Tech Innovators Shaping the Future of Precision Agriculture
April 5, 2018
I recently attended the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco where leaders across the agriculture value chain converged to understand and facilitate the advancement of our industry.
The notion that precision agriculture is angling to be the next darling in the tech solution space was only validated by the 900+ ag leaders and innovators present at this event. With bright new startups from around the world vying for their chance to disrupt one of the most mature and established industries in our economy, there was a sense that continued change and progress is absolutely in our future.
Four Emerging Precision Agriculture Solutions
While many new and clever ideas were pitched over the duration of this fast-paced conference, four stand-out trends emerged from this collection of tech solutions.
Creating Eco-Friendly Biotechnology
Consumers are increasingly aware, educated and interested in what happens to their food before it reaches their table. This puts pressure on farmers to evaluate their nutrient management, pest control, herbicides and other input processes. As a result, farmers are going to be looking for less invasive chemicals that are as cost-effective as possible to help them stay competitive. Interesting new arrivals are working on bio-based solutions to improve nutrient management, pest control and even improvement of the soil biome.
Farm Data Management (IOT) and Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning (AI/ML)
From food traceability to better and easy farm management, data is a hot-button issue for the agriculture industry today from farmers to processors, to retailers and everyone in between. The startup teams that can figure out how to aggregate data trends in a way that is useful and actionable to farmers are going to be the winners in this space of precision agriculture. Farmers want tech that helps them work smarter instead of harder and can also be easily implemented into their current operations. Eventually, this won’t be enough as the winners will also need to offer Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning tools and algorithm solutions that continually crunch the data produced, learn from the wide dataset generated and provide recommendations and actionable tasks that will help better manage the farm operation, plant health and overall outcomes.
Sensor Technology for Agriculture
Hand in hand with data management, particularly when thinking about IOT solutions, sensor technology continues to be a focus for farmers. Having their finger on the health of their farm helps them anticipate and strategize farming practices year over year—building a more stable, predictable operation. We saw all kinds of sensors from soil, water, weather, nutrient and more that can be deployed on the farm and beamed via Bluetooth, radio, WiFi and LoRa to the cloud and central control operations on a farm.
Another prominent topic at this conference—and among leaders in agriculture around the world—is robotics applied to agriculture practices. It’s viewed as an option to mitigate the challenge of labor shortages. The key here is bringing robotics to market for farmers that are reliable, connect with the rest of their farming equipment, and improve efficiency enough to soften and justify the financial investment. Robotics have come a long way in the last few years and lower cost computing and chip technology are making them more and more accessible to farming operations. We soon will be in a world where many of the berries and apples we eat do not pass through human hands.
Collaboration is the Key to Success
Trimble has been ingrained in the agriculture industry for years, bringing some of the earliest and most reliable precision agriculture technology to market. We’ve seen over time that innovation is the only way to drive this industry forward and to help farmers around the world succeed in a gruelling, but often rewarding business. Getting new innovative technologies into the hands of farmers across the globe remains one of the greatest challenges of new start-ups and other businesses new to the ag industry.
From my perspective, the path forward rests on:
- Leveraging our trusted network of Vantage and Trimble dealers worldwide to bring products to the farmers who can benefit from them
- Engaging with, listening to and empowering up-and-coming startups and innovators with great ideas that could shape our industry
- Encouraging more collaboration within the industry to drive standards and ease of use
Advice to Innovators
There is a lot of opportunity in this space to shape the way agriculture grows as an industry and to help farmers around the world in one of the oldest and most noble of professions. It is an industry that relies on gaining trust and building strong relationships in local communities and worldwide to achieve success. Innovators that take the time to learn the industry and how it moves, how farmers make decisions, and how they access and implement this technology within their local communities, will be the ones who succeed in this highly competitive market. Building solid relationships that are lasting will be the key to staying in power in ag, so take the time to build your credibility and leverage the relationships you build over time.
Abe Hughes is the General Manager of the Trimble Agriculture Division, responsible for the worldwide strategic growth and expansion of this global Ag Tech leader in precision agriculture. Trimble is a $2.6 billion high tech pioneer in global positioning, modelling, connectivity, mapping and data analytics which is transforming the way we work in agriculture, mining, geospatial, transportation and logistics.