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Drones to count sheep or gene edit crops: Millennials embrace futuristic farming

Two thirds of under-30s believe technology is a good thing for farming

7th May 2018 – Young people are overwhelmingly in favour of using new and disruptive technology to revolutionise farming methods in the UK, according to new research by Populus published today.

While Britons have historically been hesitant about the use of new technology in farming and with GM foods not currently grown in the UK, two thirds (67%) of millennials asked about how Britain could respond to the pressures facing the agricultural sector in the UK, supported the use of innovations such as unmanned aerial vehicles to shore up crop security and improve yields. For example, only one in five (19%) of those surveyed objected to the use of self-driving tractors on farms.

At a time when the global population is rising, UK farmers are under increasing pressure to up their productivity and compete with imported products, whilst at the same time be more sustainable, lower their carbon and environmental footprint and support on-farm biodiversity.

The Populus survey of more than 1,600 18 to 30 year olds, carried out for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc), identified widespread support for the use of new technologies that could make a huge difference to farming communities. 65% of young people supported the use of drones in livestock farming to count sheep and a similar per cent (63%) agreed with the use of drones in arable farming to assess, monitor and spray crops.

In particular respondents aged 18-24 were the most supportive of the latest techniques to help make crops more nutritious, pest and disease resistant. The benefits of gene editing or genetically modifying crops were widely recognised, with approximately 50% (52% and 49%) of the younger age bracket agreeing that they can play a major role in making UK farming more sustainable for the future. The opposition to the use of these techniques was low across the UK with only approximately 20% of respondents objecting to the use of gene editing and GM (21% and 22%).

These results come as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs concludes its public consultation into what future agricultural policy should look like post Brexit. The proposals put forward by the Secretary of State for DEFRA Michael Gove MP recognise that developing and adopting the next generation of food and farming technology could reduce the impact of pests and diseases and improve the UK’s competitiveness.

abc is calling on the Government to use the UK’s exit from the EU, and the reset of agricultural policy, as an opportunity to take advantage of ground-breaking technologies that have previously been blocked by political intervention at an EU level. The use of gene editing and GM technology in the UK post Brexit could help UK farming flourish, whilst maintaining the highest levels of consumer safety and environmental protections.

Commenting on the survey, Mark Buckingham, Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council said: ‘We are delighted to see young people embrace technology as part of the future of farming. Using cutting edge technology and growing techniques will enable the UK to deal with the serious challenges of keeping our farmers competitive, maintaining a safe, affordable food supply, and protecting our natural environment. With Brexit on the horizon, techniques such as editing individual genes in crops to make them more resistant to diseases are going to be essential to help British farmers and scientists lead the world in agri-science.’