Publications

- November 1, 2019: Vol. 6, Number 10

Technology’s banner harvest: Farmers facing major challenges, but innovations might be up to the task

by Mike Consol

The fourth industrial revolution is starting to change how every agricultural player, from a family farmer to a global conglomerate, produces food and related products, says a strategy + business blog report. It cites the spread of the so-called essential eight technologies (including artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones and the internet of things) to agriculture is leading to increased yields, lower costs and reduced environmental degradation. The technologies are also empowering farms to unlock plant-based innovations and increase their resilience to extreme weather events and climate change.

Significant investment dollars are at stake, the blog posts notes, pointing to the $16.9 billion raised by agtech startups in 2018, a 43 percent increase over 2017. As compatible technology and high-speed wireless networks spread more quickly (telecom operators are planning to invest as much as $1 trillion on 5G infrastructure by 2025), the adoption of agriculture-related technology is expected to accelerate.

The revolution imposes new demands on agricultural producers too, as well as the organizations that serve them. To thrive in 2030 and beyond, strategy + business says agricultural companies must choose carefully among the new technologies to avoid wasting time and money or, worse, missing critical opportunities. This might require significant company reorganizations to take full advantage of the innovations.

Existing “mega-trends” indicate that by 2030 it is likely there will be more extreme weather events and natural disasters; greater pressure on fresh water, arable land, and other natural resources; and overfished, overheating, and rising oceans. Though the blog post acknowledges the bleakness of its outlook, it also suggests proactivity by agriculture companies can successfully feed the planet’s growing population while reducing pressure on resources.

The report banks its optimism on the “tremendous variety” of technologies in development, some of which sound as though they come straight out of science fiction. One firm is developing a swarm of miniature autonomous robots that can plant seeds. Controlled by a farmer’s handheld tablet, which is operated with the help of satellites and cloud-based software, the swarm will be able to put each seed in the optimal location with greater precision than current approaches. Not incidentally, the technology will eliminate the need for planter bars, tractors and tractor operators. Because the swarm can adjust seed locations for changing conditions, strategy + business says it will plant faster, reduce environmental impact, increase yield and cost less than current methods.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

 

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