Navigating Agtech: Expert Responses to 10 Common Questions About the Agricultural Technology Industry
March 27, 2023 at 3:42 pm | Updated May 10, 2023 at 10:05 pm | 8 min read
There is an explosion of innovative agtech development and production. The amount of information can sometimes be overwhelming but is also fragmented, making it challenging to understand all aspects of agtech. Therefore, we are answering common questions about agtech to provide the big picture to help people make an informed choice.
How can agriculture tech revolutionize the agricultural industry, and what are its key advantages over traditional farming methods?
A: Agtech is revolutionizing agriculture by making it more competitive, cleaner, environmentally friendly, and lucrative.
Agtech gives the stakeholders precise information about the internal physiology of crops, soil nutrients, water status, and animal health that farmers didn’t have in traditional farming methods. Farmers can now identify problems before visible symptoms of nutrient deficiency or diseases occur, helping them take proactive measures.
Growers can save inputs and associated costs to improve their ROI. Using precision devices, farmers can get results in real time. They can test crops and animals frequently and sample extensively instead of waiting for a few expensive laboratory results, which take days. Hence growers and suppliers can react to onsite conditions quickly and on time.
Crop and farm insurance claims can be assessed using objective analytics, such as imagery analysis, improving transparency and trust. Management software also allows a better grasp of the operations and financial condition of the farms.
Areas suffering from labor shortages and large farm owners benefit most from agtech.
What are agtech’s most significant benefits to farmers, growers, pack houses, and distributors, and how can they start adopting these technologies?
A: Stakeholders could use common standard devices or different equipment based on their needs. Some typical benefits from agtech for the various groups are as follows:
Farmers: Precision and smart farming give farmers and controlled atmosphere growers real-time insights into their fields and crops’ status, allowing them to optimize fertilizer input, pesticide chemicals, and irrigation using variable-rate application principles. As a result, they use fewer resources, save costs, contain infections, and maintain crop health and performance to get better yields.
Fruit Suppliers: Besides the above benefits from precision and smart farming, orchards also use portable precision quality meters that track dry matter content, total soluble sugars, titrable acidity, and fruit color in fixing harvest time to get quality that will meet consumer satisfaction and stringent standards to avoid batch rejection.
Packers, Suppliers, and Distributors: These stakeholders can use the same
Near Infrared Spectroscopy based quality meter for sorting food and monitoring the quality and ripeness of fresh produce. Gas analysis tools help in storage and ripening in controlled atmosphere facilities to maintain quality and extend the shelf life of food.
Is ag-tech expensive, or does it offer long-term cost savings and ROI over traditional farming methods? What are the key factors to consider when evaluating the economic viability of ag-tech solutions?
A: Depending on the technology, agtech can be more expensive and capital-intensive than traditional methods and tools. However, the recent rise in prices of inputs is making the larger growers and farmers more open to new technology to get the most out of their farm investments by adopting precision and smart technology. Agtech sales are set to triple between 2021 to 2027.
In some cases, one-time imagery analytics is less expensive. Agtech-like biologicals are not necessarily more expensive than traditional chemical alternatives, will improve soil fertility, and will require fewer resources in the future.
Adoption of Ag tech depends on geography. Farmers consider the technology cost and the ROI they will get before adopting a technology. Moreover, the farms’ size and availability of internet access will also be factors that farmers must consider.
What are the key considerations when selecting agriculture technology solutions, such as compatibility with existing infrastructure, ease of use, and how can stakeholders evaluate and compare different options?
A: Every grower doesn’t need all the technology on the market. To decide if an agtech solution is a must-have option, people should consider the following points:
- What unique benefit does the technology offer them?
- Research options and look for alternatives that suit their geography, crop, and farm needs.
- How well does the potential option integrate with existing equipment, and will farm operators be able to use it?
- Ask experts and peers, and go to farmers’ meet, exhibitions, etc., to get more information and evaluate the technology.
How can agriculture tech help address the agricultural industry’s critical challenges, such as climate change, resource scarcity, and food security? What are some of the most promising technologies in this regard?
A: Agtech’s ability to reduce carbon emissions and resource use and ensure food security are some of its best-selling points.
Precision agriculture helps farmers use only the required amount of fertilizers and pesticides, where needed, in correct doses considering the minor differences in the field and crop status captured by remotely sensed data that AI and analytical software analyze.
Similarly, agtech, like slow-release fertilizers, also reduces chemical use. Biologicals like biofertilizers and stimulants use microbes or natural materials to boost soil fertility. As a result, fewer fertilizers are used. The carbon emissions from manufacturing nitrogenous fertilizers and the 50 percent of the excessive fertilizers that seeped into the soil are being reduced by judicious use of inputs. Reducing chemical use also has limited biodiversity loss around farms, for example, due to broad-spectrum pesticides.
Variable rate application of fertilizers and pesticides and smart irrigation reduce resource use, especially water. So more crops can be grown with the same quantity of resources.
Increasing food yield and improving the quality of harvested fresh produce, ensuring food safety, better postharvest handling, and extended shelf-life by using quality meters and gas analysis tools reduces food loss. Currently, 40-50 percent of food is lost before it reaches retailers. Reducing food loss will ensure food security, cut carbon emissions, and save resources.
However, robots, drones, and sensors can leak toxic fluids, chemicals, and fumes that pollute air and soil. Moreover, robots may also damage crop plants while applying chemicals. On the other hand, using drones and robots to apply pesticides can reduce occupation hazards for farm operators.
What role do data analytics and IoT play in agtech, and how can farmers and other stakeholders leverage these tools to optimize production efficiency and quality?
