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AgTech: How Technology is giving yield to growth
Technology in Agriculture has been advancing since the beginning of humankind. Over time, our ancestors have built and innovated tools and techniques to mass produce food and adapt to changing climates and landscapes to sustain civilizations.
Over the last 50 years, advances in machinery have expanded the scale, speed, and productivity of farm equipment, leading to improved and efficient cultivation of more land. Today, technology in Agriculture is termed as AgTech, or Agritech and is constructively being used to make farming much smarter and more efficient than it has ever been.
The need for innovation in Agtech is stronger than ever before. Some of the pressing reasons for this include the increasing demand for food, scarcity of available land and increasing GHG emissions. Additionally, cold- weather countries like Canada have a limited growing season of around 120 frost free days on an average every year which makes it essential to utilize technology to optimize the farming supply chain.
Technological reforms in Agriculture are thereby critical to ensure the yield curve per acre continues to rise to make countries self-sufficient.
What is AgTech?
Agricultural Technology or AgriTech or AgTech is essentially the application of technology to consistently produce more with less by making the farming process more efficient in its entirety from the field to the supply chain. Today, the more advanced technologies in this field are fuelling the ‘fourth agricultural revolution’ and are reshaping the agri-food sector both in Canada and globally.
Some of the popular technologies that are increasing efficiencies in the food chain today are vertical or urban farming, genetic modification of seeds, cultured meats and crowdfarming.
Some of the categories that fall under AgTech include smart farming, digital agriculture, and precision agriculture. The dominant technologies across these categories include drone technology, sensors, Internet of Things, data analytics, nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain among others.
By measuring the needs of individual crops and fields, precision agriculture process focuses on ‘optimization’ and ‘precision’ leading to saving costs, reduced wastage and reduced environmental impact. It allows farmers to recognize differences in biological, chemical and physical environments and provide necessary treatment and nutrition uniformly.
Smart Farming is the application of information and data technologies to optimize complex farming systems. It essentially focuses on producing maximum yields from the same land, but with lesser investment.
Smart Farming does not involve only farm machinery, but rather involves all farm operations including terrain, weather, manpower, etc. Unlike precision farming, smart farming does not focus on specifics, but rather on collection, analysis, and application of data to ensure it is utilized in a smart manner for best results. Real-time data is gathered from multiple sources and farmers are empowered to make informed decisions based on this concrete, conglomerated data.
Digital Agriculture or Digital Farming is described as “the application of big data and precision technology systems in agriculture”. It is an integration of precision agriculture and smart farming. It involves creating and forming value from data collected with actionable intelligence. This also includes other digital transformation trends like IoT and sensors in the field and equipment, drones and crop monitoring, farming and robotics, Radiofrequency Identification (RFID) sensors ad tracking and machine learning and analytics. Digital agriculture provides an opportunity for enhanced production, reduced risks and long-term cost effectiveness.
Challenges and Opportunities for AgTech
While AgTech has resulted in pockets of success across the country, we will only be able to see monumental progress if the technologies are used at scale and are made accessible to the Canadian market. Let’s look at some of the opportunities and challenges of AgTech adoption as we know it now:
|Some regions lack the necessary connectivity infrastructure to seamlessly use agricultural technology.||AgTech can enable farms to be more productive and produce more with less.|
|There is an apparent lack of trust in the various technologies being introduced as their impact has not been sufficiently proven.||Agtech can improve supply chain relationships between Agri-business and Agri-food.|
|The cost vs. value of agtech does not make sense unless data and results can be accurately interpreted and efficiently utilized.||There are increased chances of repeatedly obtaining a desired level of yield.|
|Labor shortage is another pressing challenge as it is important to especially have workers with the necessary technical skills to handle and utilize advancing technologies.||There is reduced risk and recurrent costs, that increases profitability in the long run.|
|The cost of initial investment of smart farm equipment is very high as the limited level of adoption does not justify high production volumes and hence the cost per unit stays high.||As IoT technologies mature, costs for everything from drones/UAVs to sensors and communication equipment, will continually decrease, making connected agriculture more accessible to smaller farms and rural communities.|
|After sales technical support is also difficult to implement (mainly due to distances between urban and rural areas, especially in Canada)|
AgrTech and the Environment
According to the UN, globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted. This food waste contributes to higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from landfills (Nearly 8 % of all greenhouse gases worldwide are the result of food waste).
By implementing more stringent standards of agricultural practices, and by affectively using Agtech to make better decisions based on real-time data from across the entire food chain, we can reduce our global emissions from agriculture. Research by McKinsey & Company states “we can achieve about 20% of the sector’s required emissions reduction by 2050.”
With the limited resources available to us, it is critical to adopt a new approach to maintain and increase the current yield to meet global food demands while also reducing food wastage. As a country, we are taking the right steps. In June this year, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced details of the new $165.7-million Agricultural Clean Technology Program which offers farmers and agri-businesses access to funding to help develop and adopt the latest clean technologies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhance their competitiveness.
Innovation and Technology
It’s time for agricultural and farming industries to take advantage of the capabilities offered by modern agricultural innovation and technology. At NeuronicWorks, we are proud to have worked with an amazing range of clientele in the Agtech sector ranging from livestock monitoring to urban farming to agricultural equipment. One of our earliest clients in the agricultural sector is AgriBrink, an innovative on-the-go tire pressure adjustment system. The impressive Automatic Air Inflation Deflation (AAID) control system allows a farmer to adjust their vehicles tire pressure from the fields to the paved roads and back again. The man behind the idea, Jake Kraayenbrink is a life-long farmer settled on a farm in Port Lambton, Ontario. Having firsthand experienced the concerns around soil compaction, Kraayenbrink worked to develop a system catering to farm vehicles. He approached us to help develop the system and the rest is history. Today, the Agribrink system is deployed across hundreds of agricultural vehicles across the country and the globe.