How tomorrow’s technology can aid Arran farmers today
Around 30 farmers gathered in Kilmory hall to discuss the future of farming and the latest technological developments that can help them remain competitive and viable in the modern age. The hi-tech talks were organised by technology consultant Andrew Stirling of Larkhill Consultancy.
Speakers included representatives from Strathclyde University who discussed advances in dairy herd monitoring using smart collars. There was also an interesting talk from CENSIS, a special institute which supports advanced sensing technology development as well as by Broadway Partners, the company behind Arran Broadband. Here is Mr Stirling’s report:
Farming stands at a crossroads. It needs to answer questions about how the growing world population can be fed, how the environment can be protected and how it can remain viable as a rural business.
Farmers need to embrace advances in science, adapt to changing market requirements and help sustain the rural society and culture of which they are part-custodians. The extent to which they adopt new data-driven approaches to business is likely to affect their future viability as well as the communities that depend on them. At the same time, farmers must preserve the trust in the quality of their products and safety of their processes, resisting the temptation to sacrifice standards by a narrow focus on lower operating costs.
Digital technology has helped power a new generation of small independent food producers, shops and cafes. The artisan experience offers a personal touch with excellent presentation and fulsome taste which consumers are increasingly prepared to pay a premium for.
Arran’s scenic setting, colourful history and focus on growing tourism would appear to give its farmers a headstart along this road.
The island is a good example of a rural area with a long-established farming tradition supporting a number of communities and hosts a wide range of farm types. The varied nature of the terrain poses practical challenges to farming, limiting the efficiencies that can be achieved – especially in arable production. At the same time, the island is benefiting from growth in tourism, which appears to offer excellent scope for business diversification and direct marketing of food products to consumers.
The Future of Farming event attracted a strong showing of Arran farmers, to hear industry and academic experts paint a picture of how more effective techniques for gathering and analysing data are revolutionising the farming and food production industry. The speakers also looked at improvements in connectivity and digital skills, as foundations for future farming success.
The event had been organised under an initiative called the Digital Blacksmith, aimed at applying digital technology to local business and service needs – and fostering local development of digital skills.
The core of the presentations were concerned with how data can now be gathered more intensely and analysed to help farmers get the most out of their land and livestock.
Highlights included wearables for animals, robot milking parlours and multi-skilled drones – enabling farm staff to improve efficiency and spot problems before they become serious for the animals’ health and expensive to rectify.
Our farmer audience engaged the experts with detailed questions on costs, reliability and practicalities of the new digital tools, particularly for the smaller farms which are prevalent on Arran, and many other parts of Scotland.
Farmers suggested features, such as potential alternative forms of animal tagging, that would be kinder to animals and improve safety.
The recent announcement that Arran’s iconic Torylinn Creamery is up for sale has raised questions about the potential for increased future cooperation between creamery with the farms that supply it with milk. With growth in Arran’s tourism and strong Scottish government interest in securing a future for the creamery and supporting local farms, there’s an opportunity to look at how innovation could yield a sustainable future for the creamery.
The technology in its current stage is not cheap and tends to appeal more to owners of larger farms, who have more budget and staff flexibility to evaluate the benefits. However, as with previous generations of farm technology, there’s an opportunity for smaller units to co-operate – acting effectively as a larger virtual farm.
Digital technologies have much to offer towards integration of food production, distribution and marketing – as Graham’s Dairies have so expertly demonstrated.
In summary, Arran’s farmers seem interested to be open to learning more about the options that new farming technology could open for them. It seems that there’s plenty of scope for applying new digital technologies to enhance farming in this beautiful, tranquil and rugged setting.
Farmers share a laugh at the Kilmory event dealing with technology and agriculture.