The Rise of Agritech: How the Agriculture Industry is Leveraging Cloud, Big Data and IoT
As arable land decreases by 100,000 hectares per year, global agricultural production needs to double in the next 30 years to cope with demand. Add to this the impact of climate change and mass urbanization, and it is clear the agricultural sector faces a monumental challenge. Beyond investments and the political will to support it, part of the solution lies in the digital transformation of the entire agricultural supply chain.
Data at the Heart of Farming
Technology and data can open new opportunities and help solve problems with production, traceability, and the preservation of natural resources. Despite its traditional image, agriculture is adopting new technological innovations and leveraging the cloud, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to increase productivity while protecting our environment.
From 2013 to 2015, the use of professional agricultural mobile applications jumped by 110%, a sign that the sector was adopting digital technology and seeing the benefits. Today, precision farming allows more accurate and efficient crop monitoring through the rationalization of plot management. This makes it possible to optimize yields, taking into account the different environmental factors that can affect growth, such as soil pH, irrigation, fertilizer, and sunshine. That’s alongside other benefits such as increased food safety and better respect for the environment.
Data is at the heart of this technique. IoT, satellite and drone imagery, weather data and historical yield data can be brought together to inform and speed up the decision-making process that will make farming more efficient. For example, it can optimize the use of pesticides or fertilizers based on the data gathered.
Of course, all of this will not be possible without support from government and the agricultural sector to help UK farmers, suppliers, cooperatives, traders, and manufacturers take advantage of advances in agrictech. In 2015, the then Defra Secretary Liz Truss announced that the Government and the Open Data Institute would support and work towards the adoption of Open Data strategies in the UK agricultural sector to take advantage of the farming-specific data.
Similarly, as part of its Industrial Strategy, the Government is to make £90m available to help British farmers capitalize on developments in agritech with artificial intelligence, robotics, and satellite-powered earth observation. The Government hopes that this will help agriculture realize the benefits of innovations such as the Croprotect app, which helps farmers prevent pest-related crop damage, and the Ordnance Survey’s use of satellite imagery and digital data collection to map farmland.
Cloud-based data collection and real-time analysis can improve product traceability – traders benefit from better allocation planning, simplifying logistics, while cooperatives have the information they need to monitor and advise farmers from production to the point of sale to accurately calculate losses.
It can also improve quality. Analysing data on the entire production chain can help track potentially contaminated foods through the supply chain and stop their distribution. Food safety and consumer information will be enhanced with this detailed insight into the journey of each food product until it reaches the shelves. Carbon footprint, quantities of pesticides or water used are all elements that can be communicated and will make the entire chain more responsible by enabling consumers to make informed choices.
Precision farming is expected to contribute 30% of the growth needed in agricultural production to feed the world by 2050. The potential gain is tremendous, while technologies such as artificial intelligence should give a new impulse to intelligent crop management in the coming years. IoT will increasingly invade the fields and drones will monitor the land and crops in hard-to-reach places.
This revolution will awaken new vocations, particularly among the digitally literate generations. For a sector still perceived as very traditional, technological innovation will profoundly affect it and make it possible to solve the food supply challenges of the 21st century.