A growing world population means demands on farmers to produce secure, sustainable supplies of food are greater than ever before.
But while there will be an estimated 1.2bn extra mouths to feed by 2050, increasing pressure on land-use and concerns about the environmental impact of food production means simply producing more isn’t a solution.
Combine these issues with global market volatility and rising input costs, and it means that maintaining profitable, sustainable farm businesses is an ever-bigger challenge for producers everywhere.
The key for many farmers is to find ways to maximise efficiencies and reduce costs, which is where new technology – and the software to translate the data they collect – are playing a pivotal role.
Precision agriculture tools collect huge amounts of real-time data on what’s happening on farm, from fertiliser applications to crop planting and soil testing.
Using monitors and sensors, many of which are now built into combines and other farm machinery, the technology can measure exactly what’s happening on every centimetre of a field.
Farm management software then collects and interprets that data, giving producers huge volumes of information at their fingertips, which they can utilise to help them farm smarter and more sustainably.
“Precision technology and farm management software is helping us think more strategically and be much more precise in how we farm,” says Leicestershire arable farmer Kevin Peters.
“We record everything from fertiliser and pesticide applications, to soil types and harvest data, then by using the management software we can interpret it so that I understand exactly what’s happening where.”
The technology means growers can make management decisions based on facts – the software tells them exactly where seeds should be planted and fertilisers should be applied.
Variable rate technologies can even vary how inputs are put onto the land, with software indicating where soils are richest and need more seed, or identifying poorer-performing areas that perhaps require more fertiliser.
Using farm technology not only helps Mr Peters plan his crops and budget more effectively – which is good for the business’ sustainability – but by helping him reduce his input use, it has also helped with the farm’s environmental sustainability.
“I always knew that certain areas of the farm were less productive than others, but by collecting data on those fields over several seasons we’ve actually got evidence that in some areas it made sense to stop farming them in the way we did,” he says.
“Instead we’ve put them out of production and done things like installing beetle banks and planting additional woodland, which are beneficial to the farm and the environment.”
On top of the environmental implications, farm management software can also streamline farming operations, ensuring farmers’ time is spent on jobs which are profitable for the business.
Rather than spending hours in an office in front of a computer, farmers can make use of software to help them with managing their business’ daily operations, such as orders and farm finances.
“We used to have piles of folders and paperwork in the office, so that when we needed to find receipts or orders we’d have to manually look for everything,” says Sam Everly, who farms a 400ha mixed farm in partnership with her husband Gary in Nottinghamshire.
“Our farm finance software helps us keep records much more easily, and more accurately. When we need something for the accountant we can find it in a few minutes.
“It’s saved us lots of money in accountancy costs and it’s also made us more efficient. With the time we save in the office we can be getting on with other jobs, which has a knock-on effect on the farm’s productivity and profitability.”