How to­mor­row’s tech­nol­ogy can aid Ar­ran farm­ers to­day

The Arran Banner - - News -

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.

Rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing

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.

Op­por­tu­nity

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.

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