Telematics and digital tools are profoundly transforming agriculture
The world population is currently increasing by nearly 83 million individuals a year. It is expected to increase to 9.8 billion in 2050 and reach 11.2 billion by 2100, according to a report published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2017 Revision of World Population Prospects – June 21, 2017).
The rapidly growing global population, along with a higher worldwide life expectancy, sets an arduous challenge to the world of agriculture, which must step up its global production to provide nourishment to a crowded planet. As highlighted by FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, “business as usual” is no longer sufficient to address this planetary challenge. And on top of all of this, in recent years, world agricultural production and crop yields have been falling.
In order to successfully address this challenge, agriculture will have to open its doors to technological and scientific innovation, adopting more sustainable measures to increase crop yields, reduce pollution, and streamline costs.
Just as we speak of Industry 4.0, the agrarian world must follow suit and adopt new tools and methodologies if we are to sustain the rising global population and end the scourge of hunger and malnutrition in many parts of the world. Indeed, agriculture is called to adopt the automation and data exchange mechanisms that are transforming the manufacturing industry. The cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and Big Data will have to migrate from the fourth industrial revolution to the world of agriculture to drive employment, sustainable development and preserve bio-diversity.
The good news is that this trend is already underway. Advanced agricultural production is beginning to employ digital sensors and telematics to monitor crop conditions and soil. Drones and advanced analytical tools powered by big dataare being employed to automatically supervise large plantations. Apps and mobile devices provide real-time alerts in case extraordinary action needs to be taken.
Moreover, digital agriculture has introduced smart packaging and intelligent labels, which provide consumers with complete information on the origin of agricultural produce, production methods, and also provides many smaller farms with improved options for direct sales.
Just as with Industry 4.0, smart cities and the sharing economy, it is the Millennial Generation that is driving the adoption of telematics and new technology to drive the productivity of farms and plantations.
While air-conditioned tractors and automated irrigation systems are nothing new, millennials are significantly stepping up the automation of farming activities. Millennials are coming to agriculture with specific university degrees and specialisations. It is about science and technology. It’s a new generation that is comfortable with innovation and that loves to experiment.
Moreover, 21st-century farmers devise business plans, scout for funding, enjoy new farming enterprise incubators and attend scientific conferences. In Italy, alone, over 12,000 agricultural start-ups were created in 2013 by young men and women aged 25-30 (Coldiretti Report 2017).
Indeed, the Italian Smart AgriFood Observatory published a report which reveals that, on average, millennials tend to cultivate 54% more land, raise 75% more turnover, and give work to 50% more employees than traditional farming enterprises. And considering that Italian farming represents 2.5% of the global agricultural market, this is very reassuring news.
New telematics devices that connect, manage and analyse data now allow farmers to increase crop yields, buttress competitivity, improve operative efficiency, reduce the environmental footprint of twentieth-century farming, and significantly step-up the delivery and transparency of produce and agricultural products.
As with domotics and smart cars, millennials also employ a wide range of apps in farming, not only to keep ahead of weather conditions, monitor soil temperature and humidity, and track the movements of bird, parasites and other crop threats, but also to discuss ideas, technology and projects in online farmer communities.
Digital farming allows cultivators to constantly monitor the exact quantity of water and fertilizers required by crops at any given location. It alerts farmers to sudden changes in weather conditions or the arrival of parasites and insects, which can swiftly be eliminated by precision drones.
Moreover, the use of new infrared sensors allows farmers to measure the exact sugar content of produce and determine the best time to harvest crops. Indeed, it even reduces the amount of time spent by farmers on tractors and cars, further cutting down on pollution.
Technological innovation has the potential to vastly improve the safety and security of our livelihoods in cities, farms and plantations worldwide.