I spend a lot of my time with farmers, I love to listen to what they have to say and share stories from my family’s farm. I also have a background in tech and know the tech world pretty well having coded apps myself and was part of the founding team of Tech for Good Global.
So one of my aims is to share the potential power of digital tools with the independent farming community and help demand tools that work for us, the smaller-scale farmers. So I organised a panel at the Oxford Real Farming Conference of different speakers who had created or used tech and tools on small and medium scale farms. This is more or less what I said to introduce what ‘tech for good’ in the farming world might look like, where independent farmers and new technology are working together:
(You can listen to a full recording of the event here — approx 40 mins + questions)
I don’t think technology is the future. I think clever farming that is good for people, the planet and makes a profit is the future.
I recently met Joel Salatin, he told me a few of his clever farming tips. He uses a nice mix of learnings from traditional methods combined with a selection of new technologies that mean he can continue to farm at a smaller scale, looking after the land and everything on it, including a good income for the people. For example, he is able to nurture carbon rich, nutritious life-giving land through his rotational grazing of cows, pigs, chickens. Rotational grazing is not new, but what is new are the electric mesh fences and polyethylene pipe that allow him to quickly and easily move the animals around 400 acres ensuring they are safe from predators and have ample water supply, without expensive infrastructure. Of course he also uses the internet to sell all of his products online and share the story of the farm to people far and wide.
For Joel, the next tool he really wants is live digital monitoring of water supplies so that doesn’t have to go check water troughs a few miles away each day. It doesn’t sound that impactful, but all the little wins do add up. In fact Joel continually talks about careful planning, management and learning what works. He calls it new-fashioned — emphasising that relying on GM crops, huge cow-lots and chemical inputs is now old-fashioned. New-fashioned is about listening to the land, nurturing it and using new low-cost tools available to us to help do that. I like that word new-fashioned… Can we all envision what new-fashioned farming looks like? Well that’s what this panel is about.
I feel like this is the beginning, this conversation is not being had enough. Today we get to begin to define new-fashioned farming…
Just to be clear this panel is not about agri-tech industry. Agri-tech is often not made to help Real Farmers, it creates tools that support the old agri-business paradigm, backed by investors looking to make a huge return on their investment.
I think the Real Farming movement demands technology with integrity, truly there to help create resilient farming businesses and support agroecological farming methods. I think digital has a part to play in that…whether that is knowledge sharing between farmers around the country and even the world, or making it easier to collect information after careful observations of what is going on in the fields. This is like ‘permaculture 2.0’ — observation is one of the key principles, and now farmers can use their intuition combined with data from previous observations to draw out patterns. Insane amount of opportunity there.
First a little about my background.
My family have a small farm in Chile…early on we realised we needed a way of recording observations about our 8000 olive trees. I developed an app called Sectormentor that makes it very easy to keep track of everything, then our neighbours started using it and now we have our first customers using it in Chile and the UK, Will Davenport was the first person to try it out here in the UK in his 25 acres of organic vineyard. You will hear more from him in a bit.
I also co-create a podcast called Farmerama — a low-cost easy way to share knowledge from farmer to farmer around the country and across the world.
I see both of those as technologies supporting Real Farming, both aim to help fellow farmers, and my own family, farm more cleverly.
Today we have brought together Real Farmers, all working at different scales in very different types of farming to understand what types of tech and tools they are using to help their farming business.
Nick Green who has constructed a solar powered micro-dairy
Lynne Davis to tell us about open source tools and technology she uses
Stephen Briggs to tell us about the different apps he uses on his mixed arable farm
You can listen to a recording of the event here