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Conference considers how technology can boost farming

Proposals for boosting the use of technology in agriculture –  before and after Brexit – were examined at a high-level conference in Herefordshire today.

Increased used of robots and drones, driverless tractors, more-accurate application of pesticides and better rural broadband were among the priorities highlighted.

Anthea McIntyre MEP, who organised the conference, said advances in science and technology should make farming and horticulture not only more productive but more ecologically-friendly.

The conference on “Agri Tech”, at the Royal Hotel, Ross-on-Wye, drew together experts from science, academia, politics, farming and ecology.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands and a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, was the author of a report Technological Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture which was approved by the parliament last year.

She said many of the delegates present had advised her in drafting the report and she was calling on their expertise again to suggest ways in which its key findings could be promoted and advanced across the subject areas of precision farming; big data and informatics; soil, water and nutrient management; genetic diversity; precision breeding; plant protection products; research and funding priorities; and scientific development and innovation.

It was vital, she said, that all sectors and sizes of agricultural operation should benefit from technological advances, but European agriculture was lagging behind through a lack of investment in translational research.

Caroline Healy, agriculture policy adviser in the European Parliament, said: “People are currently working on the next Common Agricultural Policy – and the input and expertise of the UK, and our  MEPs, is greatly valued. We have to continue working with these friendships and networks to push for progress over the next two years – and carry those relationships forward post Brexit.”

The conference proposed a range of ideas for improving the advance of agri-tech within the EU in the next  two years, as well as after the UK leaves the EU in 2019. They will be gathered in to a comprehensive report and published later this year.

Miss McIntyre said: “It was wonderful to collect evidence from so many field-leading experts.

Too often there is a lazy assumption that applying technology to make farming more efficient can only harm the environment. The truth is that smart application of scientific advances can mean more food and greener farming.

“The EU and member states, academia and industry, breeders, the agro-chemicals sector, farmers and food manufacturers – all must work together to ensure we have the best research and that we translate that research into practice. From lab to farm to fork.”

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