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Pastures new: the super-smart future of farming

02 Jul 2019 09:00

As Barclaycard Commercial Payments and AGCO Parts announce the launch of a new co-branded credit card designed to support farming businesses, we explore the innovations set to transform farming in the coming years

In the UK, last year’s unprecedented weather extremes which included The Beast from the East and the long, hot summer were tough on the nation’s crops. With stress factors including drought, high temperatures, disease and pests, food shortages hit the headlines often last year, with shortfalls pushing prices up everywhere from forage and arable crops to lettuces and carrots. Add changing legislation and food trends into the mix and it’s no wonder that farmers are working harder than ever to feed the growing population.

So far in 2019, rainfall remains below average. As challenges continue to arise and evolve, how can agricultural businesses future-proof their farms? Here we explore the innovations changing the game in the industry, helping businesses stay adaptable and productive, keeping crop yields up and food on British plates.

The smart farm

Farming is going digital. Intended to measure the volume and quantity of food moving through the supply chain, precision farming is replacing labour-intensive manual processes that have evolved over decades, making use of emerging technologies and data analytics to gather insight and boost productivity.

This is just the start. Powered by connectivity, farmers are also employing tech like the Internet of Things, algorithms, robotics, drones and AI to increase the quality and quantity of products while optimising the use of the human workforce. In the field, this means drones to collect data and images, smart greenhouses that intelligently monitor the climate and sensors to regulate everything from soil pH to water levels, light, temperature and humidity. Such technology improves observation and boosts diagnostics, giving farmers the precision to monitor individual plants and the power to make decisions for the entire farm.

Growing business

Agriculture remains a key focus area across Barclays. The latest partnership between Barclaycard Commercial Payments and AGCO Parts, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment and solutions, will provide more support to farmers. The co-branded no-fee credit card gives cardholders the chance to benefit from extended interest-free credit when they make purchases at participating AGCO dealers, enabling farming businesses to invest more resources in growing their supply chains.

Commenting on the partnership, Marc Pettican, CEO for Barclaycard Commercial Payment, said, “We have been supporting farmers for many years and are well placed to understand the unique challenges they face such as seasonal fluctuations and volatile market conditions. Strong cash flow management is therefore crucial and our partnership with AGCO provides support to farmers in managing their day-to-day expenses and also help them to grow and diversify.”

Barclays is also investing in the future of farming; whether it’s creating agricultural apprenticeships for young people, connecting the farming community to the relevant start-ups, or helping a West Country cheddar brand go sustainable with a green biogas plant. Designed around empowering the world’s most sustainable, fast-growing start-ups, the

Barclays Unreasonable Impact programme supports entrepreneurs with the resources, tools and network they need to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, while lowering unemployment and driving economic growth. At the moment, the programme is supporting a farming software company (Agrivi), a company committed to reducing the waste involved in agriculture (Grow Up Farms) and a company repurposing WWII air raid shelters to grow herbs and vegetables (Growing Underground).

Robocrop

The farming industry is constantly evolving. One example is from a Barclays' dairy farming customer, where innovations like fully-automated robotic milking machines and anaerobic digesters are already helping boost business productivity.

Precision farming is another development enabling farmers to monitor livestock remotely, keeping track of the location, wellbeing and health of their cattle. It can also be useful to prevent the spread of disease by identifying unhealthy animals.

Another interesting example, in Hampshire, a small robot is being put to work in her owners’ wheat fields. Decked out with bright orange casing and a smartphone strapped to her back, ‘Rachel’ takes a close-up photo of the soil around her every three seconds, helping her farmers remotely build a forensic picture of their farm. At the moment, she costs around £2,000. In the future, Small Robot Company (the company that makes Rachel) predicts that she and others like her will be involved in every stage of the growing process; mapping, planting, weeding, harvesting and everything in between. Using tiny automated machines in this way could mean the use of fewer chemicals and reduce the need for ploughing; making farming gentler on the soil and environment.

Whatever the future holds, Barclaycard’s co-branded credit card with AGCO Parts is the latest step strengthening the link between Barclays and agriculture, ensuring its continued support for the farming industry as it moves onto pastures new.