AGRI-TECH HAS the potential to make UK farms more profitable – but political uncertainty is delaying investment in new technology.

The world of agri-tech is fast-developing, from robotic pickers to fitness trackers for cows, and could be the key to boosting on-farm profitability, whilst delivering environmental benefits such as improving soil health.

However, a new report compiled by NFU Mutual has found that only 4% of farmers had already invested in autonomous tractors, while only 12% were planning to invest or were yet to decide.

NFU Mutual has warned that the industry is holding back from investing in its future as farmers ride out the wave of political uncertainty, not knowing what shape future government support will take.

The report is part of the rural insurer’s initiative to support farmers to successfully introduce new technology involving training courses, podcasts and joint research projects in addition to developing new insurance and risk management services.

NFU Mutual business analyst Fang Wang commented on the implications of agri-tech for farmers and global agriculture: “Across the world new agri-technology is set to make a major impact on farm profitability and even world prices. In the UK, adoption of new technology is currently slow because of uncertainty over agricultural policy and support, lack of understanding, shortage of capital and concerns about the reliability of first-generation technology.”

Ms Wang continued: “While entirely understandable, this hesitancy is putting UK farmers at risk of falling behind other nations in the race for efficient, environmentally-friendly food production.”

The report offers tips for farmers planning to invest in agri-tech and suggested that farmers must start by reviewing their farm’s strategy and then identifying how technology and using detailed data could help achieve their goals. Other recommendations include exploring technology systems that integrate the farm's activities with its supply chain to create opportunities for farmers, food processors and retailers to work together. This collaborative approach is also suggested to be extended to working with other farms in help achieve economies of scale both in the use of new technology and the adoption of a farmer-friendly supply chain.

NFU Mutual director and Worcestershire fruit and hop grower, Ali Capper, firmly believes that agri-tech can enable the UK to compete in world markets, while maintaining its high health and welfare standards. “The fourth agricultural revolution is bringing exciting opportunities for farmers to increase productivity, protect the environment and make farming safer.

“From the use of ‘Big Data’ to inform management decisions to autonomous tractors and robotic pickers, we are on the cusp of a world where farmers and growers can minutely manage inputs to maximise production and use automation and robotics to reduce labour numbers and costs,” he explained.

Young farmers are considered more likely to accept and promote change – however Cirencester student Gregor Belcher explained that control over an existing farm's finances or access to funding for a new farm business was one of the greatest challenges.

The NFU Mutual report, along with a series of videos and podcasts produced to help farmers considering investing in agri-tech, is now available to download on their website at:-