Precision agriculture event gives glimpse into livestock sector's future

The potential for technology to help agriculture address the challenge of feeding the world has come under the spotlight thanks to a major international conference supported by BSAS.

More than 400 researchers, farmers and industry representatives from 20 countries around the world gathered in Edinburgh for the European Conference on Precision Agriculture (ECPA) last month (17-20 July).

The event - which celebrated its milestone 20th year in Scotland - examined challenges posed by diminishing resources and climate change, and the way new technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence and sensors, could help overcome them.

While the main conference featured soils and cropping systems, a special satellite event focused entirely on grazing systems, with keynote speakers and sessions from a variety of international experts.

Richard Dewhurst

Glimpse into the future

BSAS president Richard Dewhurst (pictured above, addressing delegates), who led  the satellite grazing livestock event, said developments in precision agriculture had the potential to change the face of animal production, and the conference gave an exciting glimpse into the future potential for the sector.

“Attention to precision agriculture has largely been focused on developments in arable production, but it is reassuring to see such a huge amount of work going on in making use of this technology in the livestock sector,” he said.

“We’re already seeing a number of dairy farmers make use of sensors and robotics, but this conference showed us that there is a wealth of potential for farmers in grazing systems to revolutionise how they work.

“From the science and technologies we heard about, it’s great to know that there is definite potential to farm livestock in more precise and efficient ways in future.”

As well as developments in research, the conference - which was also organised by Scotland’s Rural College, the James Hutton Institute, SoilEssentials and Newcastle University - incorporated special events including a reception at Scotland’s National Museum, where delegates got to see the world’s first cloned mammal from an adult cell, Dolly the sheep.

A special ECPA field trip also saw delegates given a special tour of the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, where scientists explained their latest work in soil protection and crop management.

Exciting developments

Bruce Beveridge, BSAS chief executive, said the event showcased some of the most exciting developments being made in grazing livestock production.

The challenge now is for science and industry to collaborate to ensure the technology makes it way progressively into farming systems, he added.

“We’re in a fascinating time with accelerated development of technologies and farming solutions,” he said. “The real risk we face isn’t in adopting the technology, it’s in waiting to implement it.

“We need to keep on driving projects which further these kinds of developments, and by doing that we will really see progress in our livestock systems.”