the environmental implications of adopting precision and digital technologies.

Apart from a tendency towards over-reliance on aspects such as GPS controlled steering and the need for good communication and training, the farmers are, in the most part, positive. They highlight the reduced likelihood of mistakes, increased efficiency and the fact that land-knowledge can now be recorded and passed along as some of the key benefits.

Ben talked about the importance of sharing information between farms and working together. Do you have any experience of adopting new technologies in cooperation with other farm businesses? Has this brought benefits? What were the drawbacks? Please share what you’ve learned below.

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Innovation in Arable Farming: Technologies for Sustainable Farming Systems

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