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“You need to know what the future will look like” – regenerative farmer Tom Pearson speaks at REAP

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Farmer Tom Pearson is transitioning his farm to regenerative agriculture. Here he talks about the benefits of participating at REAP.

I took advantage of the bursary last year and found REAP really interesting. You can’t go to REAP and say “I like that, I’ll go to the website and buy it” but it makes sense, from a business point of view, to understand what the world might look like in ten years’ time, so that you can purchase the right kit and hire the right people.

REAP gives insights into direction of travel 

Last year we bought a combine – it was a major decision, a big amount of money, but I’m expecting to have that combine for 10 years plus, so these are long term decisions. Grain storage is another example – do I want a big 1,000 tonne grain store, or do I want lots of 100 tonne silos for specialist crops? You have to watch the market, the direction of travel – and technology is a big part of that.
I might need to buy a sprayer soon because ours is packing up, but because I know a bit about technology in the pipeline, I have realised that in five years’ time, I am likely to be using a sprayer far less; so I might be more inclined to look at a good value second hand sprayer rather than a new one.

I want to be ready for investment in natural capital 

It’s the same with carbon. If someone comes along and says: “We’d like to do a big collaborative natural capital project; where is your base-line data? How can we prove its money well spent?” I want to be ready by understanding the technology associated with that: how to measure carbon, understanding the depths for sampling, using GPS positioning to get the same geopositional reading. It is important to be keeping an eye on the future, and technology is obviously going to be a big part of that.
It is incredibly helpful, if you’ve got the time, to attend a conference like REAP and get a feel for what’s going on, some things might work for you now and others give an idea of where things are going.

Opportunity to provide input to get the tech right

The nice thing about being part of Agri-TechE is that you can see these tech guys are putting in a lot of effort, however it’s impossible to create these products without some input from farmers.
I’m from a science background myself and I understand how difficult it is to evidence a product and get it to market, so I’m happy to help out. I don’t want to be faced with a bunch of poorly designed products down the line when I know I’ve had the opportunity to provide that input.
Farmers have a lot on their plates and a lot to do, so it’s easy to think: “I haven’t got time for this, it’s too far down the line”. But I’ve still got the energy and enthusiasm for this so I’m keen to learn what technologies are out there.

Balancing agri-tech with regenerative agriculture

Tom Pearson is one of the farming leaders of the H3 project (Healthy soils, Healthy plants, Healthy people), which is comparing regenerative agriculture to traditional farming and looking at biodiversity, soil quality and food quality. He says: “Measuring each of these elements is becoming possible. There has been a lack of clarity over the future, but the wait is coming to an end. Interest in carbon sequestration, for example, is gaining momentum. We want to establish baseline data now, to be ahead of the curve when someone comes along asking to do a big collaborative natural capital project.”
He is also part of the farmer advisory group for the Small Robot Company, which launched in the REAP Start-up Showcase and has since gained funding and widespread industry support. The company is one of many that have benefited from the Agri-techE ecosystem and will take part in the exhibition in this years’ virtual REAP conference.
“In a nutshell: REAP is fantastic. It’s a lovely, friendly conference, with really enthusiastic people. It’s ag tech, it’s still on the fringes of what farmers do in our day-to-day lives, but it is another interesting aspect of my daily activities. I enjoy it from all those points of view.

Farmer? Grower? Student? Click here to apply for the REAP 2023 Farmer Bursary sponsored by RNAA

REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups. 

Clock-wise

Agri-TechE Blog
Agri-TechE

October marks the onset of winter in the UK, with the clocks moving back by an hour and heralding later sunrises, earlier sunsets, and colder temperatures.
For some this marks a depressing demarcation to the end of summer, but this shift in day length and temperature is a vital cue for plants and animals to move into the next stage of their life cycle. Many animals begin hibernation as the days shorten, trees and other plants shed leaves and appear to die back, where they will spend the winter drawing on the precious reserves built up over the summer. Seasonal migrants arrive and depart, next year’s cereals are in the ground, and sugar beet is harvested.
Farming has, of course, always been closely aligned to the timing of Nature and the passing of seasons. Winter wheat, for example, is drilled in the autumn and requires a prolonged period of cold in order to trigger flowering in the spring – this is due to a genetic process (identified at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK). But climate change is causing disruption of the seasons – as discovered by phenology studies of these recurring biological events. Historic farm records from the late 19th Century, for example, show that the growing season in parts of England was around 244 days, yet by 2015 it had reached 280 days. This is likely to be linked to increase in UK temperatures since the 1960s of an estimated 1°C.
But as well as seasonal changes, living things respond to a day/night cycle as well. So it is also possible to tap into this internal ticking “clock” in plants and animals to help with productivity, efficiency and welfare.
The frequency of egg-laying by poultry, for example, is heavily influenced by the light regime, and similarly the performance of many crop plants in controlled environment conditions is closely regulated to prevent “bolting” and to ensure consistency of production.
A more intricate understanding of how the daily clock ticks is revealing new insights into better ways of managing agricultural systems. For a start, there are some indications that application of inputs on broadacre arable crops is more effective at particular times in the day-night cycle (we’ll be hearing more about this at REAP 2021).
Understanding the minute changes that take place within individual plants throughout the day and night can help with better understanding of when crops might be more responsive to management regimes, and to help build resilience. Breeding programmes which incorporate the genes which control the daily – or “circadian” clocks might be enable production of plants which perform better in different climates and – as have greater resilience to climate change.
The UK is hosting the global COP26 conference in Glasgow in November, where hopes for commitments to halve emissions by 2030, and to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C. Nature is responding to the pressures it is under – in some cases it is providing opportunities for new agriculture in fresh ways and in new locations. In others it is resulting in serious irreversible challenges.
Join us at REAP 2021 to discuss the impact of time – hourly, daily and seasonally – on agriculture and how this can help with mitigation of the impact of climate change.

REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture10th November 2021

Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.
REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups.