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Technology in Farming

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

2. What assessment she has made of the potential contribution of data and technology to maximising the potential of British food and farming. (902774)

Data and technology have a central role to play in maximising the potential of British food and farming. There are huge numbers of datasets in existence relating to issues such as crop yields and disease. In October we launched the first of our centres of excellence under the agri-tech strategy. The AgriMetrics Centre will use £12 million of Government funding to develop computer models to enable us to harness these data.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and will he join me in welcoming the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub, which opened last month in Soham and is developing pioneering technologies to reduce crop waste and food waste and boost production? Does he agree that we need to invest further in agri-tech to grow our industries, such as those in Cambridgeshire?

My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point, and I welcome the Eastern AgriGate Research Hub which she opened recently. Improving productivity and reducing waste requires innovation that works on a commercial scale, and the new hub will develop these solutions. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that technology has a role to play in reducing waste and improving our use of resources.

First, may I wish the whole of the British countryside, and even the Secretary of State, a very happy Christmas? You will be pleased to know, Mr Speaker, that even though I am the MP for Huddersfield I am not a Luddite. I am absolutely in favour of good management in the rural environment and in our agriculture, and using data and technology, but the other side of that is that much of our countryside is being destroyed for wildlife by industrial farming. That is the truth of the matter. Indeed, even in Cambridgeshire there are whole swathes of the countryside with nothing living to be seen. We must get the balance right between protecting the environment and using technology in agriculture.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to get the balance right, but I disagree with his view that we are not getting it right. We have for many years now had very successful countryside stewardship schemes with billions of pounds invested in creating new habitats for wildlife so that we can see a recovery in farmland bird populations and an improvement in, for instance, the number of pollinators.

May I also wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers and those in the Department a merry Christmas, and indeed a peaceful new year, even sometimes in this place? I want to emphasise the issue of online services in the Department. While they are very useful and helpful, not every farming community has good rural broadband and they do not always replace the face-to-face contact that is required by farmers.

We recognise that, which is why we will in future be ensuring that farmers who want to submit their basic payment scheme applications on paper will be able to do so, but the Government are also investing hundreds of millions of pounds to bring broadband to areas that do not currently have it.