After the challenges of advising growers through the soggy slog of Autumn 2019, it comes as a relief to once again feel privileged to work in agriculture. The First Minister of Scotland described our industry as “contributing something essential to the well-being of the nation” in an address at the start of the Coronavirus lockdown. In addition to this political recognition, we are among the lucky few who are able to get out of our homes to carry out the essential work of managing fields, and these fields are undergoing a rapid transformation. The change is thanks to a tremendous spell of weather and some lateral thinking to get cropping plans back on track.
It is not, however, business as usual for members or advisors. A core aim of Scottish Agronomy is to provide members with evidence to inform decision making and create a platform for debate and discussion. Maintaining this ethos of communication and collaboration during social distancing has been a key task this month. Many growers have observed that spring is already a time of social distancing thanks to the normal manic workload – remote working has very different meanings when applied to farmers and office workers. Using technology to our advantage has allowed even those who are tied to the farm to attend video meetings and keep up to date with relevant advice.
The agricultural industry has been slower to adopt some aspects of mobile communication, but our recent experiences suggest that connectivity is improving in the countryside and that we were perhaps wrong to completely discount these technologies for quite so long. I’m the first to admit that agronomy group meetings are at their best when members are problem solving around the kitchen table or in a field but we shouldn’t discard all of the benefits offered by alternative platforms when normality returns.
Many businesses are waking up to their obligations to environmental, social and governance issues. The potential to reduce travelling and the associated CO2 emissions and time pressures has been highlighted by changes in working practice enforced by the lockdown.
Within our own co-operative structure, members from the Borders to the Highlands have an equal voice. Adapting and adopting technologies that more urban businesses have used for years is a means of ensuring that everyone can always hear and be heard without huge commitments in both time and fuel. These enforced changes may well mould how we operate Scottish Agronomy in the future, using technology not as a distancing tool but as a means to integrate and so strengthen the cooperative even more.