Report Synopsis

Opportunities for UK farmers to grow wealth in the 4th Industrial revolution

Farmers throughout the UK have never faced a period of so much uncertainty in generations. Brexit, the future of subsidies, climate change and the many other challenges are all common concern among the agriculture community. Agriculture and indeed the global economy are undergoing rapid change, economies globally have been badly hit by the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led a sovereign debt crisis not seen since World War II. This Nuffield report examines how UK public funds will come under extreme pressure in the next few years as the UK government will struggle to fund agriculture subsidies at the same level as today, whilst also covering the already growing costs of running other public services. It is no understatement that many UK farmers, big and small, rely heavily on subsidies to survive and keep their businesses afloat.

For the first time in generations, the UK government along with other key stakeholders within the agriculture industry will have the opportunity to reshape the agriculture subsidy system that will support UK farmers in the future. Brexit has been divisive in many ways even among the farming community, however, now is the time to examine the resources which should be available to UK agriculture and how best to exploit and leverage this in a global context.

During my Nuffield travels, the common theme gained from the people I met was that one of the greatest opportunities to emerge, not only for agriculture but for the UK economy in general in the next few years, is the positive impacts of the 4th industrial revolution which is in its early stages in the world economy. The rise of “the internet of things” such as artificial intelligence, drones, robotics etc. are all fusing to create new products, new processes and provide the opportunity to improve or eliminate problem areas of agriculture that cost farmers either loss of income or production. It became clear that, globally, Agri-tech was lacking development input from farmers themselves even though they are the end customers of new Agri-tech products. Further, farms are a valuable testing ground for new products which is currently under-utilised in comparison to research and development within other industries. Farmers are central to developing new Agri-tech products and there remain many innovative ways which the government and all stakeholders could explore to incentivise farmers to become more involved. With this involvement, farmers and the general economy will benefit financially.

A clear concluding message, also in terms of the current UK government strategy on Agri-tech, is that the UK is a world leader in research and development. However, there remain many opportunities to better commercialise and financially monetise the Agri-tech sector that could greatly benefit UK farmers. Farmers will need to adapt to a more entrepreneurial focused support system and Agri-tech can offer one solution to a changing landscape of farm subsidy policy.