Nurturing Diversity and Harvesting Innovation
Agriculture and farming
Agriculture and farming is a key industry in the UK, the terms referring to the practice of cultivating, growing, and harvesting crops, livestock, and raw materials.
Across England, many farms undertake more than one type of farming, and so farms are classified according to their main output within one of nine main farm types.
In 2021, the UK agriculture industry was made up of 216,000 farm holdings. The utilised agricultural area was 17.2 million hectares of land, 71% of the UK land total. Agriculture employed almost half a million people, who were mainly involved in business ownership or management.
Responsiv understand the importance of Agriculture and Farming in the UK, with our former COO, Henry Cressey, running his own farm growing combinable crops and previously farming pigs. Innovating the things we are passionate about is always at the heart of what we do at Responsiv.
Responsiv Pig Counting - Context
Pigs are notoriously hard to count and manage during transit, unloading, and in the pens. Manual counting is erroneous at best with little certainty on over and under estimates.
Errors mean cost. Costs in administration to align orders, payments, and reality; and cost in logistics to sort the issue out.
Responsiv Pig Counting - Solution
Responsiv is using AI to create an app that quickly and accurately counts pigs.
This capability will mitigate risks associated with pig logistics (timings and drop-offs), reducing the need for rework, and will prompt farmers and handlers to act when numbers do not reflect what is expected.
The Future of Pig Counting
This is just the start of optimising pig counting.
Responsiv is keen to work with experts and farmers to create a solution that identifies and attributes data to individual pigs using cameras and audio systems to record feed, size, and state (distress, illness, etc.).
The UK farming industry is at high risk from rising business costs. All areas of the industry are vulnerable to these risks, as seen in varying reports on industry performance.
Farm owners’ primary concern over the next 12 months is input prices, with 88% expecting negative effects. “Inputs closely related to energy have seen the biggest inflation: energy and lubricants are up 58%. Although wholesale energy prices are falling, they remain one and a half times higher than normal. Fertilisers and soil improvers are up 161%, and animal feeds are up 50%. That is directly linked to the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine.”
A report by Promar International in 2022 found that growers’ production costs increased by as much as 27% in the preceding 12 months, and that products such as tomatoes, broccoli, apples and root vegetables were most affected. The main drivers are energy, fertiliser and workforce costs.
According to the latest NFU survey, 40% of beef farmers and 36% of lamb farmers have already said that they expect to reduce production in the light of the rising input costs.
A lack of supply chain transparency has left farmers to absorb the risks of the uncertain market and economy, something they are in no stable financial situation to do. In 2019, there were 149,000 registered agricultural businesses; in 2022, there were 142,000; there are more than 7,000 fewer agricultural businesses over a three year period due to the industry hardships exacerbated by the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and economic hardships and inflation resulting in increased operational costs.
Understanding where costs are being spent is the first step in managing them. Do you have resources that aren’t being utilised – think disparate systems sat in the abyss that are never touched. What can be sacrificed without disrupting services?
This extends to looking at IT systems in need of updating. Are you paying through the roof for extended support for legacy systems that aren’t doing much or can be updated to be more efficient and cost-effective.
Finding a solution that is scalable and cost effective can be hard when you are first looking at technical solutions, but it is important to keep in mind that what is ‘cheap’ now, may cost you more in the future. Read more about how you can outgrow your IT solution, here.
Improving efficiency will ultimately improve the spending to outcome ratio. This is because organisations find ways to get more for less, e.g., optimising processes to remove bottlenecks and unnecessary steps, or automating repetitive and erroneous tasks that require constant rework.
Reducing the amount of time staff have to spend on one activity will free them up to complete more work. Automating access to accurate data will decrease the time to make a decision or respond to customers, again allowing more to be done in less time.
Responsiv Consultants work with organisations to understand their environments and processes. We provide managed services so our customers do not have to worry about building, deploying, hosting or managing their solution; all security and upgrade patches are covered by us as part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
This helps reduce business costs as organisations do not have to hire or train in-house skills to manage and host their software, projects are kept to time and budget by using outsourced project managers who work alongside the in-house teams and stakeholders, and licence agreements can be negotiated to get the best possible cost.
Responsiv has the knowledge and expertise required to upgrade or move your workloads to new systems. This ensures you are not running out of date or unsupported software that risks your organisation and drains your budget on extended support or disaster recovery.
Finding the specific skills required to keep your business running is important but is proving to be a global challenge. In August 2021, the number of vacancies in the UK Agriculture and Farming industry was estimated to be 500,000 out of 4.1 million roles in the sector. The government found clear evidence that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry – threatening food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those working in the sector. Businesses have been badly hit, with the pig sector being particularly affected.
Paul Savage, director of agriculture for Arla, said: “The last 12 months have been incredibly challenging for our farmer owners, as events like the war in Ukraine have driven up the cost of producing milk to levels we have never seen before. The shortage of staff in the food and farming sector has compounded this and we are at serious risk of continued food price inflation and longer-term food security issues if we don’t tackle this now.”
There are also seasonal shortages of business-critical workers, particularly in the horticulture sector. In the first half of 2022 alone, at least £22 million-worth of fruit and vegetables was wasted, directly because of such gaps in the workforce.
The skills shortage in Agriculture and Farming cannot be fully solved by just implementing new technology, however, many of the risks can be mitigated with the help of new solutions.
