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Vicci Walsh

Published on

June 4, 2024



I’ve always been rather sentimental. Recently, I’ve found myself increasingly romanticising national holidays. From red hearts and love letters for Valentine’s Day, to the carving of pumpkins on Halloween, it’s safe to say that I love a novelty.

One date approaching in June is World Environment Day. Many wouldn’t consider World Environment Day as anything beyond an opportunity for a new Google Doodle. But instead, I find myself pondering the ways I can get involved.

So what did I do? I turned to the latest series of Clarkson’s Farm for a bit of inspiration, of course. Once I’d finished the season (which I’m embarrassed to say only took one sitting), I had two thoughts: 1) pigs make terrible mothers and 2) British agriculture has taken quite a hit.

In fact, it’s never been tougher for people to make a living off the land. There is a lack of funding and investment, extreme weather, and a growing myriad of regulations and levies. All this on top of an economy that increasingly rewards the cheap import of goods.

So for this World Environment Day, I’m taking the opportunity to spotlight the agricultural industry. Why should we be optimistic about the future of sustainable farming? Let’s explore.

Don’t underestimate the technological innovation in the agricultural sector

Earlier this year, I took a trip to Coventry for the annual Low Carbon Agricultural Show. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the pioneers of the sustainable farming sector.

At the show, I was blown away by their creativity and genuine passion. These pioneers aim to combat the growing issues facing farming today; maximising time and resources for farmers, and generally helping to make the industry more economically viable.

Paludiculture’s transformation of wetlands

Having lived in London all my life, the term Paludiculture was totally alien to me. Rain is a mild inconvenience at worst – and that’s only when I’m caught in the crossfire between a roadside puddle and oncoming traffic.

However, rain in areas such as Norfolk – traditional British wetlands – is a bit more troublesome. In an era increasingly defined by climate change and extreme weather, continuous and heavy rain is enough to ruin farming landscapes. For the farmers needing to maximise their crop yields, this can be financially devastating.

This is where the Paludiculture Exploration Fund comes in. This organisation brings together farmers who have successfully transformed their wetlands to cultivate commercially interesting and financially viable crops for both sustainable and profitable agriculture.

The organisation is currently conducting various trials to understand which crops grow best in wet environments. They are having particular success with blueberries, celery and bulrushes, whose fluffy seeds can be used for textiles in things like padding for jackets.

I couldn’t help but be impressed at the resourcefulness and sheer tenacity of farmers today – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Due to the growing impact of extreme weather, farmers are increasingly combining intuition and innovation to safeguard their land and livelihood.

Autospray’s creative drone application

Growing up, I always preferred board games over my Nintendo DS. I was never particularly interested in the latest gadgets and gizmos. However, the display and application of drone technology in agriculture left me awestruck.

Drone technology is the epitome of versatility; from light shows to monitoring climate change, carrying out search operations after natural disasters, photography, filming, and delivering goods. The opportunities are endless.

In many areas, drone use has become an essential part of large-scale precision farming. For example, the data collected from drones can help farmers plan their planting and treatments to achieve the best possible yields.

Autospray takes this one step further. It develops drones for the spraying of fields, helping farmers increase efficiency, sustainability, and crop margin. All while reducing chemical usage, lowering carbon emissions, and improving worker safety. With its stand bustling with young, technologically savvy farmers, it just goes to show how forward-looking British agriculture can be. Both in terms of technological advancement and sustainability.

I only understood farming in the traditional sense; where farmers used natural methods to grow crops and raise livestock. However, one conversation with Autospray was enough to open my mind to the future of smart farming. Where technology is developed and used to improve the efficiency and productivity of the sector, effectively defining agriculture as an industry of the future.

University of Leeds (super) Smart Farm

For the three years I spent studying at the University of Leeds, it was a key player in the agriculture space. You can therefore imagine my at stumbling across its stand displaying a state-of-the-art Smart Farm.

At its core, the University of Leeds Smart Farm looks at ways farms and businesses can increase their competitive advantage and value. This project combines energy storage, circular farming, and carbon offsetting to create a working microcosm of how British farming could intersect and operate.

On its 317-hectare commercial farm (equivalent to 593 football fields), the university has deployed technology sensors such as drones and robotic crawlers. They monitor the soil temperature and humidity, crop growth and density to assess the water composition, and track the weather to project crop performance.

These insights can then be refined and combined with data and market expertise on supply chains and logistics, consumer behavior, health outcomes, environmental monitoring, international law, trade and business. Combined, they can inform holistic business strategy and sustainability solutions – essentially helping farmers do more with less.

On Clarkson’s Farm, it’s fair to say that the series is centered around his ambition to grow his farm into a commercial business; whether through farm shop, restaurant or (rather humorously) raising animals. Even celebrity farmers need additional streams of revenue to make their farms economically viable.

It’s therefore encouraging and reassuring to see a live case study of how farmers can maximise their business capital and sustainability impact with technology to safeguard their livelihoods.

Planting seeds with PR and comms

Unfortunately, no amount of PR spin will be enough to keep the sun shining or the rain falling, when it’s wanted or needed. However, it is vital in driving investment, raising awareness of the increasingly innovative British agricultural sector.

From connection comes understanding; the practice of visual storytelling would enable agricultural projects to be met with pace, emotion, and creativity. As a result, there would be greater incentive to invest in, protect, and future-proof the industry. In any circumstance, creating powerful, emotionally moving stories is important. But doing this at speed will prove essential to the preservation of British agriculture.

All too often, we see sensationalised headlines depicting the decline of the farming sector. Yet, having spoken to a variety of organisations at this year’s Low Carbon Agricultural Show, this couldn’t be more out of touch.

Learning about some of the best and brightest in British agriculture truly brings a level of optimism about the future of sustainable farming this World Environment Day.

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