Agricultural trends in 2020 have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, similarly to how other world economy sectors have been affected. But unlike many other industries, there is no WFH for farmers or remote work team mode possible. The agricultural sector works along with the natural seasons, so it has to adapt the Coronavirus protocols to its cycle, not vice versa.
The great thing is: farming has been enjoying positive influences from technological advancements over the past few decades. The tech revolution has changed the industry forever with the development of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, connected sensor design, machine learning, robotics, big data, GPS, drone technology, and precision farming.
It’s not only about the newcomers in this realm though, the established giants like John Deere keep reinventing themselves, and diversifying their product line with software products.
As one of the pioneers of Precision AG technology, John Deere keeps improving this resource-saving system, whereby each plant gets the resources it needs to flourish, yet no energy, fertilizer or water is wasted in the process.
Precision Agriculture (PA) or satellite farming is a farm management system whereby fields and crops are monitored with the help of satellites and machinery-attached sensors to optimize the use of resources. John Deere first started using this method with the rise of GPS technology. It helped the company save as much as 40% on gasoline as the machines would cultivate the field only once, led by the GPS precisely to strips of land not yet covered. On top of that, crops enjoyed higher yield, as the pesticides and fertilizers were now distributed evenly.
Zoolatech keeps the AG sector on our radar for many reasons:
- Our logistics software development company dev team is based in Ukraine, the so-once-called “breadbasket of Europe.” The country is so good at farming that it is the #1 exporter of sunflower seed oil in the world.
- Secondly, we acknowledge the importance of farming to the survival of the human race - there’s some selfish interest here.
- Thirdly, the Zoolatech team appreciates the scale of the challenges that farmers have to deal with, whereby force majeure is basically their modus operandi. If anything, there is so much to be learned from this sector of the economy – as farmers are ardent survivalists.
This is why we attended the annual offline AgroIT Ukraine forum.
Now we are happy to share a few insights we took onboard from this gathering of top IT talent specializing in AgriTech. Read on to find out about Agricultural trends and state of technology in the farming industry.
Agricultural Trends 2020 & beyond: Big data, AI, ML, Cloud, Precision AG
1. Agricultural Microbial Market to Grow
This crop protection method is based on fighting plant diseases with the help of the production of natural organisms, like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It's both a more healthy and sustainable means of eradicating undesirable plant problems as compared to chemical pesticides.
The microbial market is forecast to go up to $11.6 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 14.1% from 2020’s estimate of $6 billion.
Major microbial producers include:
- BASF SE
- Syngenta AG
- Sumitomo Chemicals Company, Ltd.
- Monsanto Company
- Agrilife Biosolutions, Ltd.
What does AgriTech have to do with microbials? Pretty much “everything” is the answer, because it's the technology that is going to be apportioning just the right amount of microbial liquids to each plant, right?
2. Blockchain & IoT: Mapping the Future of Agriculture
Matt Hatton of Transforma Insights, which forecasts 24 billion connected devices by 2030, mentions: “The use of IoT in the Agriculture sector also promises to take off very rapidly over the next few years.”
Indeed, devices are to be part of every agent: be it a farmer, piece of machinery, or a field, - to make them trackable and measurable.
Blockchain and IoT will help connect them all into one database that can be later interpreted by ML & AI.
Further adoption of IoT in agriculture also allows data-driven decisions to be made and facilitates AI-powered IoT platforms.
Economist estimates in its Food For Future review, that 350 million farms will adopt mobile applications by 2030, which will result in the cumulative growth of $200 billion and yield growth by 500 million tons.
3. Carbon Farming: The Planet Savior
With 100 billion tons of carbon debt accumulated by humanity, carbon farming is forecast to be the next big thing.
Not only is it a sustainable solution on its own, legislative initiatives may soon emerge globally that will financially incentivize farmers to plant trees in a bid to reverse the drastic environmental situation.
4. Hyper Precision: Precision AG v 2.0
While precision agriculture is a household term by now, the industry strives to optimize the technology to be able to portion nutrients, water, fertilizers in just the right needed amounts based on soil conditions, plant health, etc.
5. Artificial Intelligence in Farming: A Boost to Human Intelligence
While AI is seen as a threat to humanity, it's safe to say that farming is still very far away from removing human agents as such. It is true that now with digital data tools, a good crop manager can oversee much bigger pieces of land.
But at this stage, we are talking about optimization of processes and scaling, rather than AI being a 100% substitute for human labor or intelligence.
6. Cover Crops as a Soil Health Improvement Method
Covering crops is a method for enriching your soil that's gaining traction. In the USA alone, the acreage of land using cover crops over winter periods increased at the average rate of 8% from 2012 until 2017, spanning over 15 million acres.
On top of soil health improvement and nutrient saturation, such a practice also helps to sequester carbon.
7. Sensors in Focus: Enhancing the Eyes of AgriTech
There is so much information that is gathered on a satellite or with the help of the sensors & cameras mounted on agricultural machinery that gets processed with the help of machine learning later.
Yet sensors, as a valuable technical component of the process are not quite at their peak performance. The industry works hard to come up with the device of a higher quality, but in ever smaller sizes and at a lower price.
For example, Conecterra uses motion sensors attached to cattle to monitor health conditions, which are interpreted with the help of AI algorithms to spot any deviation in a cow's health.
Breath analysis for livestock as well as audio monitoring – both enabled by the use of sensors - also help diagnose any deviations in the health of the herd.
8. Robotics in Farming: Digital Agricultural Technologies to Watch
Prompted by 5G connectivity, development of sensor devices as well as improving AI algorithms, robotics will be improving and getting cheaper with time.
Robotic weed and pest killers as well as soil-samplers are good examples of how farming digitization helps its routine processes to become more efficient and sustainable.