Automating data heavy and repetitive tasks means existing skills can go a lot further; creating staff capacity for activities that need to be done but has been left waiting for new resources. Automation consolodates knowledge and ensures it is not lost when staff leave or move on.
This can include streamlining consignment information, and maintaining data for audits. For livestock farming, this can help monitor the progress of the animals, allowing farms to effectively associate tracable information about an individual; keeping vet notes, feed information, death certificates, and any other data attached to one animal.
Training and Education is a great opportunity to upskill your existing workforce. This does not mean you load them with double the responsibility, rather prepares them for new technologies and working practices in line with the changing landscapes.
The downside of this is the associated cost and time it takes to complete. If skills are in urgent demand, you cannot wait around for staff to be up to speed.
Outsourcing skills is perhaps the quickest way of mitigating a skills shortage. However, in this context, we are not discussing outsourcing farm hands and bodies, rather outsourcing technical and project based skills.
Finding a reputable partner with the desired skills means you do not have to find them as permanent in-house staff; removing the strain on budgets and recruitment. These skills can vary from business analysts and project managers to IT and other specialist roles.
Outsourcing may also include procuring a managed service. This is mainly when looking at IT solutions. Managed Services mean your chosen vendor deploys, hosts, and manages the software and accompanying applications within the agreement (these are typically cloud-based).
Managed services take the responsibility out of house and ensures your software applications run as optimally as possible with patches and other support being included. Your users see the benefit without the worry of having the skills to fix bugs and make it run.
Responsiv has designed the foundations of a digital livestock activity ledger that will allow farm staff to record all the relevant data for their livestock in one place. This will streamline the way staff can enter, access, and manage this data whilst in and around the farm.
Responsiv also offer managed services for our cloud platforms.
This means we deploy, host, manage and support your environments on behalf of your organisation. Your end users get the benefit of software applications and processes on cloud, without worrying about having to support the skills in house.
Responsiv Assist is our remote technical support offering. Credit-based, it can be utilised only when needed for software support – updrades and patches, training sessions, troubleshooting, license and certification monitoring, document reviewing, etc.
Get in touch to find out how we can best help your organisation tackle the skills shortage.
Sustainability and Regulation
In 2020, 121,000 hectares of agricultural land were used to grow crops for bioenergy. This represents just under 2.1% of UK arable land. Around 30% of this land was used for biofuel (biodiesel and bioethanol).
The agriculture and farming industry has been criticised for the effects it has on the environment, whether that be by animal activists or climate activists. Water quality may be adversely affected due to the use of fertilisers and pesticides that run off the fields, or by soil erosion. It is estimated that agriculture accounts for around 61% of the total nitrogen and 28% of phosphorus load in river water in England and Wales.
Agriculture is responsible for around 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from grazing livestock and fertilisers. Sustainable regulations including stricter fertiliser, pesticide, and emissions regulations in the EU European Green Deal aim to reduce fertiliser use by at least 20%, reduce use of chemical pesticides by 50%, and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030.
Biodiversity can also be affected due to land use and lack of field rotation, however, many farmers and landowners are actively playing their part to conserve and enhance the countryside’s wide network of trees, hedgerows, ponds, ditches and other watercourses. Many options to do so are included within agri-environment agreements.
Following the decision to leave the EU, the UK Government has introduced new changes to farming laws, namely the Agriculture Act 2020. The Agriculture Act 2020 means to address the market failures that have led to a depreciated position of UK farmers in the supply chain; consulting on mandatory dairy contracts and acting to ensure trading practices are fair for farmers across all sectors.
Within this, the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, announced in January 2023, will pay farmers to farm more sustainably in a bid to meet UK environmental objectives. Pushing for greater environmental sustainability within agriculture will also help protect workers, especially those working seasonally who, for example, might be exposed to pesticides and fertilisers.
The Environment Bill introduces measures– including Local Nature Recovery Strategies, Biodiversity Net Gain and Conservation Covenants – to incentivise, steer and secure positive land management practices alongside the three components of our Environmental Land Management scheme.
The challenge is knowing how to manage the sustainability regulations.
Regulations are made to be your priority. These non-organic priorities distract from those organic business priorities that directly impact business operations.
Understanding how to respond and manage this shift in priorities needs to be considered as part of the overall business strategy so there are no surprises when new regulations crop up. Strategic planning also means effort and resources can be scheduled to deliver both regulatory and standard business projects so nothing is left undone.
Deadlines are non-negotiable, and if they aren’t met can mean large fines. Knowing you can deliver your regulatory projects on time and to budget is important. Are you starting the project too late? Is the team equipped to successfully complete the project? Do you have the right skills?
IBM Envizi is IBM’s answer to ESG reporting, allowing organisations to record, track, and monitor their energy and usage data. Envizi presents this data in consumable and adjustable screens to allow for report building and decision making based on real-time information.
Responsiv’s skills in integration means we can work with organisations to connect their systems and data directly to IBM Envizi (or their chosen ESG platform) so they can streamline ESG reporting.
This data can then be shared as necessary with supply chain partners and consumers as per sustainability regulations such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Responsiv Cloud is hosted on tier 3 UK datacentres. This means they conform to the UK’s grading standards for datacentre security, sustainability, and continuity. Our Cloud offerings are flexible, allowing for scalability as necessary with value based pricing models.