How Agri-Tech and IoT is transforming the Agriculture sector

By BizClik Admin
Emma Lewis from Myriad Associates discusses what impacts IoT and Agri-Tech is having on UK farming

There are an estimated 104,000 farmers in the UK as of 2021, and all of them are in a constant battle to survive.

Internet of Things and AI technologies mean less waste, allowing much more effective livestock rearing and crop cultivation across the world. It’s about helping farmers produce more with less, meeting the ever-increasing demands of a hungry population.

What is Agri-Tech?

Agri-Tech refers to any technology that assists in meeting farming, food production, agriculture and food distribution challenges.

As the years go by, the pressure on farmers has increased. Demand for food products is always high, but costs are also soaring and resources are stretched. There’s also much more public interest in issues like environmentally-friendly food production practices and sustainable sourcing, meaning that some agriculture businesses have had to quickly adjust.

Agri-Tech however means farmers and food producers can do more with less. It allows them to improve time and cost efficiency, boosting productivity through data and technological input.

Agri-Tech and R&D

The amount of research and development (R&D) into IoT and Agri-Tech is huge - and potentially very expensive. But the good news is that UK Agri-Tech businesses can offset as much as 33.35% of eligible innovation costs, thanks to the R&D Tax Credits scheme. As long as a technological or scientific uncertainty was addressed, then an award is almost sure to follow.

It’s a lucrative tax relief that means all UK companies (not just those in agriculture) can claim a sizeable rebate on their Corporation Tax. Loss-making companies can even benefit too with a cash credit, and the scope of qualifying projects and costs is purposefully wide. It’s something no company will want to miss out on, especially with current R&D tax relief claims averaging £55,000.

"Agriculture is one of those sectors where R&D is constantly occurring”, said Barrie Dowsett, CEO of R&D tax consultancy Myriad Associates. “As resources are squeezed, R&D tax relief becomes even more of a lifeline."


What challenges can Agri-Tech solve in farming?

  • The fact is that agriculture is a hotbed for R&D. The potential is huge, but R&D expenditure is very often targeted at areas including:
  • Limited resources and increasing pressure on natural resources
  • Feeding a constantly growing global population
  • Silage and grain storage
  • Cutting energy use
  • Resilience around environmental threats such as natural disasters, inclement weather and diseases
  • Dealing with waste from harvesting

The big deal about Big Data

Big Data refers to vast data sets that can be digitally analysed to reveal associations, patterns and trends. With its limitless uses, agriculture is one sector that’s benefitting massively from the Big Data boom.

Access to Big Data paves the way for maximum output at minimum cost. It means farmers and land managers can work more productively whilst minimising environmental impact.

Big Data can be gathered from a range of sources in extremely large quantities. It is then collated and processed using advanced analytical programs and software, making it accessible to farming businesses across the globe. Such data then allows business decisions to be made more strategically, dramatically improving business performance through constant monitoring and analysis. These decisions could be around where to plant crops for maximum yield and quality for example.

However, the real power of Big Data lies in how it can bring together masses of information about multiple farms at once. Individuals can upload their data to share with other local or regional farmers throughout the UK, or even across the world. Real-time collection and analysis of this data can easily be the key to dramatically increasing productivity almost instantly.

Monitoring

Imagine trying to monitor thousands of acres of fields containing a range of different crops in different sites, all at the same time. This is where Big Data comes in.

Everything from drainage and water management to soil quality to how much fertiliser is left in a tank can be closely scrutinised - without needing to complete the work manually.

Agribots

Robots or “agribots” have been used for some time in fertilising, watering and harvesting crops. Technologists are now pushing the limits of these robots to undertake various agricultural tasks simultaneously.

The wider uses for agribots are growing by the day. Unlike humans, agribots can not only work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day but they can also harvest crops incredibly quickly. This reduces the risk of crops rotting in the field, increasing yield and revenue. Manual labour requirements are also slashed, meaning fewer people are needed.

Drones

Crop disease and weed growth are a farmer’s worst nightmare. But help is at hand in the (perhaps surprising) form of drones.

The beauty of drones is they can survey vast areas of space very swiftly. The images they send back can then be analysed, allowing farmers to spot dead patches of land that are otherwise becoming unproductive. More effective, accurate strategies can then be formed around crop spraying for instance, halting the spread of any disease before it takes hold. Again, this can drastically improve yield whilst reducing costs.

In a nutshell

The issues faced by the agriculture industry are many and varied. Climate change, Brexit, population growth and a battered post-Covid economy only make the challenges more complex. But advances in technology are giving farmers a fighting chance. Indeed, innovative R&D across the Agri-Tech sector offers a much needed a ray of hope for mankind.

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