In our next blog on the increased use of agriculture in technology (AgTech), we’re going to take a look at what we believe will be two major factors that affect the immediate future of the industry:
- The emerging trends in the market, and
- What the major challenges are that the industry needs to overcome
Emerging trends offer insight into which directions the market is likely to go in, and major challenges must always be solved if a market is to skyrocket in the same way that online retail did, for example.
As a result, both of these factors matter a great deal.
Let’s get going…
What are the emerging trends in AgTech?
The rise of drone technology
Drone technology is disrupting several different industries at the moment, and AgTech is no different.
What’s interesting is that despite being relatively simple in terms of tech, drones offer several advantages to farmers.
Firstly, drones are already being used for monitoring crop performance and spread in a bid to help farmers overcome issues like drought. Drones equipped with high quality 3D imagery can be used to analyze and predict soil quality, as well, which can be invaluable.
What’s more, they can be used as a type of farm machinery, for uses such as being spraying plants and crops in a way that avoids penetrating the groundwater.
One study showed that drones can spray up to five times faster than other farm equipment, so it’s not hard to see why their usage is trending upwards.
The use of robotics in farming is another example of AgTech on the rise.
John Deere, for instance, have recently purchased Blue River technology, a robotics start-up focused on spray and weeding.
These robots are valuable for two reasons: firstly, spray and weeding is a mundane task, so being able to have it completed without manual labor is invaluable. Secondly, by allowing farmers to precisely target crops when spraying, this kind of robotics cuts down the amount of pesticides needed.
Other robotic technologies being developed including those capable of using laser and camera tech to navigate rows of crops in order to ID and then remove weeds without human assistance. This technology alone is likely to completely change the world of agriculture, and again reduce the need for manual labor.
Sensors and Tracking
This uprising trend is more to do with fulfilment rather than growing and producing, but it’s still worth exploring, as the retail arm of agriculture is obviously a huge part of the industry.
By using RFID sensors more, farmers can track their food right the way from the field to the store that sells it, meaning that – should they need to – stores themselves can view the whole supply chain.
Why is this useful? Simple:
Though no-one wants to think about issues of shipments being infected, unfortunately the odd occurrence of an outbreak is almost inevitable no matter the precautionary measures being taken. By tracking shipment details, panic in the event of an outbreak can be minimized, and the amount of necessary recalls will usually be far lower.
The result is that everyone from farms to stores saves money in the event of any infection, without consumer safety being reduced.
More and more farmers are making use of sensors and tracking in this manner, and it’s likely that this combination of hardware and software will continue to grow over the next few years.
Machine learning and AI
Can genuine AI impact the world of agriculture? It certainly seems so.
Indeed, machine learning analytics is already being used to help track and predict vital patterns sch as:
- Which traits and genes will produce the best crops
- Which areas of farms produce the best results
- Which environmental factors cause the most damage
As well as other factors.
However, machine learning isn’t limited to just these areas. For instance, algorithms can learn which products are being purchased the most at store level, allowing farmers to focus only on their most valuable and lucrative products.
As a result, farms become more efficient in terms of their day-to-day operations, and are also able to cut down their waste.
So what are some of the major challenges for the AgTech sector?
Agriculture is always relatively slow in terms of innovation
You know, of course, how many major industries have already completely transformed as a result of technology: retail, for instance, or home entertainment.
So why are trends in AgTech only now beginning to point upwards?
It’s because simply, innovation in agriculture is usually fairly slow to adopt new technology.
Not because the technology itself isn’t up to scratch, but simply because the technology needs time to be integrated into the hardware and the machinery effectively. Needless to say, integrating AI into a digital TV is a far smoother process than having to do the same thing to a tractor or a combine harvester!
It’s also worth noting that agriculture works on seasonal cycles, so the integration of technology can’t be worked on all year round. Results on tests can often take months to come back.
Put simply, the agriculture is pretty much the opposite of something like Silicon Valley’s 24/7 app culture, and it will take time to overcome this and see AgTech become completely mainstream.
Scaling is a different matter
In industries like software or online marketing, scaling is a simple matter. Test your product or service until it works, then send to as many people as possible.
Agriculture is a very different matter!
Remember, if something goes wrong in a digital company, there aren’t any real-world consequences a lot of the time. The food industry is obviously a very different matter; one major supply issue and people could start to go hungry.
And it’s also worth noting that even the largest farms in the US might only serve a few big suppliers, so you can’t scale AgTech in the same way you could while selling something on Facebook to hundreds of thousands of people.
It’s likely that the industry will have to adopt to this by making changes to how revenue is distributed, and it will be interesting to see how this happens.
Funding in AgTech is slower than in other ‘disrupted’ industries.
Funding is increasing in the agricultural industry, but it’s still behind when compared to a market like tech or retail. That might seem obvious, but it’s worth re-iterating how important and how vast the agriculture market is! This is a market with the potential to generate huge returns for investors.
As a result, funding in AgTech is definitely on the up. More and more startups are obtaining capital funding.
One of the main issues here is simply that the vast majority of farms and agricultural business are based in fairly rural, non-fashionable areas. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a whole lot of farmland in Silicon Valley, New York or LA, for example.
The challenge will be for capital lenders to venture out to the areas themselves, and the figures show that this is happening. For instance, the Financial Times reported that more money went into funding AgTech during 2017 than in the previous two years combined.
Funding is on the way up, but as with adopting the technology itself, it will take time to reach full mainstream awareness. And on that topic…
Awareness still needs increasing
It’s vital that the AgTech market as a whole increase the awareness of itself in the commercial world.
No technology can reach complete adoption without mainstream awareness, and that goes for AgTech. For instance, it took more than a decade for the internet itself to evolve from some ‘nerd thing’ in Silicon Valley to a technology found in every home!
From consumers to investors to farmers themselves, it will take time to understand just what an astonishing transformation technology could bring to the agricultural industry. But the rewards, as we’ve seen, could be huge.
It’s likely that complete mainstream awareness could well take a few years for AgTech. Which is why it pays to be one of the companies that adopts the technologies earlier.
Those that move quickly usually reap the rewards, as companies like Netflix and Amazon demonstrated in retail and home entertainment.
Get in touch today
If you’re interested in learning more about the potential value of AgTech for your business, get in touch today. We’d love to help you.