AgriTech and Industry 4.0
This Thursday saw the announcement of the Maserati List 2019, In partnership with the Sunday Times. It listed 100 of the UK’s most innovative entrepreneurs, whose ideas have positively impacted society or the environment.
It comes as no surprise to us that Innovate UK managed no less than 11 inclusions on the list and, as you might expect, the concept of AgriTech was certainly represented. Saturn Biponics were celebrated for developing a prototype and commercial model of its Saturn Grower, a vertical crop growing hydroponic system.
The emergence of the vertical farm has long been known, but the ability of UK companies to adopt and develop the new technology and methodology has been astounding. The James Hutton Institute in Dundee now houses the most-advanced vertical farm in the world and will be speaking about just that at our conference in June. Aside from the technicalities of operating a state-of-the art vertical farm, Derek Stewart, the AgriFood Lead of the Institute, will be exploring the implications of this groundbreaking technology and its impact on the wider industry.
AI & Robotics
Two vital components of vertical farming are AI and robotics. The former will be discussed further by a number of experts that has implemented AI technologies to make sure farms are more efficient and far more productive. There is however the labour implications of a technology that can think for itself. Unlike previous revolutionary hardware, AI has the ability to not only replace manual jobs but also jobs that were previously thought to be solely performed by a human. In layman’s terms, the trepidation around AI is due to it performing ‘thinking jobs’ as well as ‘doing jobs’.
Robotics, on the other hand, is ploughing full-steam ahead – sometimes literally! The Small Robot Company are a great example of how automation is invigorating the sector and making huge strides in a relatively short amount of time. Like their Great Escape namesakes, the three robots Tom, Dick and Harry have made impressive tracks in their goal of making more efficient and resourceful farming practices. Their journey is one well worth hearing and will be discussed, at length at the Agriculture Conference.
Interestingly, the two technologies look to be intertwined. A technology that can build on automation, actively learn and improve the specific practices of a practice with such broad and multiple variables is surely something that appeals to all farmers.
There is, however, the nagging feeling that persists when writing evangelically about amazing and revolutionary technologies: what will the impact be on the human element of the agriculture industry? Just like brands such as Spotify, Facebook and Netflix: do these technologies look to inadvertently harm the people involved in a traditional sector with entrenched processes and obligation? Or, do they painfully point out a sector that is reluctant to ‘get with the times’? It’s safe to say that the creation and continued support of an organisation such as Innovate UK is a clear and present sign that AgriTech is being closely monitored and responsibly implemented. Calum Murray, Innovate UK’s Head of Agriculture and Food, will be leading us through how new technologies are being encouraged, whilst those in agriculture are being shepherded into Industry 4.0, with little upheaval.
AgriTech certainly poses the most exciting progression of the sector in recent history and ensuring that it is utilised sustainably and with the rapidity required in the tech industry will be essential. We cannot wait to explore it more in its dedicated stream at the Agriculture Conference and we hope to see you there too: agriconference.co.uk