Robots critical for Lincolnshire’s agri-food sector

Robots critical for Lincolnshire’s agri-food sector

Ground-breaking farming technology was the driving force and many innovative ideas were discussed, but the real talking point at the Lincolnshire Farming Conference was the need to invest in agri-robotics.

Hundreds of farmers, exhibitors and industry experts battled the snow to come together for the annual farming conference – held this week at the Lincolnshire Showground – with ‘Farming in the Future’ as this year’s theme.

ABB Robotics’ Mike Wilson was the keynote speaker at the conference and discussed ‘robots in the food sector.’

“Although the food and beverage sector is the largest manufacturing sector within the UK, it is a challenging environment with growing competition from overseas and skills shortages,” he said.

“The area which is struggling is productivity – and as a result the UK needs to invest in more manufacturing equipment, work smarter and give staff the tools and technologies to do their jobs more efficiently.

“Outside of car manufacturing, Germany currently has 181 robots per 10,000 workers, whereas the UK is significantly behind with 39 robots per 10,000 workers.

“We want to see the robots increase from 10% to 25% in order to make companies more efficient and productive.

“The need for robots has already been proven – they are more cost effective in comparison to labour, they do not fatigue and they do the repetitive unpopular jobs which people do not want to do.

“The reasons why companies don’t invest currently are that they feel they need the flexibility from labour, believe that they don’t have the skills or they are too small and too expensive. If a company doesn’t invest in robots it could be a sign that the business is not here to stay in the long run, as that is where the future is going.

“I believe that there are three pillars within industry sectors, first is products, process and innovation. Second is effective organisations and third is capital investment. To be successful in the long term, an industry needs to invest in all three. We need to change the culture, and robot automation is the key to achieving that.”

This year’s conference featured a new format for 2018, with a ‘show and tell’ style exhibition morning, alongside breakout sessions with local businesses.

Live demonstrations of drones, robots and new technology were all featured as part of the exhibition morning. Sessions included Case IH auto-driving with Louth Tractors, hands-free hectare with Harper Adams and field sampling with SOYL.

Sponsors HSBC also talked about the £300 million lending fund on offer to support ambitious UK agriculture businesses.

The latest farming innovations and developing technologies were also discussed by top industry experts from across the country, including agri-robotics specialists from Harper Adams University and the University of Lincoln. Topics such as ‘hands free hectare’, ‘robotic technology for the field’ and ‘drones and how to make them work for you’ were all discussed during the talks in the afternoon.

Driverless tractors, drones and robots are just a few examples of the latest farming technology which were on display at the conference. There was also a call out for young people in the sector to take advantage of the new technology.

Steve Ward, chairman of the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society Education Committee, said that it’s not just about the launch of new machinery and technology, but the need for young people in the farming sector.

“Lincoln’s agricultural industry lies with the next generation and it is important that young people come into the industry to be able to use the advanced machinery and new technologies on offer,” he said.

“It is essential that we are staying ahead with the developing technologies – not only with robots but also drones, which are now smaller, more accurate and cheaper than ever before.

“Everyone who attended the conference today is really excited by what has been discussed, and I can guarantee that each person has taken something away with them that they didn’t know before.

“The main focus for the conference is to educate people in an enjoyable and interactive way – and I think we did exactly that.”