Fruit and vegetable picking robotization is the next big mission for this segment. Robotics in livestock management functions, like milking, already exists today, and has garnered industry-wide acknowledgment.
9. Drone Technology for Better Crop Management & Field Monitoring
The agriculture drone market was estimated at $9.9 billion in 2018 with a forecasted CAGR of 7.1% over 2015-2024.
UAVs and drones are taking an increasingly bigger role in the farming industry in terms of efficient crop health assessment, as well as livestock management, in the real-time mode.
10. Indoor Vertical Farming
Vertical farming is possible underground or indoors, which makes it an incredibly lucrative business model.
Not only does the method provide savings in water and pesticides, but such farms are also capable of producing yields that are hundreds of times as large as those of conventional farming, due to the height of towers and year-round operations.
The environments are strictly controlled in terms of lights, fertilizers, and water, that are nurturing the plants.
11. Nutrient efficiency: Nitrogen Modeling
The industry is trying to shift from single-use application to multiple fertilizer applications according to need, cost savings and nature.
Adapt-N is an offering by Yara International, which purchased this nitrogen-controlling software to expand its digital farming product line.
Another major challenge is the networking of individual systems in the field and their integration in operational and business-related decision-making processes. Many different sensors and entire robotic systems from various manufacturers are (still) not completely compatible with each other.
Agricultural Digitalization: AgroIT Ukraine 2020 Overview
While the conference was fast-paced and a lot of speakers took the stage to dwell on the burning issues of digital farming in 2020, we picked a few top agricultural software products that we found most exciting.
Xarvio represented by Volodymyr Kondratyuk
The Japanese-rooted company has quite some demand for its products the world over with 49,000 farms using their programs. The commercial manager of Eastern Europe presented 3 products of the digital farming era:
- Xarivo Scouting (weed identification, disease recognition, treatment recommendation)
- Xarvio Field manager (Field mapping & history, nutrient management, spray timer, and more)Xarivo Healthy Fields (New product: Digital Crop Production As a Service: crop strategy with guarantee).
Yara Ukraine represented by Mykola Panchuk, Country Development Leader
With over a century-rich history, $12.9 billion in revenues in 2019, and 16,000 employees in 60 countries, Yara is one of the world’s biggest Crop Nutrition Companies.
While selling 38 million tons of produce a year, the company also offers digital farming products:
- N-Tester (nitrogen status measuring device)
- Yara CheckIT (Nutrient deficiency diagnosis app)
- YaraIrix (Nitrogen nutrition levels app)
- Agro Office (farm management solution)
GeoPard Agriculture represented by Dmytro Dementyev, the co-founder
This German-based AG analytics company offers a multifunctional digital farming solution that can be integrated with several agricultural software systems via 2-way sync:
- Crop monitoring based on precision maps
- Zone management with automatic delineation
- Yield data analytics
- Soil data analysis
AgriChain presented by Director Nataliya Bogacheva
The company is one of the leading digital agriculture software producers in Ukraine, who designed a suite of mutually integrated systems to manage pretty much every link of the process in the farming cycle.
One of the major products is the AgriChainFarm, AKA as AgriFarm – this is a farm management software (FMS or FMIS) with an extensive menu of useful functions, that include:
- Strategic seasonal planning of the year with different scenarios
- Yield planning based on historical data and 3D mapping
- Sales strategy planning
- Calendar planning of the crop production chain
This digital farming forum concluded with a panel of speakers from both ends of the IT software solutions: software engineers and users alike.
Andrey Peshiy, IT Director of Kernel group, shared his opinion on the status quo in the industry from the perspective of the agricultural holding. He noted that dry weather during the vegetation season 2020 affected the uptake of digitalization in agriculture in Ukraine probably more so than the COVID pandemic.
He also provided an insight into a differentiated approach to the design of software solutions for small and medium farms and bigger agricultural organizations. Smaller farms may well do with less complex and expensive digital AG software products solutions than bigger manufacturers of scale, - he stated.
Bogdan Kryvitskyi, CIO of IMCAgro, mentioned that any crisis has the litmus test qualities for business survival skills. He remembered how IMCAgro saw an opportunity back in 2014 when they had to shift the entire head office from just-occupied Luhansk, reinventing the company by investing in its digitalization.
In the same manner as with the COVID pandemic, no more than a fifth of agricultural entities started to strengthen their standing by digitizing as many processes as they could. “The rest, like mammoths, will go extinct sooner rather than later,” he concluded.Valeriy Yakovenko, the co-founder of Drone.ua, mentioned there is a silver lining to this Coronavirus cloud for agriculture in Ukraine. He pointed out that there is a large talented labor force nowadays on the market, that would have been in high demand outside of Ukraine, but those workers are available for hire locally as they cannot leave the country now.
Later in the discussion, he also mentioned that classical education is no longer relevant. A medical doctor by education, he spent over 7 years of his life studying. With this personal experience in mind, Mr. Yakovenko thinks it's time for educational establishments to review the curriculum and their entire approach to education.
He suggests that students need to be taught how to search for the information and how to educate themselves perpetually, instead of academically remembering a limited pool of outdated information.
Digital farming is the way forward not only to keeping humanity fed better at less cost and minimal human resources. The digitalization of agriculture is the way forward to preserving this planet as a habitat for humanity to survive. Sustainability is often connected with technology, whereby no water is wasted more than what’s needed for one plant, and no more fertilizer is released into nature than required to keep the crop healthy.
We hope these agricultural trends were insightful and you enjoyed some of the industry-leader opinions as much as we did. If you are looking to elevate the outdated website of your AG company, or looking for a savvy software development team to help with the creation of your digital farming IT product, contact us.