“New technologies have a great potential to improve sustainability, but technology alone is not enough,” says Camilla Hayselden-Ashby, Head of Product for fieldmargin, an app which acts as a digital farm map and notebook.
Camilla grew up on her family’s mixed farm in Kent but then worked for many years in the city in marketing as a strategist with a focus on digital and social media for clients across the technology, automotive, travel and FMCG sectors.
She comments that one of the biggest changes to agriculture in recent times is the digitisation of the food system. “The industry has always been data rich, but much of this was collected on scraps of paper or stored in systems that don’t talk to each other. This is rapidly changing with improved tools for capturing and visualising data.
Farming in the blood
“These developments are being facilitated by the millennials; people like myself who are the first generation who have not known a world without computers. There are many of us who have farming in our blood, but wanted to see the world beyond agriculture and are now realising there is an opportunity to use this experience to improve food production.”
For many the rapid changes created by digital technologies, across all areas of agriculture from plant and animal breeding to application of plant protection products, can be a bit of a mystery, so Agri-Tech East has invited a selection of tech savvy farmers, researchers and entrepreneurs to give their vision of One Agriculture at REAP sofa session .
REAP sofa session vision of One Agriculture
- Rosie Begg, Norfolk blackcurrant farmer
- Tom Collison, Consultant, Collison and Associate
- Camilla Hayselden-Ashby, Head of Product, fieldmargin
- Emma Kelcher, Technical Manager, Elveden Farms
- Thomas Pemberton, Pemberton Dairies
- Brian Rigney, Postdoctoral Scientist for the 2Blades Group, The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL)
Camilla continues: “The most important factor for change is the people who will make it happen. I meet farmers who are passionate about their land, care about their animals and want to leave the world a better place for the future. They are ready to farm more sustainably, as soon as the tools are there to do so.
Reducing the risk of adoption
“The biggest obstacle to farmers changing their methods of production is a perceived risk of trying something new without proven results. Whilst farmers are interested in trying new technologies the costs of many of these are still prohibitively high and there is often little or contradictory research about the return on investment of them.
“There is massive potential to demonstrate the benefits of change. Now it’s easier than ever to share data about production systems and results, and we have the tools to analyse it, which is better than expecting farmers to act on faith or limited trials.
“Although agriculture is moving towards being more data-driven, a lot of farming decisions are still made on instinct.
“Being able to analyse and benchmark farming decisions offers great potential to improve decision making; smarter decisions that are better for the planet and the bottom line.
“As an example of this, at fieldmargin we are working on making it easier for farmers to compare crop performance across their farm and the inputs they have used to identify the most successful farming strategies.
“At the moment precision application is limited by the accuracy of the data used to determine rates and the fixed width of the sprayer – most work on a 24m width. This is set to change with the availability of more regularly updated, higher resolution imaging and more precise application technologies.
“Multi-layer analysis will allow more detailed application plans or even on-the-fly decisions using machine vision. Treatments can then be applied with greater accuracy by sprayers or even drones.
“The next step is to develop a deeper understanding of the biological processes that promote crop performance, so that these mechanisms can be leveraged instead of relying on chemical inputs.
Farming as the solution to mitigate climate change
“There is a huge potential for farming to mitigate the climate crisis but we need to act quickly. This comes down to two key things: more efficient utilisation of resources so that we can reduce the pollution caused by agriculture, and developing regenerative methods which can be used to have a positive impact on the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity. For example, through improved knowledge of soil biology farmers will be able to naturally build soil fertility rather than using inorganic fertilisers.
“My hope is that by spreading the message that if we don’t change then we are headed for a climate disaster, the minority who think they can carry on with the status quo will see that their stance isn’t viable.”
Camilla Hayselden-Ashby has a degree in Philosophy and Economics from the London School of Economics and a graduate diploma in Agriculture from the Royal Agricultural University. Before agriculture she worked in marketing as a strategist with a focus on digital and social media clients from technology, automotive, travel and FMCG sectors.
Alongside her work at fieldmargin Camilla works on her family’s mixed farm in Kent.
More information about REAP 6 November 2019, Newmarket