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Nine key digital solution areas creating value in agriculture

JUN 06, 2023 | Suruchi Dhingra
region: ALL Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing technology: ALL

Farmers across the world are plagued with challenges ranging from increasing demand for food, shortage of natural resources, rising cost of labour, and increasing regulations towards sustainable farming. To feed more than 10 billion people by 2050, the agriculture industry needs to increase its production capacity by 70% (compared to 2009). Moreover, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater usage globally and 50-60% is wasted due to inefficient application. Digital technologies hold tremendous potential to address these issues and transform the sector by improving the efficiency of farming methods, resulting in better utilisation of resources and energy.

The nine key digital solutions in the agriculture industry

Transforma Insights’ recent report, ‘Digital Transformation (DX) in the Agriculture sector’ identified nine key domains of change in the Agriculture sector that are enabled by digital transformation.

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1. Crop Management

Monitoring of crop, soil and plant conditions via in-field sensors or satellite imagery by collecting and analysing data such as temperature, moisture and fertility. These solutions can reduce water consumption by 15-30% by allowing farmers to adjust their irrigation techniques based on comprehensive soil probes. It also helps reduce site-specific application of fertilizers, nitrogen and pesticides, resulting in reducing production cost by around 15% and increasing the yield by 15-20%.

2. Automatic Irrigation

Automation of irrigation activity based on data collected from Crop Management sensors, smart weather stations, weather reports, and other environmental factors. Automated irrigation systems further enhance water savings achieved by Crop Management solutions. Additionally, they help overcome the need of farmers to physically visit the field to switch on and off the pumps, leading to savings in fuel for travel.

3. Livestock Management

Use of digitally transformative technologies for monitoring the health and location of livestock. Livestock management solutions are being deployed across a wide range of use-cases including healthcare management, heat detection, calving management, feed management, weight management and more. DX technologies in livestock management limit administrative labour, theft losses, ensure early detection of diseases, thereby reducing operational expenses. They also significantly reduce veterinary bills and lower insurance premiums based on cattle health.

4. Indoor Vertical Farming and Smart Greenhouses

Use of technologies in controlled environments, customised to the vegetation needs in a greenhouse or indoor farms (using hydroponics or aeroponics). They use controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental (temperature, humidity, CO2, light) and nutrition factors (and composition) can be monitored and controlled. These farms heavily depend on the use of AI, IoT and robotic process automation for operation. Indoor vertical farms use 70-95% less water (using hydroponics and aeroponics) and require 90% less land than traditional farming.

5. Drone Farming

Use of drones to enhance various agricultural practices including crop health assessment, irrigation, field analysis, crop spraying and planting. The benefits to farmers include less labour effort, higher productivity and more efficient use of resources. Remotely operated drones are being used heavily in crop spraying applications in agriculture across the world, for example, 30% of all agriculture spraying in South Korea is done by drones.

6. Farm Automation and Robots

All technologies used to automate farmers’ repetitive labour-intensive tasks. The technology has huge potential as robots are more agile than manual labour, for example, robotic harvesters are ten times faster than humans. Robotic harvesters, weeders and planters are still emerging area and most of the companies are doing early commercial trials with plans to expand in the upcoming years.

7. Farm Management

Platforms for integration of data collected from all devices and sources for maximising productivity, farm planning and managing operations. The combined data generated from field sensors, drones, field equipment and satellite monitoring solutions is often decentralised due to the lack of interoperability of these systems. Farm management devices help break silos across divisions, regions and functions with the help of a unified platform, which increases operational efficiency.

8. Produce Monitoring

Technologies used in post-harvesting operations such as silo monitoring, grain storage monitoring, and sorting and packing systems. Almost 50% of cereals, vegetables and fruits can get spoilt in storage, due to inadequate infrastructure, time delays, and uncertainties in demand and supply. Produce monitoring solutions optimise storage conditions, improve storage utilisation efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and lessen inventory handling costs.

9. Supply Monitoring

Tracking of input resources such as fertilizers, fuel/diesel, feed (in livestock farming) and water. These solutions optimise delivery rounds, pre-emptive stocking and efficient route planning, thereby saving fuel and labour costs. They also enhance worker safety and by reducing leakages and adhere to environmental compliance (which otherwise can result in hefty government fines).

Concluding remarks

The agriculture industry is expanding rapidly to cater to the growing demand for food, but in doing so, it is being plagued by issues ranging from a shortage of natural resources (land and water) to ageing farmer populations. Hence the aforementioned digital technologies are proving to be a transformative force, which will revolutionize traditional agricultural practices by delivering real-time data to farmers, based on which they can make informed choices about crop health, soil conditions and irrigation requirements. It can be reasonably concluded that the evolving agricultural practices (coupled with digital technologies) hold tremendous potential and can ensure food security, enhance efficiency and foster sustainable agricultural practices.

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