Can Britain’s Farmers Save the Planet? How Science and Technology is Transforming UK Agriculture
The UK’s agricultural sector is essential for the nation’s food security, but traditional ways of working contribute to carbon emissions and impact on biodiversity. A recent parliamentary reception, hosted by UPL, heard how the nation’s farmers are embracing new technologies that can transform British farming into one of the most progressive, resilient, and sustainable examples in the world today.
“Can Britain’s farmers save the planet?”
This was the provocative question at the heart of a recent Parliamentary reception organised by UPL, a global provider of sustainable agriculture solutions, to allow parliamentarians to hear first-hand how science and technology are helping ensure increased productivity, food security, and improved sustainability across the UK agricultural sector.
Host Baroness Royall of Blaisdon opened the event by emphasising the critical importance of international collaboration in building resilience and sustainability in farming.
Reflecting on the partnership UPL maintains with the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD) “The future of food and finding a sustainable way to feed the people on our planet is vital,” she said. “Bringing together a company born in India along with British research shows leadership and can help find a way forward for both of our countries and beyond.”
The statistics support Baroness Royall’s view that the challenges faced by the sector are considerable. DEFRA’s latest Agri Climate Report details how UK agriculture currently accounts for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions, 68% of nitrous oxide emissions, and almost half of total methane emissions.
But, at the same time, the national importance of UK farming has seldom been higher. The increasing significance attached to international food security has turned the spotlight on the vital role that UK agriculture plays in filling the nation’s shopping baskets, with about 54% of food on our plates grown and produced in the UK.
Mike Frank, CEO of UPL Corporation Ltd., told the reception that it is critical that businesses like his support the development of new approaches that can drive up productivity from UK farms while also protecting the planet.
“What is important to us is transforming agriculture to make it more sustainable and placing farmers at the centre of this effort.” he explained. “At UPL we believe that sustainability and productivity in farming aren’t mutually exclusive – and we are confident that agriculture is one of the only global industries with the potential to reshape our relationship with the natural world. From climate-smart seeds to biosolutions which conserve water and promote carbon sequestration, we’re seeing farmers increasingly embrace technologies and solutions that are delivering shared benefits for their yields, livelihoods, and planet health. .”
As an Indian multinational recently opening its headquarters in the UK, UPL is one of a number of businesses building on the strong historic, social, cultural, and economic ties that exist between the two nations. The business has maintained a presence in the UK since 1994, and recently opened a state-of-the-art research farm at Shray Hill near Telford to develop new techniques suitable for the UK farming environment.
And parliamentarians didn’t just get to hear about the innovation underway at Shray Hill. Using Virtual Reality headsets, MPs and peers took the opportunity to take a virtual tour of the facility also. This allowed them to see for themselves the new biological and technological solutions that are being developed and tested in a real-world environment to support UK farmers.
One area that they were introduced to included the way that aerial inspections are changing the way that farmers survey their crops.
“Globally, the UK is on the leading edge when it comes to farmers using drones to become more efficient,” Frank said. “This is all about applying technology where it is needed in the field to make the most impact. This is one of the ways we can make agriculture more sustainable.”
As well as new technology like drones, Frank believes that one of the key advances that can help farming become more environmentally sustainable is the growth of biological treatments to replace synthetic products.
“This is where the future of agriculture is,” Frank explained, referring to the development of new biosolutions to treat crops. “Biosolutions make the plants healthier, allow farmers to use less fertilizer, and ultimately control the pests that have an impact on the crops’ yield. We are focused on increasing adoption of biosolutions, and ultimately fostering more resilient farmers.”
Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Minister for Food, Farming, and Agriculture, shares Frank’s view that science is absolutely key to shaping a productive and sustainable future farming sector.
“My view is unashamedly pro-science and pro-innovation,” he said. “It is really important if we are going to tackle our global challenges that we find the best ways through science to deal with some of the very real issues that we face.”
Zeichner praised UPL’s work in bringing science and farming together, warning that a failure to innovate will have consequences for the nation as a whole,
“If you can’t grow food, you can’t feed the population,” he states. “So, we are looking to scientists to help us with this. The work that you and your people are doing is very welcome. I look forward to working with you constructively for years ahead.”
Frank believes that a close working relationship with farmers is vital if we are to create a truly modern agricultural sector. That relationship can only be built on a foundation of trust and cooperation, and an awareness from policymakers about the barriers that farmers face in implementing new approaches.
“Farmers need to be rewarded to convince them to change their practices,” Frank told attendees. “If we are asking farmers to take risks or try new practices to become more sustainable, then I believe it is very reasonable that as a society we reward them along the way.”
Zeichner agreed that farmers must be central to the solution but acknowledged that unlocking their potential requires support from both government and industry.
“The question you’ve asked is ‘can farmers save the world?’” he said. “The answer I would give is, ‘I hope so, but with others.’ I talk to farmers a lot. They say, ‘look, we’ll do what we can, but you have got to give us the tools to do it.’”
Ultimately, it is research-driven companies like UPL, that will produce those tools through the application of science to agriculture. If they succeed, then the UK can look forward to having the most productive, sustainable, and technologically advanced farming sector on the planet.
And it seems that, through a combination of science, collaboration, and expertise, Britain’s farmers might just save the planet after all.
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