5 simple ways to introduce technology to your farm
A wave of cutting-edge new technologies is changing the way many farmers work. Needless to say, technology like this normally comes with a premium price tag, but there are plenty of innovations that could benefit your farm, without making huge investments.
Here we take a look at just five technologies that farmers are using to make their farms safer, more secure, and more efficient.
1. Gate sensors: to prevent theft or animals straying
Livestock theft cost UK farmers an estimated £2.7 million in 2022, as outlined in NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report; and often more than 50 sheep are taken in a single raid. So, it’s unsurprising that farmers are looking for new and innovative ways to keep thieves at bay and protect their livestock.
As well as tried and tested measures to prevent thefts, new technology could help, too. Using the latest wireless technology, sensors are placed on field gates, and these sensors send farmers a series of alerts to their smartphones when a gate has been opened, or left open. These can be lower cost and are simple to install, whilst giving you the option to move them when needed.
As well as potentially preventing costly losses, such a system provides extra peace of mind while reducing the time previously spent on manual checks. In addition to preventing theft, these systems can help prevent accidents, such as livestock escaping fields after gates are left open on public footpaths.
2. Weather stations: to help decision making
A growing range of specialist apps give farmers access to digital tools to forecast the weather more accurately than ever before (although it may not always feel that way).
But for a truly local perspective, you may choose to invest in your very own weather station. These devices use sensors to measure data including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction. This data can be transmitted to an app on your smartphone or tablet to help you make informed decisions about your crops - including irrigation and fertilisation schedules – which could predict and control diseases, and improve overall farm management.
3. Fire Safety
Every year in the UK, 1,700 farm buildings, 800 machines and 66,000 acres of grassland are destroyed by fires.
If there is a fire, then it can be difficult to tackle, as farms are often in remote, hard-to-reach locations. So having fire suppression fitted or quick access to reliable tools is essential to keep a blaze from spreading.
Particularly when harvesting under hot, dry weather conditions, combine fires can become a high-risk consideration for farmers. To combat this, NFU Mutual have worked with Fireward to develop a suppression system specifically for combine harvesters to reduce the impact of fires during harvest, and to ensure that vehicles can be back up and running the same day. NFU Mutual customers receive 15% discount on their agricultural vehicle policy if they purchase and install suppression systems compliant with Special Certification Rule 199 (SPCR 199, or P-mark 199), Australian Standard (AS 5062-2016) and Factory Mutual (FM 5970) for combine harvesters.
Fire Safety Sticks
Fortunately, some simple technology could be a gamechanger: fire safety sticks. These are small fire-extinguishing devices that are light enough to be held in one hand, and small enough to keep nearby in a vehicle or farm building. Manufacturers say they are simpler to use than fire extinguishers, don’t require any servicing, and are environmentally friendly.
Fire safety sticks are considered especially useful when other firefighting equipment, such as water hoses or buckets, are not available.
4. Vehicle marking: for deterring machinery thefts
Loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment causes huge disruption to farmers. And it’s a problem that’s only getting worse, with a 29% rise in the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual in 2022, to £11.7 million.
But, again, some small investments in technology can improve security and reduce your chances of big financial losses as a result of crime.
This includes VinChip and CESAR marking, to prevent and trace thieves. The scheme uses DataTag ID technology, with both visible and hidden markings, allowing stolen machinery to be identified and returned to you.
5. Farm accounting software: to save time and manage your business efficiently
One of the most important reasons for investing in technology is to save time, especially on those tasks you might not enjoy as much.
Farm accounting software could help you achieve this when it comes to your financial accounts.
An accounting package can enable you to monitor cashflow and budgets, get real-time information on your farm’s financial performance, and plan more efficiently.
There are many options available, with packages from the likes of SUM-IT, Farmplan or Xero.