After much back and forth between world leaders, Cop26 came to a conclusion with some progress having been made. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen, and away from the headlines, there is a general sense of disappointment that an opportunity has been missed.
From an agricultural perspective, there were some positives. Twenty-six nations committed to changes in their agricultural policies to become more sustainable and less polluting, with varying degrees of support. For example, from the UK government came a pledge of £65 million to support farmers in implementing new technologies and help with their adoption of more environmentally friendly approaches.
Some encouraging noises were heard, but a sense of caution needs to be exercised here. There is still a lot to be done, and for there to be real change, the sector needs to be thinking beyond such pledges and commitments to focus on actual, tangible change. It also needs to look at how and, more importantly, who is going to be driving this change.
New blood is good for any industry — none more so than the agriculture sector. Farms are passed down through generations, as is vital knowledge and experience. Yet every new generation will face new challenges. Of course, the biggest for this cohort and the next is sustainability and how to meet the imperatives of the green agenda. However, they are well set to meaningfully address the challenge and drive some of the required change.
New tech-led perspectives emerge as a large chunk of veterans retire, as well as a potentially ‘greener’ outlook from some of those that replace them by the nature of the world in which they find themselves.
That is not to say agriculture will — or should — rip it up and start again. In fact, that would be impractical and there simply isn’t the time.
It is therefore a necessity that trust becomes a key currency in the sector. The long-term success of even radical changes is more likely secured if they are endorsed by the most experienced voices across the industry, and notably at an institutional level.
This trust needs to be earned though, and these new farmers and growers need to be willing to work more intelligently — not only with those who came before them but also with those who can better advise. This includes whether that data-evidenced advice comes from upstream or downstream in the supply chain.
The industry is an already fragmented one, and leaders should be looking to increasingly open the gates of the walled gardens right across the supply chain. Leaders should let knowledge flow in all directions, enabling learning from the science-led innovations and data-led analyses that emerge, rather than bunkering down and falling back on any “I know best” instinct.
Don’t Dance With Yourself
This is where the industry can go one step further than the pledges that the industry heard at Cop26. Governments and trade bodies can only do so much. Rapid change on a global scale, closer collaboration across the industry and a willingness to share data so that everyone can benefit are needed.
This is a tall order in an industry in which many players have kept their cards close to their chest for fear that those up or downstream of them will gain an unfair commercial advantage over them.
For there to be real change, leaders need to be pulling together in the same direction. There is already an expectation from consumers that agriculture must be more sustainable, so now is the time to open the gates of those secluded data-walled gardens and communicate with fellow stakeholders.
The sector does seem to be making some headway in recognizing that these issues of fragmentation need to be addressed. Research from RELX, the group of which Proagrica is a part, has shown that 89% of ag industry execs surveyed feel that countries should be sharing tech and resources, suggesting that the industry is one step closer to building bridges across the supply chain.
The framework for trust is certainly being built. Technologies such as AI have the potential to uncover insight that creates new opportunities while respecting the privacy and sensitivity of the source of that data. This promises to allow farmers to worry less about sharing too much information while allowing farm-sourced data to contribute to the analysis and insight that will improve outcomes for them and for others. It is intended that this will encourage greater collaboration and ultimately sustainable growth.
That means embracing technology, data and ultimately collaboration at scale. Making this work will mean building more connected supply chains while ensuring that best practice is shared between different elements.
Additionally, 59% of farmers in a 2020 survey believe reducing greenhouse gas emissions could make farms more financially stable — these green credentials will only improve their stature as a trusted partner to those downstream, their direct customers as well as the ultimate consumers: all of us.
The sustainability challenge is one that needs to be met across the industry. With an increasingly digitally native workforce, an increase in trust coupled with a desire to work together, the sector, and therefore the world, can indeed become substantially and sustainably more meaningfully green.