Digital Transformation in Agriculture

Wednesday, 18 Oct, 2017   /   Soltius

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Despite Agriculture being a $7.8 trillion industry, representing 10% of global GDP, it has always been the least digitised globally. However, the exponential growth in population (estimated to reach 9 to 11 billion by 2050) among other factors is affecting long term climate stability and availability of resources. To keep up with this population, the industry’s output has to increase 60% by 2030

In recognition of these developments, the industry has turned to technology for innovative and sustainable solutions. In fact, figures indicate that the agricultural sector’s investment in technology (Agtech) has grown substantially in recent years, reaching $4.6 billion in 2015.

In this blog, we explain how digital innovation can help the Agricultural sector increase their output in a sustainable way.

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Big Data in Agriculture 

Big data has the potential to revolutionise the entire food chain.

For input companies, data can improve the management and increase the utility of the data they work with (e.g. through bioinformatics), creating closer links with farmers.

For farmers, data (such as prescriptions from input companies) can enhance their productivity and efficiency levels. To help farmers, particularly in developed markets, to harness the potential of their data, a number of modern agriculture companies such as Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer have been established.  

For downstream food chain players, ICT tools can help with tracking and certification schemes.

With the rapid uptake in smartphone, the interface is becoming increasingly mobile, promising to deliver added-value to small farmers in developing markets as well as the larger ones in developed countries. 

To benefit from the opportunities that big data has to offer, advances in the equipment sector are necessary.  Sensors, radio-frequency identification technology, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are required to collect the data which feeds into the algorithms and prescriptions being used to predict and improve crop yields.

Sophisticated equipment is needed to execute the tailored applications of seed, fertiliser and water, and to track the yield of the harvested crops. While large equipment manufacturers such as John Deere are  participating, for example through fleet management software, many smaller specialist companies are entering the market.

Technology solving problems

Developments in robotics and sensing technologies are threatening to disrupt the traditional agribusiness model.

According to Simon Blackmore, an engineer at Harper Adams University in Newport, UK, a robotic agricultural system can make crop production significantly more efficient and more sustainable.

In greenhouses, devoted to fruit and vegetable production, engineers are exploring automation as a way to reduce costs and improve the quality of produce. Devices to monitor vegetable growth, as well as robotic pickers, is currently being tested.

For livestock farmers, sensing technologies can help oversee the health and welfare of their animals.

Work is also underway to improve the monitoring and maintenance of soil quality, as well as to eradicate pests and disease without resorting to the indiscriminate use of agrichemicals.

Although some of these technologies are already on the shelf, most are at the research stage in labs and spin-off companies. According to Blackmore, big-machinery manufacturers are not investing in the manufacturing of agricultural robots because it goes against their current business models. Researchers such as Blackmore and Kantor are part of a growing body of scientists with plans to revolutionise agricultural practice. Richard Green, agricultural engineer at Harper Adams, believes that technology has the potential to double food production.

To deal with tomorrow’s challenges and remain viable in a challenging environment, the Agricultural industry has to adopt modern tools. By partnering with a trusted SAP provider like Soltius, perceived complexities are simplified thanks to years of experience in the industry.

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