ADVANCEMENTS in agricultural technology have a major and exciting role to play in helping the growing global population access healthy, affordable and environmentally friendly food.

There has been much discussion at COP26 of how countries intend to reduce the impact food production has on the planet, but no-one seems to be addressing how this matches up with feeding our exponentially growing populations.

With the topic of “science and innovation” on the agenda of today’s climate summit, delegates need to consider carefully some of the exciting technologies which are paving the way for smarter and more sustainable food production in the years ahead.

Globally, our food systems are under mounting pressure to produce enough food to feed a population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, but at the same time are the victims of extreme weather patterns which makes growing conditions increasingly difficult.

Growing food which isn’t held hostage to climate change will add resilience to our food supply chains and that’s where indoor farming systems such as vertical farming technology comes in.

Vertical farming enables certain crops to be grown indoors in vertically stacked irrigation systems, without soil and using LED lights to mimic sunlight and stimulate plant growth. This process is commonly referred to as controlled-environment agriculture and could one day lead to crops being grown in the desert and in countries with fewer daylight hours, such as Iceland.

This method of growing food is particularly important in a climate context, as farms can be built on land not fit for agricultural purposes and close to urban populations, which reduces food miles for consumers.

Agricultural innovator Intelligent Growth Solutions is showcasing this technology at COP26 and has erected a 5.4m vertical farm on the north bank of the River Clyde, so delegates and members of the general public can get a chance to witness this remarkable technology in person.

Although indoor farming systems are not a new concept, they are very much still in their infancy and will prove crucial in the coming years as countries look to increase domestic food production and reduce their reliance on overseas imports.

UK-based indoor growing technology experts LettUs Grow have developed the UK’s first aeroponic research centre in Bristol and they work with farmers to help them develop their own indoor farming systems using aeroponic technology.

Aeroponics is an emerging technology which uses nutrient-enriched aerosols that are applied directly to the roots of crops, improving aeration and increasing yields – without flooding the roots with water.

Co-founder Ben Crowther told me that their technology has so far been used to grow tomatoes, strawberries and tree whips, but their current focus is on leafy greens, with exciting plans in the pipeline to upscale production.

Mr Crowther explained that using this technology takes pressure off our soils and the land, reducing the need to industrially farm our natural environment. It allows us to sustainably intensify production to grow more food to combat growing food insecurity.

As the Scottish Government looks to develop a future agricultural policy outside of the EU, careful consideration and investment must be given to such agricultural technologies which can enable farmers to grow food at a large scale without impacting on the environment.

It is also important to recognise that not only do technological advancements offer solutions to climate challenges but there are projects being piloted here in the UK, such as the use of agri robots, which could offer answers to the crippling labour shortages being felt across the industry.

From ploughing to picking, there are robots being trialled which could in a couple of years change the face of the farming industry as we currently know it.

Halvard Grimstad is one of the main brains behind robotics company Saga Robotics and told me that the autonomous robots he is helping to design, offer solutions to many of the environmental, social and economic challenges which lie ahead.

His company’s most successful project has been the creation of UV-C driverless robots which expose plants to shortwave light, and has resulted in reduced fungicide use, higher yields and has proved highly effective in controlling powdery mildew – a blight experienced by farmers and gardeners alike.

There are currently 10 of these robots in commercial operation at two soft fruit farms in Kent, but in a few years’ time – with the right investment and support – there could be thousands of robots operating in our countryside.

Difficulties in recruiting seasonal workers has led to hundreds of thousands of pounds of crops being wasted during this year’s harvest and with the UK Government standing firm by its hostile immigration policy, automation might be the only option left to growers who are unable to recruit a homegrown workforce.

Picking robots are being piloted as we speak but aren’t yet available on a commercial scale. Halvard assured me that there is a race under way to develop and deliver picking robots, which couldn’t come soon enough for the nation’s growers.

With the potential to protect our soils, reduce pesticide usage, increase food yields and alleviate labour pressures – the future of robots must be embraced and fast, but rollout on a national level will require both an upscale in development and significant investment.

At a time where the eyes of the world are focused on the UK during the global climate summit, the UK Government is ironically preoccupied with pursuing trade deals which not only roll out the red carpet for major agri export nations to undermine our own farmers but make a mockery of our net zero ambitions.

It would be much wiser to invest energy and money into looking at how we can increase domestic food production, alleviate ongoing labour pressures and reduce carbon emissions, through embracing and investing in agricultural technologies – it is not too late to hand back the advantage to our own food producers.