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The government has said it will invest £90m to bring together artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and earth observation to improve supply chain resilience in the agri-food sector.
The funding is intended to make it easier for food and agri-businesses to embrace technology and innovation.
The government regards these as critical to meeting the increasing food demands of a growing population, fuel rural growth and create highly skilled jobs.
Speaking at the National Farmers Union conference, business secretary Greg Clark described agriculture as “one of the most innovative industries” in the UK and called on other industries to look at technological innovation coming out of the farming sector.
Clark said food and farming were at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which focuses on four key themes: artificial intelligence, future of mobility, clean growth and an ageing society.
In his speech to the NFU, Clark said: “Intelligent algorithms using data on atmospheric conditions and soil moisture have the real potential to dramatically reduce, for example, the water needed for agriculture. [Defra secretary] Michael Gove and I have agreed that agricultural technology will be one of the priority sectors for the new Office of Artificial Intelligence announced in our Industrial Strategy.”
Discussing the Industrial Strategy’s future of mobility challenge, Clark said: “We know right around the world the way we are transporting ourselves, the way vehicles are powered and how we are connecting ourselves is changing, and we want to make Britain the go-to place in the world for the development of new autonomous vehicles. I am determined this won’t just be the vehicles you see on our road, and that agriculture will be a big part of that.
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“Through the Hands-Free Hectare project, Harper Adams University and York-based company Precision Decisions are planting, tending and harvesting crops using only autonomous vehicles and drones. This project was funded through Innovate UK and was the first in the world to farm a crop in this way.”
Ordnance Survey is another organisation that Clark highlighted for its pioneering use of data in farming. He said Ordnance Survey has used its satellites to map 232,342 miles of England’s farmland hedges, creating a new digital dataset. It has also used planes equipped with state-of-the-art digital cameras to record thousands of individual photos that can map out farms and entire green landscapes.