Satellite technologies in UK agriculture – November 2015

Practice area: Downstream Terrestrial Applications | Space
Client: UK Space Agency
Published: November, 2015
Keywords: qualitative analysis quantitative analysis stakeholder surveys and consultations

A Pathfinder study funded under the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP)

The need for sustainable, efficient and cost-effective methods of farming has never been more pressing. As the global population continues to rise, the challenge to meet global food demands in a sustainable manner is becoming increasingly important. At the same time, farmers are being put under increasing pressure by prevailing market conditions.

Agricultural science and technology, known as ‘agri-tech’ – in particular that enhanced by satellite-enabled services – is an important facilitator towards a solution. For this reason, satellite-enabled agri-tech is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors and, along with satellites, has been strategically identified by the government as one of the Eight Great Technologies in which the UK is set to be a global leader.

However, the take-up of such technologies in agriculture has been slower than expected and, despite its importance, there has been limited study of adoption and the constraints on its growth.

London Economics, in collaboration with Satellite Applications Catapult, set out to fill this evidence gap by conducting a market study on the current nature and extent of satellite technology application usage, the underlying drivers of demand, and adoption barriers in the UK’s agricultural sector.

The research report (available to download above) outlines the findings of an online survey to farmers, which shows from a small sample of 50 respondents that farmers are aware of satellite-enabled agri-tech and use a wide variety of its applications.

Users gain from reduced input costs, increased quantity and quality of output, and environmental benefits, but still experience cost, mobile signal reliability, and equipment compatibility and standardisation problems.

There are also barriers to take-up present, including costs, reliability of mobile internet signal on the farmland, insufficient technical knowledge, and the benefits of the technology being unclear. Almost all current users sampled would like to see better standardisation of the equipment, software, and data across vendors and systems.

Understanding the circumstances and factors that influence the adoption of satellite technologies is crucial for developing targeted strategies to increase awareness of its benefits, overcome adoption barriers, and drive adoption. The information in this report provides guidance to policy-makers in the design of engagement and support programmes, and to the satellite industry to seek out opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Although robust and user friendly, this survey research does have its limitations. The report however provides a good starting point and provides UK-specific insights, and paves the way for further iterations of research into this growing market.