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Precision farming and agricultural digitalization in England - statistics & facts

Climate change and a growing world population pose enormous challenges for the entire agricultural industry. Precision farming solutions are increasingly explored and utilized to address these issues. In general, any farming technique that helps a farmer to select and apply the correct input, as well as the scale and timing of applying these substances, is considered a precision farming technique. The worldwide market for precision farming is expected to grow from over six billion U.S. dollars in 2020 to 12.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2026.. A closer look at England reveals that 80 percent of farm holdings that use precision farming methods are aiming for an increase in productivity. At the same time about half use these practices to improve animal health or welfare, and nearly 40 percent use them to reduce environmental impact. A sustainable increase of food production seems to be achievable with the more efficient management of inputs. Almost half of the farms that do not use precision farming techniques are unable to do so due to the associated costs.

Techniques and practices

The number of English farms that use precision farming has been growing for the past seven years, despite the cost and other barriers. Excluding the south west region, 20 percent or more of all farms in England are using precision farming techniques. The most common techniques used by livestock farmers are regular weighing and the use of breeding indices. On farms that plant crops, soil mapping and variable rate application are most commonly utilized. Controlled traffic farming, an effort to reduce the surface of a given field that is driven over by wheels of agricultural vehicles, seems to be one of the least employed and least well-known techniques. Requirements for it are high and include accurate satellite positioning to guarantee the necessary degree of precision in execution. However, it can vastly reduce soil compaction and fuel demands for cultivation. Of the farms in the top quarter of economic performers, almost 40 percent use one or multiple precision farming practices.

Fertilizer application software

The technique to determine how much fertilizer (or other inputs such as herbicides) should be applied to different parts of a field is called variable rate application (VRA). A software determines the optimal amount that is being used based on either a map of the field or real time sensor readings. About 27 percent of farms use a software package to determine fertilizer application. This goes up to 52 percent for farms that are categorized as cereal farms and a little over 60 percent for general cropping farms. The use of these software packages is most widespread on farms that are partially in a nitrate vulnerable zone (land that drains into nitrate polluted water). Farmers usually use a desktop computer or laptop to run mapping software programs, but many also use smartphones or tablets.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 27 most important statistics relating to "Precision farming and agricultural digitalization in England".

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