Farming is an industry that moves with the times. Whether it’s GPS and computers in our tractor cabs or robotic milking machines in our dairies, advancements in technology are embraced by agriculture just as they would be in any other industry. Similarly, the realities of economies of scale ultimately mean that the average farm size continues to edge upwards, whether that’s in the acres farmed or the numbers of livestock kept on farms. Sometimes such facts and figures are touted as an example of the intensification of farming.
The reality is that adopting new technology actually means more efficient use of our inputs. For example, those GPS and computer systems help us to target fertilisers to where they’re most needed. They help us map yields and understand crop performance; and they help minimise soil impaction by ensuring that tractors follow the same paths in fields.
On dairy farms across the country, those robotic milkers actually allow the cows to choose when they want to be milked. The associated data recording and analysis is also paying dividends, whether it’s managing diets or identifying health problems early. And, of course, a degree of scale supports specialisation and uptake of new technology.
Official statistics certainly bear this out. We’re using 19% fewer inputs than we were in the mid-1980s and our productivity has increased by 20% as a result. This is all good news from an environmental perspective too.
Over the last 25 years, farming has recorded a 20% drop in greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve made improvements in our nutrient management which means that we use less fertiliser as an industry.
No sector is without its own share of policy. Farming probably has more than its fair share but despite this we’ve seen the emergence of voluntary schemes. For example, 450,000 hectares were managed under a variety of unpaid environmental measures under the Campaign for the Farmed Environment in 2014.
Collectively, this means that when it comes to the environment, farmers don’t just have a good story to tell, but they have the statistics to back them up.