Fast-developing agri-tech, from robotic pickers to fitness trackers for cows, has the potential to make UK farms more profitable while benefitting 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 the latest technological developments.

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

Fang Wang, an NFU Mutual business analyst, is part of a team that has researched the implications of agri-tech for farmers and global agriculture. She said: “Across the world new agri-technology is set to make a major impact on farm profitability and even world prices. In the UK, adoption of new technology is currently slow because of uncertainty over agricultural policy and support, lack of understanding, shortage of capital and concerns about the reliability of first-generation technology.”

Research found that only 4 per cent of farmers had already 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 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

Read more: Show-stopping cattle and futuristic agri-tech at Dairy Show

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

“The fourth agricultural revolution is bringing exciting opportunities for farmers 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.”

Gregor Belcher, a student at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, helped research the emerging agri-tech developments featured in the report. He said: “For students and young farmers every day brings news of new developments. While young farmers may be more willing to accept and promote change, control over an existing farm’s finances or access to funding for a new farm business is one of the greatest challenges.

“This is why it is vital to strike the right balance between having the practical understanding of traditional farming and learning the business skills to implement agri-tech.”

The report is part of the insurer'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.

The report, together with a series of videos and podcasts produced to help farmers considering investing in agri-tech, is now available to download on NFU Mutual’s website.