The role of innovation in achieving sustainability

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We asked Sarah Carr, Head of Farm491, to give us her thoughts on what constitutes sustainability in the Agricultural sector.

AgriTech is increasingly being presented as a means to solving the sustainability challenge in food and agriculture.

But what do you mean by sustainability, and is this future a near-reality or a distant ambition?

At Farm491 we see sustainability as improving food security, improving the environment and improving farmer economics. The businesses that will have long term success are likely to be those that develop technologies and most importantly business models that mutually benefit all three of these challenges.

So how far off in reality are we achieving this goal?

Through our members at Farm491 we see solutions falling across a number of categories, and all at differing stages of commercialisation, time-to-market, including (but not limited to):

Renewable energy: Farmer diversification by leveraging waste-to-value opportunities such as AD are increasingly being adopted by farmers.

Robotics: Enabling precision agriculture either through the direct application (e.g. weeding and spraying) or as a platform for data collection (drones) – this is considered a critical part of the digital farm dream. The challenge is cost and enabling farmers to gain access while working within small margins. Who takes the initial financial risk and how the returns are shared through the supply chain will come from business model innovations and be a defining part of which companies succeed or fail. The extent to which this will change the future of rural jobs is still to be understood, but models that enable collaboration while reducing underlying costs are likely to be long term.

Insights: Creating insights both at the farm and throughout the supply chain, using new sources of data (e.g. low-cost sensors) or novel combinations of existing datasets are an emerging industry. The promise of increasing yields, while reducing emissions (and other waste), and reducing other inputs such as water and fertiliser, is a compelling vision. The challenge is connecting the solution to the farmer – the strongest business models will be those that are extractive, and are easily actionable.

Food system disruption: completely re-thinking where food comes from could be one of the biggest impacts for sustainability. Excitement around vertical farming has grown significantly over the past few years, as have other food producing alternatives.

Technology innovation is one part of the solution; what else is key to enabling success?

Finding the right funding structures to support each of these innovations is required, alongside relevant policy creation to enable rapid adoption. For example, validated certifications to help farmers increase profits will also be critical.

What type of operating rhythm would you suggest to benefit entrants and the wider AgriFood sector?

To achieve this, the business model needs to work for all stakeholders: farmers, consumers and funding partners. At Farm491, we suggest that all entrepreneurs align themselves with this even in the early stages of idea development, as ultimately you will reduce barriers to adoption and empower your stakeholders. Through this, you should be able to create a scalable business that is supportive of the farming community and will help lead to a sustainable and equitable food system.

Want to get in touch with Farm491?

Email Sarah Carr, Head of Farm491.

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