Connecting beef farmers to the latest technology
On-farm tech has a huge role to play in sustainable beef farming, sustainable beef processing and increases in industry productivity – but uptake by farmers remains low. An innovative peer-to-peer network championed by ABP is changing that.
With the EU and the UK wanting to be climate-neutral by 2050, the pressure is on for every industry to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, cut waste and become as efficient as possible.
One of the biggest opportunities to improve the environmental impact of the food we produce and eat is through greater use of technology on farms, but uptake by farmers has so far been patchy. That’s a big missed opportunity, not only for the environment but also for farmers. After all, by improving productivity, technology can help farming businesses produce more environmentally sustainable meat and increase profitability too.
That’s why ABP has teamed up with partners including the University of Reading and machinery maker John Deere to investigate what barriers stand in the way of farmers using technology – and what can be done to help more farmers embrace innovation. Called Focus on Farmers, the project is part of ABP’s work with EIT Food, a pan-European consortium that is finding solutions to today’s most pressing food challenges.
Listening to hundreds of beef, dairy and arable farmers in the UK, Italy and Germany, the project partners quickly discovered one major barrier. Farmers are bombarded with information on technology, but much of it is generic and doesn’t reflect the specific needs and circumstances of individual farms. This makes it hard to see exactly how new tech might be beneficial and invest with confidence.
To help farmers cut through the noise, ABP and its partners created a network of technology ambassadors to provide personalised information on how technology can be used to improve on-farm productivity.
Initially, these ambassadors were graduates from leading agri-tech courses who worked with farmers on a one-on-one basis. More recently, the focus has shifted to a peer-to-peer model, with tech-savvy farmers being trained to guide and support their peers as they try out new technology.
Support typically takes the form of on-farm demonstrations and tours as well as interactive seminars. In light of coronavirus, virtual alternatives have been developed to ensure farmers can stay connected and keep learning under all circumstances.
The common thread throughout is a focus on practical knowledge and hands-on skills. Farmers aren’t just given information about technology; they’re given an opportunity to see it in action, try it out for themselves and get trusted advice from their peers on the potential benefits and drawbacks.
As a result of the project, more than 2,000 UK beef farmers have already benefited from targeted advice on topics such as pasture and manure management, food rations, electronic identification (EID) tagging and the weighing of cattle.
Feedback from farmers has been positive and a growing number are looking to connect with technology ambassadors, so ABP is now working on scaling up the network and creating a lasting learning legacy for sustainable beef production within the sector. It’s recruiting more farmer ambassadors and considering creating beef improvement groups dedicated to topics such as genetics, nutrition and meat quality.
Above all, the project has highlighted an important truth: farmers are best placed to help other farmers unlock the benefits of technology on farm. As public scrutiny on the meat industry grows and the beef sector races to meet the 2050 target for net zero emissions, peer-to-peer networks like ABP’s will be critical in futureproofing farmers’ businesses and securing the future sustainability of the beef industry.