Investing in a network of connections is the way that G’s is accessing science, explains James Green, the Group Director of Agriculture.
James is chairing the Emerging Agri-Tech session at REAP 2023, when he will be having a series of short chats with some of the UK’s leading agricultural researchers.
Science relevant to G’s
James explains the importance of science to his farming business: “The connections we seek out are those that broadly fit with what we are trying to achieve on-farm – such as regenerative agriculture, improving the soil microbiome, smart water management, better crop prediction, automation – but we also want to keep an open mind, because we are looking for fresh thinking and you don’t know what will come from left field that may be useful and perhaps disruptive.
“Not every meeting will lead somewhere, but someone from outside the business will have different perspectives that are of interest.”
Importance of the innovation ecosystem
James continues: “We keep in touch with the academic community, talk to consultants and other businesses, and participate in networking organisations like Agri-TechE and grower association R&D panels.”
It was at an Agri-TechE meeting that G’s met Microsoft – and this developed into a project that now enables an accurate forecast of when a crop of iceberg lettuces is ready to harvest and signal the potential opportunity for interventions to speed up maturity if required. This led onto the use of ‘eye in the sky’ technology first to count the heads, and this year to plant-by-plant nutrition to increase consistency in the crop, thereby saving resources and improving quality.
James continues, “It is particularly important for G’s to network and share resources, because the type of equipment we need is specialised. Not many organisations need a harvester designed to pick Romaine lettuces, so we need to look internationally and work with other partners to spread the costs of innovation.”
Accessing science through dialogue
In-house, G’s has dedicated teams focussed on agronomy R&D, digital ag and data science. It has a future farming team spearheading its move into regenerative agriculture, that is actively talking to experts researching ways to improve soil health.
James continues: “As we move to low input regen farming then the crop varieties, we are using haven’t been bred for that. However, it could be that there is genetic material out there that has been bypassed, and that would be well-suited to exploiting a more natural soil environment. We are starting to have these types of conversations with seed breeders and academics, who are exploring the potential of self-fertilising crops.”
“Our mantra is to produce more with less – less fuel, less fertiliser, fewer chemicals, less water – even to the extent of using no artificial fertilisers or no chemicals, which is really where we’d like to be in a few years’ time.
“We think that’s feasible, although we don’t yet know exactly how in all areas, which is where the science comes in.
Emerging Agri-Tech Session at REAP 2023
At REAP 2023 James will be asking the ‘so what?’ question to which farmers in the room would want to know the answer, to scientists including:
- Dr Richard Green Harper Adams University: Grasslands
- Dr Jolanda van Munster SRUC: Livestock
- Dr Ewan Gage Cranfield University: Vegetable Nutrition
- Dr Jacqueline Stroud University of Warwick: Soil
- Jonathan Ashworth Earlham Institute: Biodiversity
- Dr Myriam Charpentier John Innes Centre: Crop Traits
- Dr David Withall Rothamsted Research: Insects
- Dr Ali Kafash Hoshiar University of Essex: Soft Robotics
“I am really looking forward to chairing this session at REAP and hearing about what is coming over the horizon,” he concludes.
Wednesday 8th November, 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket
Surviving and thriving under increasingly extreme and unpredictable challenges is the theme of the 2023 REAP conference. To build a productive, profitable and sustainable agri-food industry, we must move away from the comfort zone and become open to the new opportunities that exist when we ‘stretch’. Be a part of that future – bring yourself and your ideas to REAP.