Event recap: Telecoms, tech and the future of the UK agri-food sector
On Tuesday 26 October 2021, techUK welcomed a diverse group of organisations to explore how advanced technology and communications infrastructure could help solve the challenges facing the UK’s farming industry.
Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain which generates a Gross Value Added (GVA) of £113bn, with 3.9m employees. Currently, the sector is grappling with the need to increase production to meet demand, doing so sustainably and with environmentally positive methods in the face of reduced availability of labour. Precision agriculture and related technologies offer smart solutions, with the use of sensors and robotics aiding famers with accurate data and real-time monitoring, enabling an information-based decision making approach to farm management. The use of tech can help improve yields and optimise the return on inputs.
The use of this technology is predicated on the high quality connectivity of private or dedicated telecoms networks in the farm environment. But coverage is a challenge, due to the remote or “hard to reach” location in which farms are located. The 2022 Release 17 of the 3GPP standards for 5G will include non-terrestrial networks, including satellite – enabling the provision of 5G via satellite and other non-terrestrial networks across the UK.
So is now the perfect time to understand how the agri-food and telecoms sector can come together to unlock the benefits of advanced technology for the rural economy?
Our event focused on the key issues facing food production and agriculture in the UK, and how technology—from industrial IoT, automation, robotics, AI and machine learning—empowered by satellite and terrestrial networks can offer a solution. We learnt about some of the major benefits of technology for UK farms and the food sector through real life use cases, including the world's first robotic farm, and what the adoption of advanced machinery means for connecting rural communities.
- Professor Simon Pearson, Director of LIAT/Professor of Agri-Food Technology, Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology
- Professor John Davies, Senior Research Manager, BT Group
- Robert Pearson, CEO, Auto Spray Systems
- Freddie Wilby, Head of Delivery at WHP Telecoms Limited
- Jennifer Manner, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs at EchoStar Corporation
Our discussion touched on the issues facing the rollout of telecoms infrastructure in rural areas of the UK, how diverse technologies can work together to meet farmers' needs, the dialogue between the networks world and the applications world, and the acute labour shortages that could be resolved through increased automation, robotics and sensors. Thank you to our speakers for their insight.
techUK's Communications Infrastructure Programme brings together government, the regulator, telecom companies and its stakeholders around four themes; shared infrastructure, security and resilience, unlicensed spectrum and our 5G ecosystem. We do so to lower the cost to the sector of deployment, ensure confidence in networks, spur innovation and unlock value for all parties in 5G. This is delivered through a mix of thought leadership, multilateral engagement and ecosystem building.