by Alan Davies, FUW managing director
The uncertainties of Brexit are discussed in this and many other media outlets on a regular basis and it really is true to say that we just don’t know what is coming our way. Although as a result of the Florence announcements in late September we do know it will take a bit longer to get here.
But there are other changes in the world that really should be of concern to us. These changes are not driven as incremental changes from within the industry but are known as “Disruptive changes” from people outside the industry.
The business concept is relatively simple: take a well established traditional market, and find new ways of producing the same output in a totally different way that ignores the perceived wisdom of a traditional approach.
It’s the modus operandi of the tech industry start up. The idea that a couple of bright kids can change the world with a great – digital – intervention. The method that made Uber the world’s largest taxi company without owning any taxis; it made Skype the world’s largest phone company and they own no telephone networks, and it made Airbnb the largest “owner” of holiday accommodation, without them owning any property.
They all have one thing in common: they have challenged the status quo and worked out new ways of doing things, often a digital way, but definitely a disruptive way.
You might be wondering why or how this is relevant to farming, so let me tell you about two other disruptors that have caught my eye recently.
First up is an indoor-farming start-up (Plenty) backed by the bosses of Amazon and Google with plans to bring high-tech farm warehouses to Britain by 2019. To get ready for this they have raised over £150 million in investment.
In warehouses, plants will grow in 20ft towers with lighting, temperature, water and pests control and will be managed with artificial intelligence – promising to dramatically improve efficiency and output compared with normal farms.
They claim that lettuce can be grown with less than 1 per cent of the water required in a traditional operation. And even though there are some high energy costs these are offset by locating warehouses in or near city centres, doing away with the need for long- haul transport that accounts for up to 40 per cent of the price for fruit and veg.
In America there’s a company called Memphis Meats that produced the first laboratory grown “meat-ball” last year. Since then they’ve made/grown/developed what they call “Clean” chicken and duck after taking a small number of meat cells from real animals. These cells are then fed nutrients enabling them to grow with no additional animal involvement. Once the first batch is up and running it will continue to sustain itself. The same sort of work is being done with fish and even with the wine industry.
So why are they doing this? There appear to be two clear motives: one is profit. everyone needs food, so if you get this right the market is enormous, the payback huge.
But there is also a drive to change the environmental impact of farming. Some supporters forecast that the impact of Memphis Meat replacing methane producing real American beef would be the same as taking 23 million cars off the road. And each and every burger produced this way would save enough water to provide for over 50 domestic showers.
So whilst we consider the impact of Brexit on farming in Wales we really ought to be noting what else is happening in the world as well. There is a revolution coming and that’s food for thought.