89% of Scottish farmers believe that recruiting tech-competent staff is key to making the UK agriculture industry more globally competitive, according to research conducted by the National Farm Research Unit. The study, commissioned by MacDonald’s UK, also found that over half – 57% – believe that emerging technology will impact their business over the next five years, requiring a new set of digital skills and talent.
When asked which skills they thought would be particularly important to the industry in the next half-a-decade, 82% of farmers said digital and technology skills, 74% said business skills, and a further 63% responded with data analysis and coding. The research also suggested that Scottish farmers were excited by emerging opportunities to harness technology advances in the sector, with 48% saying that they were looking to use, or were already using, satellite mapping. A further 41% said that they already employed precision farming techniques, which use sensors and GPS controlled machinery to monitor and cater to a variety of livestock and crops.
39% told the NFRU that they use big data analytics in their farming practices, and 29% said that they employ remote sensing tech to take real-time measurements on crop growth and weather conditions. A further 39% said that they were enthusiastic about the potential for drone technology, with 28% saying the same for robotics.
Farm manager Andrew Francis, of McDonald’s potato supplier Elveden Farm Estate, commented on the findings, saying:
“We’re using drones and GPS guidance to improve the timing and accuracy when we apply fertiliser to our crops. This increases yields, reduces waste and keeps both our carbon and water footprint at optimal levels for efficient food production.
“Technology skills are increasingly important as more of our monitoring, application machinery and grading equipment is digitally operated. We see the best results when we have people in place who understand technology and how to apply it.”
The research also found that farmers are increasingly looking to other sectors to help bridge the tech skills gap. 64% said that attracting external talent was a top priority, with 14% expecting to increase the number of people recruited from outside the farming sector within the next five years.
The study was the first in a set of findings commissioned by the fast food giant as part of their ongoing Farm Forward Barometer, asking farmers on their views of the challenges and opportunities facing them today. McDonald’s UK supply chain director Connor McVeigh said:
“The farming industry is currently facing some big challenges but it’s encouraging to see that, despite this, farmers are being front-footed in their investment in technology and skills to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of producing great quality produce.
“As one of the biggest customers of British farming, we want to help the industry meet these challenges head on and thrive in future.”