I think all farmers have an enormous opportunity to do something great with the situation they find themselves in. In fact, I think that those running farm businesses today are living in the best time there has ever been to be a farmer.
However, I also think that farming is underachieving. It is underachieving in terms of the progress that it is making year on year, progress with technology adoption, progress with yield, and progress in terms of efficiency. It is also underachieving in terms of its economic output, particularly when considered against the high value of the assets it is using to generate this output and it is underachieving in terms of its efforts to reduce its impact on the environment.
Farming as an industry could do more and individual farms could do more. Farming could create a world where there is an abundance of food which has been produced with minimal negative environmental impacts. It could create a future in which all farm businesses were profitable, growing enterprises which had significant positive influences on rural communities and on society as a whole. It could create a future in which farm businesses were not reliant on subsidy to survive. It could develop a mindset which is entrepreneurial and which proactively creates the change that it wants to see in the world.
How could farming be different? What could we do to maximise the farm? What could we do that would enable us to get more out of our land whilst putting less into it? What does a farm need to look like and how does it need to be managed, in order for it to provide an asset for future generations that is much better than what we have today?
At Small Robot Company, these are the questions that we are working with farmers to answer. If you want to be one of those farmers that helps to shape the future of your industry, you need to get in touch with us today.
I think the future of farming and food production looks much better than the system we are living with today. Primarily, this is because technologies are being developed all the time which make it possible to manage a farm in completely new ways. Technology is going to allow us to be much more accurate with our farm operations than has ever been possible before. It is going to allow us to produce food in a way that has a much smaller environmental impact than has ever been possible before. But it is also going to enable us to move towards a world of automation, where a far greater number of farm tasks are going be able to be automated or delegated through the use of technology. This might sound scary, but what it really does is create a huge amount of freedom for the farmer. Farmers will be able to spend much more of their time focusing on things that truly add value to their businesses, either through a diversification of farm enterprises or by adding value to the things they are already producing.
So much farm work at the moment is spent on operations which are crucial, but which do not truly add value. If you, as the farmer, are spending time driving a tractor up and down a field, you are doing something that needs to be done but it does not necessarily need to be done by you and that is an important distinction. New technologies will enable these operations to be automated or delegated in ways that are far more effective than those that are currently possible.
Robotics and artificial intelligence will be at the forefront of this. The widespread use of these technologies might seem like a crazy sci-fi vision of the future, but of course this is a revolution that farmers have already been through before.
This is one of my favourite images from my family’s farming past. It is a photograph taken in 1914 of a brand new Saunderson tractor, made in Bedford. At the start of the war, our farm had five horses commandeered by the government to help with the war effort. The money from that exchange, around £260.00, was just enough to pay for a new plough and a tractor. We were probably the first farm in Shropshire to have a tractor.
Driving the plough on the left of the picture is my Great Grandfather, Edward Watson Jones, who was the founder of the farming business that we have today. Driving the tractor, and this is the bit that I love, is Edward’s sister Maud, complete in her skirt and hat, who would have been about 20 years old at the time this photo was taken. Maud did not work full time on the farm, but none of the men employed by the farm at that time would go anywhere near this new machine. Perhaps they were even more terrified of the changes that it would bring to farming. These men knew horses, they had worked with them all their lives and they didn’t want anything to do with this crazy new technology that they couldn’t understand.
As the story is told in our family, after a couple of successful passes up and down the field, the tractor got stuck in a wet patch and the horses had to be called out with ropes to pull the tractor free. You can imagine the joyful cries of "It'll never catch on!"
It would take another fifteen to twenty years and the arrival of the Fordson Tractor in the UK for this new technology to become a wholly universal farm tool in this part of the world and for its benefits to be fully realised and as a result the 1930s and subsequently the 1940s were a wonderful time to be a farmer. New technology was creating new possibilities. Suddenly the amount of work that you could complete in a day increased enormously, and therefore the amount of land that could be managed by one business increased enormously too. The amount of labour you needed to complete an operation reduced and therefore, the cost to produce goods from the land reduced too. The barriers to expansion and growth for an individual farm business quickly became much less significant.
This is the technology revolution that tractors enabled and I have not met many farmers that would like to return to a pre-tractor era. We are living on the leading edge of the next great technology revolution that will change farming forever, and that is why today is the best time there has ever been to be a farmer. We like living in a world that includes tractors and I predict that farmers will feel the same about a world that includes the widespread use of robotics and artificial intelligence.
The farmers of the future will be Digital Farmers and we will be far more productive, far kinder to the environment and we will have a far greater array of opportunities to build highly successful businesses than those that came before us.
If you want to find out more about how Small Robot Company can help you to become a Digital Farmer and embrace the changes that technology will enable in your business, please get in touch. You can find out more about what we do at www.smallrobotcompany.com and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to speaking to you soon.