Blades of wheat and grass silhouetted over a grey background

Agri-technology

Agri-technology could play a useful role in the future of farming. However, any technology must be proven safe and contribute towards a genuinely sustainable food and farming system.

What is agri-technology?

A driven path through golden wheat fields

Agri-technology refers to a wide range of technologies which are used to improve the efficiency and output of agriculture. Examples include the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), automated irrigation and intelligent software to predict pests and disease. Technologies such as these can help increase sustainability in farming, for example by increasing crop diversity, reducing pesticide and fertiliser use and helping farmers adapt to climate change.

Gene editing

A blue cloudy sky above fields of bright yellow wheat, lined with tree borders

Gene editing is used to breed plants and crops which have greater disease resistance, are more resilient to climate change and less reliant on pesticides and herbicides. It involves making changes to an organism’s DNA by moving, adding or deleting pieces of genetic material. Some of these changes occur randomly in conventional breeding but Gene editing refines and speeds up this process.

Genetic Modification (GM)

Oil seed rape, RSPB Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire, England

GM uses technology to transfer genetic material from one organism into another. The aim is to introduce a particular beneficial characteristic into the receiving organism, which is then known as a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). Worldwide, the main GM crops are soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape which are grown widely in areas including the USA and Brazil.

Potential risks

Brading marshes RSPB reserve, Ryde, Isle of Wight, UK

Agri-technology could help make food production more sustainable but its impact on wildlife, habitat and human health needs to be fully assessed before any new methods are implemented. Our concerns include possible increased pesticide use, further declines in water quality and the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds. It is vital that robust regulation is in place to avoid such negative impacts or unintended consequences.

Preventing damage to nature

Small Heath butterfly| The RSPB

Agri-technology must be regulated in a way that guarantees that the technology will only be used for the public good and not have a negative impact on nature or human health. New technologies should be developed that make farming more sustainable and facilitate a shift towards greener farming techniques. The technologies should be just one part of a wider strategy to produce food in a way which allows nature the thrive and combats climate change.