Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra with responsibility for the environment, spoke in a CLA webinar recently. It was a typical politician’s contribution, full of aspiration but very short on detail. She said her main priorities were soil and water and hoped that soil health would be recognised as a public good and attract grants in the forthcoming Environmental Land Management Scheme. Whilst the Agriculture Bill has almost finished its passage through Parliament, the Environment Bill is some way behind, but she emphasised that the two are very closely linked.
The internet giant, Google, has used its artificial intelligence research to branch out into farm robotics. Its X Development subsidiary has launched an autonomous electric ‘plant buggy’ powered by solar panels. Driving through crops, it has cameras and sensors to count plants, identify weeds and assess growth potential. When its findings are combined with other data, such as soil analysis and weather predictions, they will provide valuable information to inform agronomic decisions. If the laser technology being developed by others could be mounted on the buggy, it could be used to zap weeds without the need for herbicide.
RABI new initiative
The farming charity, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, has launched a new initiative to help with community wellbeing. There are two websites, one for adults, one for 11 to 17 year olds, offering advice on mental health. There is also access to one-to-one counselling. This comes at a time when significant stress is coming on three fronts: the Covid-19 pandemic, a very poor farming year caused by adverse weather and worry about the final Brexit implications.
Boxing Day Meets
The Hunting Office has announced that the traditional Boxing Day meets will be downgraded this year. Rather than meeting in town and village centres to allow the general public to join the celebrations, hunts will meet in more remote locations to avoid crowds gathering. It has been suggested that hunting may have survived the first three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, conquest, war and famine, but not the fourth, Pale Rider Plague!