General public backs use of technology in farming, poll finds

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Advanced technologies will play an important role in the future of farming and in attracting young people into the industry the general public believe, according to a new poll.

The poll of just over 2000 adults conducted by independent market research agency Populus on behalf of Bayer suggested that the majority agreed with the use of genetic modification and new breeding technologies such as gene editing, providing they were safe and had no negative consequences related to health and the environment.

Just over half (54%) agreed with GM foods in principle, with a further 10% believing they were the only way forward in ensuring there was enough food by reducing crops’ vulnerability to disease through genetic modification. Young people (18-24) were twice as likely to believe GM crops were the only solution compared with the over-45s, while men were more supportive of GM crops in principle (60%) than women (48%).

Similarly, gene editing, which is a new technology where the existing genes in a plant are optimised helping to breed new crop varieties more resistant to disease or drought, for example, was supported by 51% of the poll participants, with a further 26% not having an opinion. Again, women were more cautious about the use of technology, with 29% not believing it was safe compared with only 16% of men. Typically respondents from the highest social grade AB
were most supportive of the use of gene editing with 57% happy for it to be used.

The use of such and other new technologies was seen by the public as positive in attracting young people into the industry, with 75% of respondents believing that high-tech farming would be more attractive to young people than currently. But nearly one-third suggested more information needed to be made available about the opportunities and skills required, while 22% said they would not know how someone became a farmer.

“It’s really encouraging to see the increasing public acceptance of new technologies in agriculture,” said Dr Julian Little, Bayer’s Head of Communications and Government Affairs for Crop Science. “These technologies are going to be vital in helping to meet the challenges to feeding a growing world population in the future.

“It’s also interesting to see the public agree that new technology has a vital role in encouraging young people into the industry. This industry continues to evolve, and the use of technology is just one of the reasons why it is an exciting industry to be part of now and even more so in the future.

“But the survey also highlights that as an industry we need to be better at ‘selling’ the opportunities within the industry and the skills future farmers will require.

“It is something we take seriously at Bayer. Our Bayer FarmEd programme of educational activities is designed to highlight opportunities for young people within agriculture, help train newcomers in the industry, as well as enthuse young people and children about modern farming.”

Initiatives within the Bayer FarmEd programme include the Youth Ag-Summit, where 100 delegates from all over the world join in a week-long Summit to discuss solutions to feeding a hungry planet, sponsoring Farmers Weekly’s Farmers Apprentice, which aims to inspire young people to work in farming, and running Knowledge Academies for agronomist trainees.

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