Article

Dig­i­tal

The dig­i­tal tools trans­form­ing the agri­cul­tur­al industry

September 15, 2021

Author

Dhruv Sax­e­na

Country Manager Regional Country Manager

The pres­sure placed on glob­al agri­cul­ture and food sup­ply chains due to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has led to bot­tle­necks in food pro­cess­ing and agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion. The imple­men­ta­tion of mea­sures to curb the spread of the virus led to a dra­mat­ic eco­nom­ic con­trac­tion affect­ing farm­ers, work­ers, and con­sumers around the world. As a result, glob­al food prices have risen. 

Now, the indus­try is look­ing at a steep rebound as nations around the world offer sup­port to the agri­cul­ture sec­tor to short­en the sup­ply chain and improve the food sup­ply. The pandemic-induced dis­rup­tion has also brought a renewed focus on food safe­ty across nations and has sped up invest­ments across the sector. 

The key areas of change 

The indus­try had already been see­ing invest­ments in digi­ti­sa­tion and sus­tain­abil­i­ty of food pro­duc­tion pri­or to the pan­dem­ic. The major trends dri­ving invest­ments include: 

Farm ana­lyt­ics 

Farm ana­lyt­ics sys­tems involve con­trol­ling irri­ga­tion and nutri­ent dis­tri­b­u­tion equip­ment based on con­nect­ed sen­sor data and crop imagery analy­sis. With smart mon­i­tor­ing, farm­ers can accu­rate­ly iden­ti­fy and pre­dict defi­cien­cies by inte­grat­ing weath­er and soil data with nutri­ent and irri­ga­tion sys­tems to improve resource usage and boost yields. 

Sen­sors can also deliv­er imagery from remote cor­ners of fields to assist farm­ers in mak­ing time­ly deci­sions and get­ting ear­ly warn­ings of prob­lems like dis­ease or pests. By mon­i­tor­ing crops for qual­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics like colour and sug­ar con­tent, farm­ers can opti­mise the har­vest­ing win­dow and max­imise yield. . 

Automa­tion 

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic forced many com­pa­nies to address a host of labour issues such as work­place safe­ty, labour short­ages and ris­ing costs. While there were invest­ments in automa­tion before, the pan­dem­ic accel­er­at­ed the trend. For exam­ple, the Euro­pean Union invest­ed $9.4 mil­lion to replace dan­ger­ous tasks with automa­tion and is also start­ing a pro­gramme to enhance old farm­ing machines with autonomous sys­tems. The pos­si­bil­i­ties in automa­tion are excit­ing: Robot-assisted irri­ga­tion sys­tems equipped with Inter­net of Things (IoT) sen­sors can mon­i­tor mois­ture lev­els and send real-time ana­lyt­ics, and aid in con­serv­ing water resources. 

Farm robot­ics 

With improve­ments being made in robot­ics, their via­bil­i­ty is increas­ing across the agri­cul­tur­al val­ue chain from plant­i­ng to har­vest­ing. Evi­dence to this can be gauged from John Deere’s $305 mil­lion acqui­si­tion of Blue Riv­er Tech­nolo­gies in 2017. Blue Riv­er is a start-up which makes robots capa­ble of iden­ti­fy­ing unwant­ed plants and spray­ing them with high-precision her­bi­cide, reduc­ing input costs and increas­ing effi­cien­cy. Farms can be auto­mat­ed with robots used for seed­ing or drones to water plants in the field. A Seat­tle com­pa­ny, Car­bon Robot­ics, invent­ed a robot that can autonomous­ly dri­ve through fields to remove weeds. Ful­ly autonomous har­vest­ing machines may still be a long way off, but inroads are being made into an area of farm­ing heav­i­ly reliant on human dex­ter­i­ty and input. Sev­er­al apple-picking robots and nurs­ery machines have been invent­ed by a num­ber of companies. 

Farmer infor­ma­tion systems 

Coop­er­a­tives and multi­na­tion­al trad­ing organ­i­sa­tions have been step­ping up their rela­tions with farm­ers and pro­duc­ers, from mere­ly hav­ing a buyer-seller rela­tion­ship to inte­grat­ing them into their sup­ply chain. This includes increas­ing trace­abil­i­ty as well as devel­op­ing farm-level intel­li­gence sys­tems to track crop yield at indi­vid­ual part­ner lev­el. It also allows them to pro­vide agro­nom­ic sup­port to farm­ers, thus hav­ing a bet­ter fore­cast of sup­ply of har­vest­ed crop. 

Trace­abil­i­ty 

Food trace­abil­i­ty using blockchain tech­nol­o­gy is quick­ly gain­ing momen­tum. Blockchain pro­vides the abil­i­ty to instan­ta­neous­ly trace the move­ment of a food prod­uct and its ingre­di­ents through all the steps in the sup­ply chain. This reduces instances of food safe­ty haz­ards at each stage of the sup­ply chain and speeds up the abil­i­ty to quick­ly rec­ti­fy or con­tain con­t­a­m­i­na­tion or out­breaks. It also pro­vides con­sumers with the abil­i­ty to trace their food from farm to fork, bol­ster­ing the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the food prod­uct. The tech­nol­o­gy has already gone through pilot projects with com­pa­nies such as Wal­mart and Car­refour and is now being imple­ment­ed by HUL and Nes­tle as well. 

Build­ing the foun­da­tion for change 

The agri­cul­ture and farm­ing indus­try is poised for increased dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. These con­tin­ued invest­ments will help improve food safe­ty and address mul­ti­ple bot­tle­necks with­in the food sup­ply chain whilst reduc­ing costs. 

Digi­ti­sa­tion can help the agri­cul­ture and farm­ing indus­try build resilience against an uncer­tain mar­ket­place, as well as the man­age the real­i­ty of a glob­al food sup­ply chain for­ev­er changed by COVID-19. 

How­ev­er, get­ting ahead — and stay­ing ahead — of the com­pe­ti­tion can only hap­pen if dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion is imple­ment­ed suc­cess­ful­ly and is aligned with the organisation’s busi­ness needs and goals. That can only hap­pen with an effec­tive trans­for­ma­tion roadmap. 

This also involves lead­er­ship thor­ough­ly defin­ing their over­all strat­e­gy and imple­men­ta­tion plan for the organ­i­sa­tion to ensure that the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion will enable them to meet their busi­ness needs, and to embed a cul­ture of con­tin­u­ous improve­ment in their organ­i­sa­tion so that they will be able to sus­tain the change. 

Author

Dhruv Sax­e­na

Country Manager Regional Country Manager

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