Farmers must embrace science and data to meet ‘multipurposing’ land demands

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UK farmers and land managers are being advised to tap into cutting-edge ‘location science’ and geospatial data to help them make the right business choices amidst increasing demand for land.

A recent report from the UK Government’s Geospatial Commission highlighted that agriculture is the sector facing the greatest threat of essential changes in UK land use1.

According to the report, the agriculture sector is the most dominant ‘land taker’ in England, occupying almost two thirds of total land area.

It says the sector is under pressure to meet the food and energy needs of a growing population, adapt to climate change and protect nature – as well as adjust to radical changes in public funding.

To find a balance, farmers must embrace opportunities to ‘multipurpose’ land using science and data, says Paul Brown, senior Geographic Information (GI) remote sensing specialist at Fera Science Ltd.

High quality data valuable

“As the Geospatial Commission’s research shows, high quality geospatial data is incredibly valuable when it comes to investigating where agricultural land could potentially be used in a smarter way,” he explains.

He says Fera’s team of LAND360 scientists works with geospatial data to map how rural land is currently being used and investigate where different management options could deliver maximum reward for both the environment and a farm business.

Paul Brown

“We carry out geospatial mapping at a regional level, right through to mapping unique individual habitats at a farm, or even field, scale,” adds Mr Brown.

“We can then build a baseline with this mapping data, which allows farmers to understand the impact of investing in sustainability projects, such as sowing a wildflower meadow or herbal ley, and pinpoint which farm locations are best-suited for this.”

He says these sustainability projects don’t necessarily have to replace existing farming practices, they could work alongside them – for example, an agroforestry strip within a cereal field.”

“Understanding this farmland data also gives a steer on which government schemes, such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive, and/or private finance schemes could be applied to make the project financially viable,” adds Mr Brown.

“We know that farmers and land managers are under pressure to keep businesses profitable through huge funding changes; capturing, monitoring and understanding farmland data is a vital first step to making more informed business decisions, and visualising the long-term impact of sustainability initiatives.”

He says the LAND360 service is helping to make geospatial data more accessible and useable for farmers.

“Fera can help in every step along the way, visualising land use change and modelling different option scenarios so that you can understand which schemes or blend of schemes – government or private – would be best to undertake,” adds Mr Brown.

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