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30 April 2020

Blog: How new technology can drive Dorset’s agriculture sector

Blog: How new technology can drive Dorset’s agriculture sector

Agriculture is an important sector in Dorset, one that led us to refocus some of the work delivered by Dorset Gateway over the past year such as introducing the One Health Accelerator, and which is a key consideration for the One Health agenda outlined in Dorset’s draft Local Industrial Strategy submitted to government in December 2019.

Earlier this week, our Dorset Gateway team took part in the Barclays Eagle Labs Longer Term Implications of the Coronavirus for UK Agriculture webinar where Professor Lowenberg-DeBoer of Harper Adams led a discussion on the opportunities and challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic for UK agriculture, and particularly in relation to technology and supply chains. 

This blog summarises our highlight takeaways as a means to prompt discussion among businesses in the sector.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted problems posed by long-distance supply chains of all types, and especially for food. The short-run supply chain disruptions have been well covered by the media, but the longer-term changes are only starting to become clear. There is opportunity for technology to play a part in a post-coronavirus pandemic food system that could replace short-term labour, provide greater local production of fruit and vegetables, and more diversified food production and delivery systems.

In the future we are likely to need to look to robot/automated pickers to improved production capacity on farms, since farm workers are likely to be in shorter supply, while demand for fresh food will remain high. 

Vertical farming, including for winter crops that we currently import from overseas, is likely to be one of the major features of any future food security approach to ensuring food supply.

Home delivery of food has been vital for some and proven to be highly convenient for others – it is likely that this way of purchasing food will remain popular and on a larger scale than pre-pandemic.

A thorough knowledge of farming, processing and supply chain capacity, and the logistical harnessing of this data, will be even more vital going forwards – allowing us to know what is happening to supply, plan for better supply/security, and, if needed, be being able to rapidly act to seamlessly ensure people can access what they need.

And finally, balancing the needs for food supply and food security with the need to improve and maintain the health of the environment will need to be carefully managed.

So, what are the next steps?

Though the One Health Accelerator, Dorset LEP will continue to discuss and develop a way forward that explores, in practical terms, some of the key themes that have been raised through this forum. If you want to get involved and find out more, contact gateway@bournemouth.ac.uk.

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