A: Data analytics is essential to the analysis of the vast data that is collected by sensors, imagery, research, weather patterns, etc. AI or algorithms are available as software for remotely sensed imagery or chemometrics for portable devices. They analyze data using state-of-art scientific models to provide insight into crop, field, and animal statuses that are presented in an easy-to-understand way so that growers can make informed decisions for farm management and optimize yield, quality, and profits.
The Internet of Things or IoT involves specialized equipment, wireless connectivity, software, and IT services. A set of devices connected to the internet can be sensors, drones, robots, and cameras, that collect data in open fields and controlled environment agriculture. IoT is often controlled remotely and is helpful in input applications, smart irrigation, and tracking animals in a herd. The IoT technology benefits large farms and ranges that face labor shortages.
How can ag-tech help improve traceability and transparency in the food supply chain, from farm to table, and what are the key benefits and challenges of implementing such solutions?
A: We can improve traceability and transparency in the food supply chain using technologies such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, readers, and software.
Ag tech like Near Infrared Spectroscopy based quality meters can detect the geographical origin of fruits, vegetables, and meat products. By identifying and pinpointing differences in tissue composition, the quality meters can also differentiate between animal species and different cuts. Similarly, cheese types are also distinguished by quality meters. Adulterants in plant and meat products are also identified by quality meters, making it easy to prove quality for suppliers and making quality control and compliance easy for regulatory bodies.
Authentification of wines, grades of olive oils, and organic food can also improve transparency and consumer trust.
The main challenge is that these technologies can be cost-effective for large farmers in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Still, adoption will be low in geographies like Asia and Africa, where farm size is small.
What are the key ethical and social considerations that arise with adopting ag-tech, such as the impact on rural communities, job displacement, and environmental sustainability, and how can stakeholders address these issues?
A: Several concerns about using agtech have been identified:
- Farmers are worried about giving operational control to robots, drones, and AI that makes recommendations contrary to past practices.
- Moreover, robots and drones could harm plants and animals, as their movements are not precise enough.
- Farmers reluctant to use ag tech can be labeled laggards and sometimes “forced” to adopt what they don’t completely understand.
- Several technologies, like imagery analysis, are replacing and affecting manual scouting jobs. Similarly, automated input application also reduces job opportunities.
Some fears can be removed by creating better awareness, but policy and technology producers must address several genuine concerns to improve adoption rates. Growers could also use automation only if there is a labor shortage.
What are the legal and regulatory considerations impacting the adoption and use of ag-tech, such as data privacy, intellectual property rights, and safety standards, and how can stakeholders ensure compliance with these requirements?
A: Ethical issues and risks to farmers due to the use of AI still need to be adequately addressed:
- There is fear that IoT devices can be vulnerable to hacking, corporate espionage, and sabotage.
- Farmers are apprehensive about data being sent to unknown agribusinesses. Farmers must get more say in decision-making processes involving their data.
- Around 78 percent of farmers are worried about data ownership and loss of privacy by sharing data with corporations.
- Accountability for the wrong functioning of AI, for example, by spraying too many chemicals and causing crop damage, is unclear.
- There is a lack of policy and legal clarity about who can be held responsible for errors and wrong recommendations by AI.
Fairness needs to be a principle for AI operations. AI systems should be free of bias and also respect societal values and diversity. The AI results should also be interpretable by farmers; otherwise, this is considered a breach of transparency.
OCED transparency laws require that corporations share information with individuals about the data collected and decisions made with the data. However, national governments should also establish regulations or best practices to guide agriculture technology providers.
What are the most exciting and innovative ag-tech startups and companies to watch, and what are their unique value propositions and competitive advantages in the market?
A: There are several exciting and innovative agtech startups and companies. Here are a few of them!
- i) Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) enhances existing GPS signals to centimeter-level accuracy. It can reduce GPS errors, and tracking satellites is more efficient. As a result, farm operations are more accurate. SinoGNSS, CHCNAV, Leica Geosystems, Geomax, HI-Target, Sokkia, Satlab, etc., are the companies that manufacture and supply RTK.
- ii) the University of Rhode Island developed Laser Scarecrow. It scares away birds, especially flocks, by emitting green laser light up to 600 feet away in sweeps of 185 m. Birds are sensitive to green light, but it is invisible to people. Avix Autonomic, URI Laser Scarecrow, and USILAND laser bird deterrent systems are the companies producing it.
iii) Bee vectoring uses commercially raised bees to disperse organic and natural pesticide solutions to fields. The insects collect the solution inside the bee hive on their way out. It has proved to be a targeted application method to control pests and diseases. It is cost-effective, improves crop quality, and can increase yield by 25 percent. BVT developed bee vectoring.
Buying new technology can involve a sizeable investment. At Felix Instruments Applied Food Science, we will be happy to answer any more queries you have about our portable precision tools that can be used in the fresh produce supply chain by growers to retailers. If you are a scientist, you can be sure of our products as they have been used in research and have found mention in hundreds of peer-reviewed publications. We believe in listening to our customers to make our tools more suitable for their needs towards achieving sustainable food production.
Dara, R., Hazrati Fard, S. M., & Kaur, J. (2022). Recommendations for ethical and responsible use of artificial intelligence in Digital Agriculture. Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/frai.2022.884192
Research Informatic. (n.d.). Agtech market size, share, trends, analysis and forecasts 2027. Retrieved from https://www.researchinformatic.com/reports/agtech-market-32
Ryan, M. (2022). The social and ethical impacts of artificial intelligence in agriculture: mapping the agricultural AI literature. AI & Soc. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-021-01377-9
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