The circular economy provides an alternative to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, and offers an opportunity in agriculture to extract greater value from byproducts, Alex Dinsdale, Regional Growth Manager for Agri-TechE explains how members are adopting this strategy ahead of the launch of a video ‘Innovation Insights in a circular economy’.
Reusing resources, closed-loop systems, byproducts and co-products – may still be novel concepts to some but the circular economy is becoming increasingly mainstream and represents an evolution of the ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ message we grew up with as children. For those involved in agriculture there are already close alignments – organic farms, for example, often employ a ‘closed loop system’ where non-food products are used for energy generation or soil improvement.
At Agri-TechE we’ve been exploring what the circular economy means for our members. What are the implications for food production? Does it provide an alternative source of revenue? What technologies are required?
There are obvious benefits to adopting a circular economy approach to food and farming.
Resource extraction and utilisation on-farm can and does generate negative environmental impacts. But by adapting systems in line with the circular approach, input resource use and costs, waste, and associated climate impacts are reduced while natural capital and biodiversity can both improve.
Food waste presents an opportunity for the whole food chain to improve its performance and reduce losses
According to Cranfield University’s Horticultural Quality and Food Loss Network, over one third of food produced across the whole food chain is wasted; with 51% of this waste occurring before it reaches the consumer.
Much of this spoiled food is as a result of crop physiology itself, as well as damage by pests and disease. By undertaking research into crop biology, genetics, food spoilage, food storage and shelf life, the network aims to overcome these issues and reduce loss in the food value chain.
Restoring soil fertility and health can reduce the need for synthetic inputs and help to reduce resource loss from the system
Morley Agricultural Foundation, takes soil health very seriously. David Jones, Morley’s farm manager, makes good use of farmyard manure – a co-product of meat production from a neighbouring livestock farm – to improve the soil structure and as a source of crop nutrients.
Manure can be a pollutant if nitrates are allowed to enter water courses. So the manure is stored on a concrete pad in a roofed barn to protect it from rain and applied to the fields in late summer, providing ‘slow release’ nutrients to the following crop and reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers.
Improved targeting of agrochemicals
Combining drone, artificial intelligence and remote sensing technology provides an opportunity to improve targeting of, and reduce the need for, inputs such as herbicides and nitrogen fertiliser.
Pix4D’s Fields software, for example, analyses field data captured using drones. This data, provided by converting aerial images into insightful maps, gives users the tools for faster and better decision-making, for things such as variable rate application of inputs and crop scouting to identify disease risk at an early stage.
By selectively applying inputs in this way – where they’re needed – less is used, and that which is applied is used more efficiently.
The video will include:
These and other businesses, all members of Agri-TechE, will be demonstrating how they are a part of the circular economy in agriculture in our short film on Innovation Insights in Circular Agriculture, which will be shown on 8th July with interactive session at 14.00 – more information.