Technology is making major inroads into the agricultural and nutrition industry. The number of companies offering agritech solutions is on the up and up, driven by innovation as well as a growing need to deal with the challenges facing agriculture.
To keep up this momentum and remain competitive, agritech providers need to consider several critical success factors:
- Provide means to enable continuous monitoring: Farmers need to be able to constantly monitor key parameters that directly impact yield and consequently profits. Technologies such as wireless sensors and variable rate technologies will help farmers to track key agricultural parameters including temperature, weather, nitrate content, soil quality, plant health, weed and unplanted growth, pest detection, etc.
- Enable real-time data collection: Farmers need to be able to accurately collect and store data for continuous decision-making. Thus, technologies that ensure the accuracy of the data collected (aerial mapping, field harvesting, weather conditions, chemical detection and so on) are necessary to make agritech solutions more reliable.
- Increasing automation of crop cultivation and livestock production systems: Automated tools and equipment for precision agriculture are made possible with the emergence of opportunities for robotics and drones in the agricultural sector. Further developing technologies that enable human assistance and human-machine interaction will help to tackle the challenge of a declining workforce and ageing farmers.
- Demonstrate increased farmer return-on-investment (ROI): Agritech solutions lead to the development of agricultural products that aid in improving the yield productivity without having an impact on the environment. Optimisation and management of resources enabled by agritech solutions lead to an increase in ROI for farmers.
- Efficient use of data: A key feature of agritech solutions is the generation of large datasets. Thus, the efficient use of data remains critical to the sector and highlights new partnership opportunities with data analytics companies.
The importance of Big Data Analytics (BDA) in the agritech sector
Application of big data and data science technologies will enable farm owners to further unlock the potential of the agriculture market. ]
Recent research by Frost and Sullivan titled “Global Big Data Analytics Market, Forecast to 2023″ estimates that the global BDA market, worth $8.5 billion in 2017, is expected to reach $40.6 billion by 2023 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29.7%. According to the report, the market is driven by organisations realising the operational advantages of BDA. These include improved Data Discovery Visualisation (DDV) empowering organisations to better target consumers, increased access to cloud-based models, enterprise-grade security and data governance solutions offered by market vendors, and continued vendor consolidation.
With the significant growth expected in the market, BDA companies are expected to apply their services to various industries, given that they can be used in any sector, including agriculture. Examples of big data companies or organisations that are now involved with the agriculture industry and thus contributing to the efficient use of data generated from agritech solutions are:
- CeADAR (Centre for Applied Data Analytics), Ireland: a market-focused technology centre for innovation and the application of BDS and visualisation.
- IBM, USA: as the world’s second-largest BDA company, IBM has been very active in the agriculture industry. According to the company, “there is a tremendous amount of big data in modern agriculture that is created but never used. Past attempts at utilising this data to increase yields and profitability have failed because they relied on manual input or remote internet accessibility.”
- Farmers Business Network, USA: connects farmers to share knowledge and gain trusted insights about their farms, inputs and practices.
- 640 labs, USA: acquired by Monsanto’s Climate Corporation, this precision farming platform collects, analyses and distributes data to optimise farming operations.
- aWhere, USA: analyses data and provides insights that focus on the agricultural industry.
- Strider, Brazil: an agritech company that develops technological innovations for the agricultural market.
- Gamaya, Switzerland: improves the efficiency and sustainability of farming by offering agronomy solutions, enabled by hyperspectral imaging and AI.
- Treemetrics, Ireland: offers a 3D measurement system to assess standing trees in forests.
The importance of big data is evidenced by the support of bodies such as:
- Enterprise Ireland & IDA Ireland through their funding of CeADAR
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) by implementing a vision for data science in agriculture and looking into the economic implications of big data in food and agriculture
- Open Ag Data Alliance, which was set up to help farmers access and control their data “by building an open-source framework and a community of commercial vendors, farmers, academics and developers upon which the emerging ag data market can rapidly grow.”
While innovation is expected to remain vital to the growth of agritech, either through new product development or the continuous improvement of existing products, the success of the sector is highly dependent on the collection and correct interpretation of data — presenting companies with BDA capabilities the opportunity to thrive. This includes Ireland’s agritech providers, whose strong understanding of traditional farming practices enables them to develop effective solutions for monitoring crop, food, water, soil condition and more.