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Agri-TechE’s virtual REAP 2020 conference will discuss role of agri-tech in achieving net zero

A lively discussion on using agri-tech to achieve net zero is promised as the REAP conference goes virtual this year.

Organised by Agri-TechE, the business-focused membership organisation, the event on November 10 will explore a ‘soil-up’ approach to restoring environmental balance and farm incomes.

Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE
Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE

A host of speakers, a start-up showcase, product launches, the latest science and an interactive sofa session are promised during the conference, which will use the SwapCard platform to enable easy networking.

Agri-TechE director Dr Belinda Clark said: “To achieve the global ambitions for agriculture, food production and land management, we need a much better understanding of how systems at different scales operate and interact.

“Restoring environmental balance from the soils upwards is a pragmatic approach to tackling the global issues and everybody can play a role – gardeners, farmers, land managers and also consumers through their food choices.”

Professor David Montgomery, author of Growing a Revolution, will deliver the keynote speech.

“I have seen how the recipe of minimal disturbance, keeping the soil covered with living plants at all times and growing at least three or more crops in rotation works on farms around the world. The simplest advice boils down to ‘ditch the plough, cover up and grow diversity’. However, there is also an urgent need for innovation to accelerate soil building,” he said.

David R Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle
David R Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle

“We should incentivise practices that build soil health by linking specific verifiable practices, like no-till and cover crops, to credits based on regionally-calibrated studies to establish an expected benefit, such as increase in carbon content or maintenance of it in the soil.

“This would reward farmers not only for increasing carbon but also for good practice that has helped retain it.”

Professor Jane Rickson, of the Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute, advises the government and others on soil quality indicators, and will take part in the sofa session.

“Our green and pleasant land is determined by the quality of topsoil, along with the nutritional value of our food, protection from flooding and water retention during droughts. All of these services are driven by soil microbiology,” she notes.

Professor Jane Rickson, of the Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute
Professor Jane Rickson, of the Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute

The technology needed for monitoring, measuring and managing soil carbon - which could provide metrics for rewarding best practice and enable carbon storage as a source of revenue for farmers - will be discussed in the sofa session.

Participating will be Stuart Hill, head of technology and innovation at Hutchinsons Ltd.

The company’s Omnia decision support hub pulls information together about farm and field performance, soil and nutrition properties.

“Sustainable financial and environmental farming and advice is about integrated farm and crop management,” he said. “Soil is a real focal point. If you improve it the more likelihood of a sustainable business.

“The question is, what is improvement and how do we achieve it? Modern agri-technologies give us the capacity to monitor and measure. For example, using our Terramap soil sensing and linking this to other technologies such as NDVI imagery and yield mapping, will pull data from across the farm; building up a picture of how larger and smaller scale changes could improve profitability.”

Farm-tech presentations at REAP will show how recent precision agri-tech developments are being used on farms.

REAP 2020 will be a virtual conference
REAP 2020 will be a virtual conference

Dr Clarke said: “Taking broader ‘one agricultural’ type approaches that recognise natural systems are interconnected will enable us to be more innovative with our solutions.

“Agri-tech is, we believe, a key enabler for that to happen and at REAP we will be bringing together individuals with different perspectives to review the emerging science and technologies, examine the impact of agri-tech innovations in the field and discuss the technology roadmap going forward.

“Significant progress has already been made: 90 percent of the early-stage agri-tech entrepreneurs that we have profiled in the REAP Start-Up Showcase over the last five years are going strong, gaining farmer collaborators, attracting investment and bringing new products to market.

“The global challenges may feel overwhelming but the focus of the agri-tech innovation ecosystem is to look for solutions.”

The conference is part of Agri-Tech Week, a series of workshops and events, hosted by organisations such as NIAB, Norwich Research Park and the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.

REAP will end with a closed Q&A session with David Montgomery - and a virtual beer. Not as good as a real one, perhaps, but that’s 2020 for you.

Sign up at reapconference.co.uk .

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