Agri-food is one of the last sectors of the economy to become fully digitised despite exhaustive requirements from regulators, retailers and others in the value chain for data. This creates a major opportunity for non-traditional players to support the industry, as will be shown at the CW International Conference on 26 June.
Farming is data rich, but often this information is in silos, collected for a specific purpose and then not accessible for reuse. Additionally much data is still collected on paper or simple spreadsheets and analysis and deeper insights are not easily available.
Transparency and traceability are vital for quality assurance and improved tools for prediction could greatly benefit the sector.
Agriculture is a high-tech industry, increasingly some of the most advanced (and expensive) technologies can be found on the farm, in dairies and in processing factories. This includes: drones and imaging to enable real-time crop yield mapping, robotic harvesters to provide 24/7 attention and use of earth observation solutions to monitor and manage plants and animals.
The digitalisation of agriculture is not new – for years UK farmers have had to comply with strict regulations recording the application of crop inputs, movement of livestock and interventions for countryside management. These records are managed online via various Government and private sector portals, so agriculture is already a highly data rich industry.
Mapping of fields for changes in the soil type, drainage and weed burden has meant that most farm offices have walls papered with brightly-coloured images showing different areas of fields needing (ideally) different management regimes.
But the 4th agricultural revolution currently underway is seeing this data being used more effectively to help inform on-farm decisions, as well as capturing information at a much higher level of granularity than ever before.
The ability to deploy precision techniques to different parts of a field, or to provide a health intervention to an individual animal or bird, is creating a major opportunity to increase efficiency, welfare and help increase environmental sustainability. More tools and better techniques are required to help farmers gain actionable insights.
Decades of weather and yield data are being used to inform predictive growth models for crops such as potatoes, wheat, sugar beet and salad crops. These models will, in time, enable a reduction in “just in case” over-planting to meet demand and reducing waste from over-supply; currently a major issue for the industry.
Importantly, as agri-food supply chains become increasingly global and commoditised, predictions for anticipated yields from individual farms, regions or countries will help inform and improve management of the massively complex movements of food products and ingredients around the world from farm to fork.
Issues of trust and provenance are never far away when it comes to food, farming and countryside management, and new tools such as blockchain have the potential to ensure good practices by farmers globally, supporting full traceability of the product until it reaches the consumer.
Already being applied to the production of tea, blockchain is potentially poised to disrupt the industry in unprecedented ways to help manage the supply chains more efficiently and provide complete oversight of everyone handling the product.
Agriculture has suffered from a reputation of being low value, low tech and being undertaken by lower skilled people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Technology is increasingly being used to vary the application rate of seed and crop protection products across different parts of a field according to need. The same precision is now being applied to livestock; aligning feed rations and medications to the health status of individual animals. Agri-food is an industry that is embracing the digital economy.
The opportunities within the sector are increasing and there has been significant investment over recent years. This is why Agri-Tech East, an independent business-led membership organisation and Allia, a social enterprise facilitator, are delighted to present the agri-tech session at the CW International Conference: ‘Digitising Industry’ this year and provide an introduction to this vibrant sector. We have a great story to tell – and have assembled a team of highly qualified speakers to present this message, including:
- Stevie Archer, Business Engineer, 30MHz
- Ian Wheal, CEO & Co-Founder, Breedr
Ben Crowther, CTO & Co-Founder, LettusGrow
We look forward to meeting you there. People who are new to agriculture are also invited to Agri-Tech East’s whistle-stop tour with insights into the industry and its needs and opportunities at our “Agriculture 101” session on September 17th at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge.