Guest post by David Farquhar, CEO, IGS
The impacts of Covid-19 have left the world reeling, creating an economic, cultural and social whirlwind across the globe. One of the areas now firmly under the spotlight is food in terms of supply, availability and reliability of access.
Many elements of food strategy have become more apparent over this time. Whether it be complex supply chains; food poverty; diet and obesity; food waste; damage to our hospitality and catering industries, the complexities surrounding food are significant.
Businesses and politicians are under pressure to come up with fast recovery plans and while it is tempting to revert to ‘business as usual’, we should seize this unique chance to implement a green food recovery. There is opportunity here to counteract the stalled economy and more importantly to address the even greater future threat posed by climate change.
Commercial farming is one of the biggest sources of environmental damage worldwide, second only to transport. Transforming agriculture to encourage a transition to zero carbon is therefore a significant challenge. Ensuring that the ‘field to fork’ journey is sustainable, ethical and zero-carbon means building a green food chain.
This necessitates a commitment to reducing intensive farming practices; reinforcing livestock and plant health standards; reducing food miles dramatically; focusing on soil improvement; and adopting technologies such as indoor farming, precision agriculture, automation, robotics and drones to improve crop and livestock quality, variety and yield.
Across the UK, we have an opportunity to look more closely at our food strategy and consider agritech more closely. Developments such as indoor or ‘vertical’ farming have a strong pedigree already in the country with British companies and institutions amongst global players in this area.
As a country that imports nearly 50 per cent of all its fruit and vegetables, we are dependent on complex supply chains for many food products. Much of this produce is highly perishable, with short shelf lives. It is grown overseas under glass or polythene, washed in chlorinated water, sealed in gas-flushed packaging to prolong shelf life, before being transported long distances to the end consumer. None of this is environmentally friendly or helping us to secure our supply chains.
The adoption of emerging agricultural technology, such as vertical farming, would enable an increasing range of salads, herbs, and baby vegetables to be cultivated locally in climate-controlled conditions not subject to the vagaries of the British weather.
It would enable multiple harvests per season across a much wider variety of crops, extending the range grown commercially today. There are opportunities for food producers, farmers, community groups and agri-entrepreneurs supplying everyone from supermarkets and food banks to artisan food processors and the restaurant trade.
The UK’s R&D capabilities are reinforced by the scientific acumen of organisations like the world-renowned James Hutton Institute, the British Crop Production Council and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences.
By combining greater scientific understanding of growing plants indoors n with an abundance of data and artificial intelligence capabilities, we have a truly differentiating proposition. New and evolving skills are required to operate successfully in such environments; however our country’s world-class expertise provides another opportunity to take our first steps towards real food supply chain security.
There are huge opportunities for the UK to prove itself a world-leader in achieving a green food recovery. We are at an important junction and need to have the courage to embrace agritech and seek support from our government and the media alike in helping us communicate the great work that is going on in the UK agritech sector. It’s an industry with exciting prospects in terms both of the economic and employment opportunities and ultimately the solutions it can provide to one of the most fundamental challenges of our time.
Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Edinburgh, IGS brought together decades of farming and engineering experience to create an agritech business with a vision to revolutionise the indoor growing market.
IGS delivers vertical farming platforms that create ideal climates for plants to thrive. Our approach and technological design are based upon a culture of continuous innovation, a refusal to accept conventional thinking and brilliant, simple design. For more information on IGS please click here.
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