Tesco’s Head of Agriculture: Controlling Water Quality is a Key Issue None is Innovating For
Barney Kay is head of agriculture at Tesco, the leading UK retailer. Tesco is hosting World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London 15th and 16th October so we caught up with Kay to find out more about the retailer’s views on agricultural innovation.
“What are Tesco’s priorities when it comes to adopting technology across its supply chain?”
We want to build a strong agricultural sector of the future focused on our long-term partnerships with your suppliers to help grow our business and serve our shoppers better. Many of our suppliers are already leading the way in research and we are making sure we’re doing everything we can to foster innovation, whether that’s to make UK agriculture more sustainable, reduce water use or to provide new products to customers.
“What are some examples of new technologies being used in your supply chain?”
A large amount of the new and exciting technologies being trialled in our supply chains are sensitive, so we are not able to share them at the moment. However, to give you a flavour, an example would be the increasing use of camera technology to help forecast the harvest date, quality and yield of crops along with field-based sensors. This highlights the direction of wanting to drive data-led decision making, which flows benefit right the way through our supply chains, leading to more efficient, sustainable and healthy food production.
“Why is Tesco hosting the Tesco Agri T-Jam at World Agri-Tech Conference in London next week?”
We are excited to give start-ups a chance to pitch their innovation to our team with the winner gaining an opportunity to partner with a supplier of ours and to help Tesco in its mission to provide affordable, sustainable food to our customers.
“Will you be investing in start-ups?”
We might be but that’s not our primary aim. There are plenty of funds already targeting agritech investment; where we see our opportunity is to add strength to those portfolios through our strong partnerships in the supply chain, giving start-ups access to our supply partners to do commercial trials. I come from a poultry farming background and often see things that look good in a laboratory but then take them out and into the hands of less scientific farmers and they don’t stand up – these technologies need to be able to stand up to the common denominator.
“If you could build an agritech start-up from scratch with no limitations on tech capacity or investment, what would it be?”
If you look at animal nutrition across species, you’ve got a huge amount of research tailored towards feed rations and optimizing feed based on the different ages of animals as they develop, however, the bit we struggle to control and is absolutely vital, is water.
Because we are not able to control water quality, there is less research in that area. The lacking bit is how can you pick up in real-time the bacterial load in a water line and control water through its various different avenues?We can spend a lot of money on feed rations, but if the animal’s gut integrity is wrong because of bacteria in the water line, that nutrition is wasted and is also a welfare issue. Water issues can give you variation in a flock or a herd, and become a challenge for a processor or the customer with different sized animals. If we can get on top of water quality, we’re more likely to utilize our feed as efficiently as possible, which will be more cost effective and result in better health for the animal.
Water quality is relevant in the fresh produce industry too as e-coli and salmonella are spread through water. We obviously follow the sun in terms of supply from around the globe to ensure all year-round supply, and each supplier will have different variabilities in terms of water management. So it would be great to have a technology that allows you to quickly spot a problem in water quality.
Water Powered Technologies have been promoting better water quality for years. One of the best solutions may be not so much a ‘tech’ solution, but good old farming practice with a little help from a modern hydro ram. WPT manufacture a new generation of ram pumps which are more efficient and affordable than their Victorian-designed ancestors. The Papa Pump can deliver water from a stream or river without the use of any fuel or electricity (and therefore with no running costs) up to a storage tank to be gravity fed around the farm – a 100% renewable energy system. So, how does this improve water quality? Because you are delivering water to the animals, they don’t have to go to the stream or river to drink. So by practising Water Catchment Management, you can fence off the watercourse, keeping animals from fouling the watercourse and eliminate pollution at the source. An added bonus to improving water quality is that the farmer can not only save money – a lot of money if they are supplementing animal water from the mains supply – but also from reducing fuel costs if they were previously using electric or diesel pumps to move water.