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Top 5 Dutch Agriculture Technology Innovations Revolutionising Farming: A UK Comparison

The Netherlands has long been recognised as a global leader in agriculture, thanks to its innovative spirit and advancements in technology. This tiny but mighty nation has consistently punched above its weight in the agricultural sector, becoming one of the world's largest exporters of food coming behind the United States. The UK has been struggling to keep up over recent years, and we want to explore how new technology could benefit the productivity and efficient for UK agriculture.

We’re going to be delving into the top five Dutch agriculture technology innovations that are revolutionising farming, and how they compare to that of the UK. From vertical farming to robotic harvesters, these innovations are transforming the way we think about agriculture and food production.

The benefits of vertical farming

Imagine a farm that stretches toward the sky rather than sprawling across vast fields. Vertical farming is a ground breaking technology that allows crops to be grown in stacked layers, often in controlled indoor environments. This method maximises space and can be implemented in urban settings, bringing fresh produce closer to city dwellers.

The Netherlands has been at the forefront of this technology, with companies like PlantLab leading the charge. Using LED lighting and precise climate control, vertical farms can produce crops year-round with minimal water and pesticide use. This innovation is not only environmentally friendly but also incredibly efficient, producing up to ten times the yield of traditional farming methods. Isn’t that astounding?

The use of Vertical Farming in the UK is growing, and Jones Food Company are spearheading this movement with their 14,500 square metre growing space plant in Gloucestershire. With their temperature controlled climates, ability to increase growing space (vertically) within a confined space, and lighting control, they are able to produce fresh produce x3 faster than outdoor agricultural efforts. If electricity costs can be tamed and maintained, could this be a sustainable move for the UK industry?

Data driven precision agriculture

Data is the new gold, and nowhere is this more evident than in Dutch precision agriculture. This technology leverages data from various sources, including satellite imagery, weather forecasts, and soil sensors, to optimise farming practices. Farmers can make informed decisions about planting, irrigation, and fertilisation, resulting in higher yields and reduced environmental impact.

Companies like Agrifirm and Lely have developed sophisticated software and equipment to support precision agriculture. These tools allow farmers to monitor crop health in real-time, adjust practices on the fly, and even predict future trends. Kind of like having a crystal ball for your farm.

With this expanse into new technological applications, the UK are embracing the move as 20% of all farms in the UK are now using precision farming techniques (excluding the South West). 80% of farms using this technology are doing so for the productivity benefits, half of these practices are for the benefit of animal welfare, and nearly 40% use them for reducing the environmental impacts of their farming. We believe this paints a picture that UK farms are wilfully embracing precision farming techniques in a bid to keep up with the growing demand for agricultural produce, to reduce labour costs and increase environmental savings.

We now have robotic harvesters

Labour shortages are a significant challenge in agriculture, but the Dutch have found an ingenious solution: robotic harvesters. These machines can pick fruits and vegetables with incredible precision and speed, reducing the need for manual labour and increasing efficiency. This report from the association High Tech NL Cluster Robotics shows there are around 350 primary robot and automation suppliers from The Netherlands, and they’re only growing each year.

Check out this robot which runs on caterpillar tracks at one kilometre per hour on a Dutch farm. One standout example is the robotic strawberry picker developed by the company Octinion. This harvester uses advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to identify ripe strawberries and pick them gently, mimicking the human touch. The result? Perfectly harvested berries with minimal damage.

Now in the UK, the government have been increasingly promoting agriculture robot usage, with several SME’s developing robotics for the UK market. We have signs they are ramping up prototyping of these robotic automation technologies, and we hope to see more adoption throughout UK farms. An announcement in September 2023 of £12.5m for nineteen projects related to automation development was very welcome as this brings the total funding amount for agricultural development up to £120m since 2021.

Greenhouses are changing

Greenhouses have been around for centuries, but the Dutch have taken them to a whole new level. Modern Dutch greenhouses are marvels of technology, featuring advanced climate control systems, automated irrigation, and energy-efficient designs.

Companies like Priva and KUBO are at the forefront of greenhouse innovation, developing systems that monitor and adjust temperature, humidity, and light levels to create the perfect growing conditions. Some greenhouses even use geothermal energy and closed-loop systems to minimise their environmental footprint.

In the UK the use of greenhouses is a prominent method, but as companies such as The Greenhouse Growers found in the winter of 2022, more funding is needed to battle the rising energy costs associated with maintaining such large and technologically advanced greenhouses in the UK. This company produce two harvests per year which are grown hydroponically from recycled rain water infused with critical nutrients, which only adds to the sustainability element. We know the technology is there, but is the ability to battle the rising energy costs going to be too difficult for the industry?

Agricultural research and development

Behind every technological breakthrough is a foundation of rigorous research and development. The Netherlands is home to some of the world's leading agricultural research institutions, such as Wageningen University & Research (WUR). These institutions are constantly exploring new ways to improve farming practices and develop sustainable solutions.

One notable example is the work being done in the field of plant breeding. Dutch scientists are using advanced genetic techniques to develop crop varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases, have higher nutritional value, and can thrive in changing climates. This research is paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable food system. It’s the unsung hero of agriculture technology!

The UK is no different when it comes to technological advancements as we have seen a number of high-tech investments in recent years. One of them being the £15m net zero farming centre at Coleg Cambria in North Wales, which is a wonderful University. They have a dedicated Farming Futures Sustainability Hub currently undergoing an £8m investment, due to be opened in October 2024. Another is Digital Innovation Farm Tech Box Park, which is part of Hartpury University. The hub opens up the possibility for businesses to expand their innovative advances into the agri-tech markets.

How does the UK compare?

In conclusion, Dutch agriculture technology is revolutionising farming in ways we could only dream of a few decades ago. From vertical farming and precision agriculture to robotic harvesters, high-tech greenhouses, and cutting-edge research, the Netherlands is leading the charge toward a more sustainable and efficient future.

These innovations don't just benefit Dutch farmers; they have the potential to transform agriculture worldwide. By adopting these technologies, farmers everywhere can improve their yields, reduce their environmental impact, and ensure food security for future generations.

The United Kingdom isn’t far behind, but in terms of exporting and innovation, we do have a way to go. We are however moving as quickly as we can and there are many, many exciting projects on the horizon which is only going to expand our use of technology and automation in the agricultural industry!

The future of agriculture is bright, and it's being shaped by the ingenuity and dedication of scientists, engineers, and farmers. Let's celebrate their achievements and look forward to a world where technology and nature work hand in hand to feed us all.

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