Back in the day, and shortly after leaving university, I worked a short-term contract for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). This hugely prestigious organisation traces its origins back to the second world war and to a strategic, military operation to provide an active presence on this unclaimed but potentially highly valuable continent.
As time went on, and the second world war evolved into the cold war, Britain’s global, colonial position shifted but this strategic, political role remained highly relevant. However the organisation also developed an important scientific research role – well you had to do something to alleviate the boredom whilst waiting for Russian subs and Chinese gold prospectors to appear.
Like a lifeguard waiting for an incident at the local pool, the organisation justified its existence and secured its funding for the foreseeable, when a small team of BAS researchers based at South Georgia, raised the alarm of an Argentinian occupation of the island which heralded the start of the invasion of the Falkland Islands, precipitating the subsequent conflict.
A similar silver lining to an otherwise gloomy cloud was enjoyed when in 1985, BAS scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer. While a great scientific achievement, this was of course a very worrying example of direct atmospheric damage from human activity and pollution. The global acceptance of this international problem and the swift banning of the pollutants responsible demonstrated the ability of the international community to unite in the face of earth threatening environmental challenges – as long as there is no threat to established multi-billion dollar industries, of course.
Despite my dreams of travel to wild, white Antarctic wildernesses, my post was based at BAS’s less glamorous Cambridge headquarters. Fascinating and enjoyable as it was, I was not to have my heroic Shackleton moment. However, during my time there, the organisation completed something extraordinary.
Even with the latest technologies, communication in the early 2000s could only be made with BAS’s distant research facilities via intermittent and expensive satellites. Sometime around 2003, the organisation turned on an internet system that covered all its operations from the UK, via its ships, to its remote research stations in Antarctica.
Not only did this allow staff and families to communicate with each other from the most remote corners of the most remote continent, it allowed the sharing of data in real time from the scientists these places. This streamlined research and allowed the sharing of ideas both internally and with other international research partners as easily as if they were in the same building.
It might not have the same prestige or global significance, but I am also enjoying a watershed IT moment.
After much cost and hard-work, a new web-based ordering system developed by independent buying group, Agricure, is now up and running and working in harmony with the similarly cloud-based farm-management software, Green Light Grower Management. It’s no hole in the ozone layer, but today I was able to make a recommendation and order product from the comfort of my holiday on the north Norfolk coast – and I thought Fossil Bluff on the Antarctic peninsula was remote.
The plan has been sent to the grower. The order has been sent to the distributor. And an order confirmation has been emailed to me and the client. Simple – as most complicated systems are if working correctly. If I could just sort out some reliable and accurate remote sensing, I could stay here forever! And now I’m older this seems a much better place to be than Antarctica.
First published in August 2021 edition of Agronomist and Arable Farmer magazine. To read the original article or to find out more, please visit www.aafarmer.co.uk”