45% of tillage farmers say cost is prohibitive to technology use

The tillage sector is generally quick to use new technology where possible. The Crops 2030 report stated that GPS technology was among some of the most popular used by tillage farmers.

GPS technology from steering to yield mapping to targeted application of fertiliser and plant protection products can make a big difference on farms.

However, 45% of tillage farmers have stated that the cost of some of this technology is one of the main reasons it is not used on farms. This was reported in a survey carried out by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

GPS technology allowing farmers to apply variable rates and automatic shut off is often only practical to implement on large-scale farms as the costs outweigh the benefits on smaller farms.

Plant-breeding technologies

The Crops 2030 report stated that: “Where newer technologies result in improved crop varieties, these would be rapidly adopted if available on the market.

“While some lab-based genetic modification (GM) techniques have not been allowed in Europe, other molecular techniques such as marker-assisted selection have sped-up the breeding process.

Newer precision breeding techniques involving gene editing, though not yet passed by the EU, offer scope to further improve breeding speed and accuracy.

Potential impact of precision breeding

The report considered case studies to examine the potential impact of precision breeding technologies on the tillage sector.

One such study examined the use of a spring barley variety with enhanced nutrient use efficiency (NUE). Nitrogen requirement was reduced by 25% in the study.

Another study looked at a potato variety which was bred with increased resistance to late blight. This allowed the use of chemical plant protection products (PPPs) to be reduced by 80%.

It was estimated that gross margins could increase by 10-20% per hectare with the use of these technologies. This equates to €5.8 million annually.

The studies also showed that these decreases in fertiliser and pesticide use would actually help to exceed the targets set out in the Farm to Fork strategy.

The Farm to Fork strategy released in May of this year has set an overall target to reduce fertiliser use by 20% and pesticide use by 50%.

The Crops 2030 report outlined that more research is needed to validate the implementation of new technology in our farming systems, as well as identifying breeding traits that can be effectively developed and integrated into crop management systems to enhance the sustainability of the sector.

On the topic of new technologies, the report added that “an open and objective discussion among all stakeholders is needed on the potential contribution of technologies to achieving the environmental goals of strategies such as Farm to Fork”.