AgricultureBusiness FunctionsTechnology

Agriculture: The data and connectivity revolution

By Lionel Alva

Over the past 5 decades, various advances have brought about a rapid transformation in the agriculture industry. The speed, productivity and scale of farm utilities has paved the way for more efficient land cultivation. Fertilizers, seed improvements, and better irrigation methods have helped increased yields.

Today, agriculture is on the brink of another revolution that will only serve to make it more resilient. This revolution has been brought about by technologies like connected sensors, analytics, artificial intelligence and an array of other technologies that shall help improve efficiency, enhance yields, and make crop cultivation and ancillary agricultural sectors become more sustainable in the long run.

Based on insights from McKinsey, let’s delve deeper into how technology is revolutionizing agriculture again:

Connectivity to unlock value

If the agriculture industry worldwide implements connectivity successfully then it can unlock $500 billion in additional value to the global GDP by 2030.  With a connectivity infrastructure, much of the present pressure on farmers would get reduced as yields could improve by 7 to 9 percent. According to current estimates, by 2050 the world population is set to be around 9.7 billion. To meet the growing needs of this population, the number of calories available for consumption would need to increase by 70 percent. At the same time, the cost of producing those calories is increasing.

Other resources too are getting scarcer: A 40 percentage shortage in water supply is expected by 2030, when it comes to meeting the world’s water needs. Apart from this labour, nutrient costs, and energy shall affect agriculture revenues. To make matters worse, arable land would require large-scale restoration to sustain crops at scale as one quarter of arable rand is set to get degraded.

A digital transformation in the agriculture industry can help mitigate the impact of these challenges.

Resilient value chains

The challenges of the agriculture industry have been made worse the COVID-19 pandemic. The sales volumes have dropped thereby pressurizing farmers to find ways to contain costs. Many countries depend on agricultural imports and gridlocked global supply chains have placed an added emphasis on hyper-localisation. Lockdowns have affected farm outputs in the absence of manual labour, due to the enforced restrictions. Today, there is a heightened awareness for sustainable sourcing locally and more resilient supply chains.

Further, data and analytics can agriculture become more resilient.  Farmers in many advanced nations are already consulting data about vagaries like weather, crops, soil, and livestock. Many advanced digital tools can lead to actionable insights for farming practices.  The advent of technologies like 5g would help with advanced livestock and crops monitoring. IoT can help develop end-to-end solutions for farming practices.

Unlocking new capabilities

A digital transformation is the need of the hour for the agriculture industry to become more agile and resilient to disruptions.  A data and connectivity infrastructure shall help unlock new capabilities in agriculture:

IoT infrastructure in agriculture: The advent of cheaper sensors and low power networks shall pave the way for IoT in agriculture.  Presently, network technology limitations restrict the use of IoT in agriculture. This is set to change with technologies like 5g and edge computing.  Some of the use cases include precision irrigation, livestock monitoring, tracking machinery performance, monitoring crop yields and rotation.

Remote farming digitisation:  If LEO satellites were to meet their potential expectations then it could be a game-changer for the agriculture industry.  Even the most remote rural areas shall be able to undergo a digital transformation in agriculture, which would be a boon for farming productivity worldwide.  Drone farming and automation capabilities would enable new levels of efficiency and efficacy for agriculture. Drone farming alone could generate up to $115 billion in value.

Digital transformation a must

We are on the verge of a massive food crisis unless the agriculture industry does not undergo a digital transformation shift.  Connectivity and data analytics shall go a long way in ensuring that the agriculture industry reaches new levels of success when it comes to meeting demand while also containing costs. This would require the collaboration of governments and other stakeholders in the agriculture industry to bring about a seismic shift in the fragment agriculture landscape.

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