The world of UK agriculture is ever-changing. Some of these factors are out of our control (extreme weather, global prices, war, to name a few), however, many areas are within our sphere of influence.

Reduction, and eventual eradication, of Basic Payment is one of the biggest changes the farming community is facing. Despite the challenges and unknowns of this, there are many opportunities to improve business efficiency, productivity and profitability, and precision farming could be part of the solution.

So, what is precision farming?

According to the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) 2021, "Precision agriculture is a management strategy that gathers, processes and analyses temporal, spatial and individual data, combining it with other information to support management decisions. According to estimated variability for improved resource use efficiency, productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability of agricultural production”.

The Northern Farmer: Becca Dodd of Yan Farm Health

In its crudest form, precision farming is a concept that aims to observe and measure individuals and then respond to findings within a herd or flock. This is not a novel concept, with technology capable of this commonplace on many dairy herds, where individual outputs are used daily to ensure cow health and performance is maximised.

The concept of observing, measuring, and responding are the backbone of herd and flock health planning. Here we look at whole flock or herd performance over a given timeframe. This remains an important cornerstone of vet-farmer interaction.

Precision farming takes this a step further using data from individuals for targeted, distinct, interventions, as well as analysing herd or flock trends.

For example, the graph is from a beef enterprise utilising automated data collection at monthly weighing. Here you can see the general trend in weights of a group of youngstock. Circled are the most recent weights showing a slight drop in performance. Testing indicated the presence of lungworm in this group, which allowed appropriate treatment before clinical signs were noticed, which in turn minimised the reduction in growth performance.

This highlights the importance of a close working relationship with your vet as a professional who understands your system's aims and objectives, allowing working in partnership to efficiently manage problems as they arise.

The arrow identifies an underperforming individual that may require a further individual assessment. This individual had pneumonia as a calf which resulted in poorer performance compared to its pen mates.

Investment in technology is often helpful to accurately collate and store group data, for which grants can be highly beneficial. Nevertheless, reading the fine-print of the equipment specification is crucial as different systems are often very specific.

Understanding and analysing data can quickly turn into a full-time job. Again, this is an opportunity to bring in younger generations, who are often more technologically savvy, as well as those not from a farming background as an alternative route into agriculture.

Role of the farm vet?

Ultimately, healthy stock are efficient stock, therefore who is better placed than your vet to discuss their performance? The government-funded Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, which is part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), is a great opportunity to engage with vets for bespoke health planning for your flock and/or herd. By farming proactively and seeking out the health and welfare limitations of your system, you can aim to maximise the health, welfare, and performance of your stock.

For more information visit or contact your local practice.

  • References: International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) (2021)