Dr David Bozward, Head of Entrepreneurship at the Royal Agricultural University, talks to us about how technology is helping the agricultural industry to evolve
Established 176 years ago, The Royal Agricultural University is one of the first agricultural colleges in the English-speaking world, and offers areas of study including agriculture, real estate, land management, international business, agri-food business, environment studies, culture heritage and equine science.
Although agriculture is often perceived as an industry that is slower at picking up new technology, Dr David Bozward acknowledges that ‘the technology wave is hitting the agricultural industry very quickly now, and we’re seeing a lot more developments in robotics and in the way we grow crops.’ In the last few years, the University itself has undergone significant transformation to improve their education offering through technology – which has led to Dr Bozward’s appointment as one of the judges for the EdTech category of the Super Connect For Good event, which is a competition created by Empact Ventures and Hays Technology to discover the best emerging start-ups positively impacting people’s lives through technology.
Adapting to changing educational needs
The University realised that certain short courses required farming professionals to travel long distances, which was not only not particularly convenient or productive, but also having a negative effect on the carbon footprint, so transitioning to online learning became a strategic priority. With an international student presence, improving the University’s online learning facilities also made perfect sense.
Dr Bozward explains: ‘About three to four years ago, we started to realise that we needed to get better at running our CPD (Continued Professional Development) courses and teaching online. After applying and securing funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, we started a project across the whole University to introduce change in a bid to try and get everyone to be better at education technology and embed it everywhere. These changes across our undergraduate and postgraduate courses have changed our culture for the good and it has proved to be very successful.’
Getting up to speed with best practice
Even though technology advances are visible here in the UK within the agriculture industry, Dr Bozward explains that ‘after doing research, India and Africa are in some respect ahead of us with their technology used for agriculture. For instance, in India and Africa, direct electronic payment from everyone’s phone is just the default and instant way of doing business, whereas in the UK, this is not the case, many farmers are still using traditional payment methods. It’s absolutely phenomenal how a different payment system has changed the lives of people because they get the money instantly.’ Having this type of payment technology streamlined across agriculture would enable better productivity and flexibility.
Dr Bozward is a great believer in education, and after reviewing some of the apps at Super Connect For Good, he was impressed with the quality and innovation of the technology presented. He sees the potential of the role this technology can play in helping evolve the agricultural industry and developing processes that will make agriculture more efficient.
Using agricultural technology to tackle societal and environment issues
As the agricultural industry is often identified as having a considerable impact on climate change, using innovative technology in agriculture can help curtail this ever-increasing global issue.
‘Farmers need to have more innovative tools to enable them to manage the changes they’re dealing with as a result of climate change. Access to this type of technology will help them understand when to plant and identify weather patterns to the types of seeds to use,’ Dr Bozward explains. ‘In many parts of the world, a farmer tends to think about the present, but what we need to do is to encourage long-term thinking into the everyday work of a farmer. This shift in behaviour will encourage a better approach to putting carbon back into the soil, a commitment to looking after the environment and hopefully creating an ecosystem that works.’
Attracting the next agricultural generation
‘With the average farmer in the UK looking to retire in a few years, a trend that we’re seeing across the globe – we need to educate a new group of people, the next generation who are going to take over these farms. EdTech is going to be crucial to instilling these farmers with an environmentally friendly mindset and giving them the tools to successfully do international trade whilst making it a favourable thing to do’, Dr Bozward explains.
‘One of the apps that did appeal to us at the competition was one that was built around behavioural science – looking at those in their teenage years to understand how we can get them engaged and motivated to work through some of the challenges associated with the agricultural education process,’ he says. ‘Even though retired farmers will be passing on their farms to their kids who are more tech savvy, it’s still pivotal that we attract young people from different walks of life into agriculture to nurture its future’, he concludes. ‘Understanding how we can make agriculture appealing as a long-term career through technology will be crucial in driving the industry forward.’
If you would like to see our finalists compete to be crowned the overall winner of the Super Connect For Good competition, you can register to attend the Virtual Final on 18th November.
Director, Hays Technology, UK & Ireland
James Hallahan, Director of Hays Technology and James Harvard, our professional services business, has over 20 years’ experience in technology and digital recruitment, and solutions that deliver outcomes for customer success. James is responsible for delivering strategic growth across both the private and public sectors, through scaling existing products and services and innovating with new solutions to both existing and new markets within which we operate.