Fast-developing agri-tech, from robotic pickers to fitness trackers for cows, has the potential to make UK farms more profitable while benefiting the environment, according to a new report compiled by NFU Mutual.

However, the report warns that political uncertainty and worries over future government support for agriculture is holding back investment in technological developments.

The insurer’s Agri-tech Report provides information on the latest trends, together with expert insight and analysis to help farmers make decisions on the direction of their farm businesses after Brexit is resolved.

The report is part of NFU Mutual’s initiative to support farmers to successfully introduce new technology involving training courses, podcasts and joint research projects in addition to developing new insurance and risk management services.

Fang Wang, an NFU Mutual business analyst, is part of an NFU Mutual team that has researched the implications of agri-tech.

She said: “Across the world, new agri-technology is set to make a major impact on farm profitability and world prices.

“In the UK, adoption of new technology is currently slow because of uncertainty over agricultural policy, lack of understanding, shortage of capital and concerns about the reliability of first-generation technology.”

NFU Mutual found that only four per cent of farmers had invested in autonomous tractors, while 12 per cent were planning to invest or were yet to decide.

Fang added, “While entirely understandable, this hesitancy is putting UK farmers at risk of falling behind other nations in the race for efficient, environmentally-friendly food production.”

Fang, who has also worked in the automation industry and conducted studies on global insurance markets, recommends that farmers take a ‘whole of farm’ approach to planning future agri-tech investment to ensure new systems integrate with other parts of the farm management system.

The report’s top tips for farmers planning agri-tech investment are:

• Take a long-term approach – start by reviewing the farm’s strategy and then identify how technology and using detailed data could help you achieve your goals

• Explore technology systems that integrate not only the farm’s activities but also its supply chain, creating opportunities for farmers, food processors and retailers to work together

• Keep up to date with developments and ensure you have the management skills to adopt technology and successfully master the opportunities available from data-based farming

• Consider working with other farms, as co-operation can help achieve economies of scale both in the use of new technology and the adoption of a farmer-friendly supply chain

• Farm data is a valuable asset – recognise its value and be very careful who you share it with

Ali Capper, an NFU Mutual director and Worcestershire fruit and hop grower, believes agri-tech can enable the UK to compete in world markets while maintaining its high standards.

She said: “The fourth agricultural revolution is bringing exciting opportunities to increase productivity, protect the environment and make farming safer.”

“From the use of ‘Big Data’ to inform management decisions to autonomous tractors and robotic pickers, we are on the cusp of a world where farmers and growers can minutely manage inputs to maximise production and use automation and robotics to reduce labour numbers and costs.”