According to a McKinsey & Company report, if our world continues to develop the way it does, our crop demand will at least double by 2050. As a result, there is a constantly growing pressure on food producers, and the shift toward precision farming techniques is becoming vital due to the ever-changing circumstances.
The U.S. has been one of the first countries to start using such techniques back in 1998. Soil and crop monitoring, variable-rate input applications, and tractor guidance systems have been getting more and more widespread since then. There is evidence that these tools were adopted on 45 percent to 55 percent of land in 2010-2013.
Grand View Research Inc. predicts that the entire precision farming sector will reach $10.23 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, the compound annual growth rate will grow by 14.2 percent during the same time period. However, this major opportunity comes with its own set of challenges. Let’s explore the key barriers in implementing ag tech tools and techniques today.
Based on the latest research, agriculture goes more than 23,000 years back from the modern days. Undoubtedly it is one of the oldest and most significant human crafts. It can also one of the most conservative, especially outside the U.S. Too many farmers, industry representatives, and owners of agri-businesses around the world cling to their decades-old practices. They are still not ideologically ready to take the leap towards modern ag tech. It seems reasonable to keep on doing what you and your ancestors have been doing successfully.
However, times are actively changing. As it has already been mentioned, crop demand will have a drastic increase, while the amount of soil and clean water available will decrease. Scientists predict that it will be challenging to fulfill the food needs of humankind in the future. Implementing precision farming enables you to produce more crops that are also better while using less resources. This is why it is necessary to let go of the obsolete workflows for the sake of reaping great benefits from the modern technologies and tools.
National Geographic has found that when farmers in the U.S. started implementing precision agricultural practices, their gross annual benefit went up. To be precise, small farms (800 acres) earned $11,000 more; medium-sized farms (1,600 acres), $26,000; and large farms (2,400 acres), $39,000. Numbers speak louder than words, don’t they?
Technical state of farms
A lot of farms have been in the same state for years and years. Some farmers have not made any significant changes because they did not see the point in doing that. Others did not have enough funds. As a result, the state of many farms is less than satisfactory from a technical perspective. However, for those who want to remain in business, neither of these arguments will work.
Yes, a farm may not be ready for a technological makeover right now, but if its owners are eager to stay profitable in the future, they will need to find a way to start implementing technologies. As a result, more affordable tools such as digital agri-platforms that analyze satellite data and do not require any technological purchases will be in demand.
For example, EOS Crop Monitoring provides a combination of historical weather reports and future forecasts, as well as information about the state of the field and crops in the past and present times. The platform processes satellite data, supplying farmers with unlimited natural color imagery and NDVI imagery. All of this allows farmers to get access to remote control, understand what they need to do to grow crops of higher quality, while using their resources more efficiently, reduce scouting expenses, receive weather risk alerts.
There is a massive problem with land access in the U.S. Farmland inflation rates went up by almost 150 percent from 2004 to 2018. At the same time, student debt kept on growing, so potential farmers either could not afford to get into the industry or those who were already in it could not get a loan and make substantial progress. Some industry insiders claim that land limitations and difficulties with obtaining land are the main reason why young people struggle with entering the farming industry. Plus, when one does not own the land, the chances of the farmer being ready to invest and improve the state of the farm are much lower.
Setting up farms for a more technological approach, buying special equipment, and implementing various precision farming techniques are undoubtedly expensive. However, as it has already been stated, these changes are necessary.
When it comes to ag tech, there are several recommendations to consider. First and foremost, consult an expert before making any decisions and purchases. Secondly, envision the expenses on ag tech as a long-term investment that can potentially bring much more money than you have to spend to implement it. Finally, be ready to facilitate all the necessary changes that will follow with the precision farming approach, including learning to work with a lot of additional data, educating employees and so on.
There is a growing movement around ag tech, especially in the U.S. Mini-clusters are appearing in various states, including Missouri, Tennessee, and Iowa. On top of that, there are more and more investors that are eager to fund farms of various sizes that implement precision farming techniques and tools.
Lack of education & qualification
According to this report, over 40 percent of all people in the world work in the agrifood sector. This includes two-thirds of all population in poor countries. And the problem is that their background often has a lot of limitations of its own.
Even though the information about all countries and workers in agriculture is not available yet, there is data on some of the biggest producers. For example, 9 percent of Brazillian rural landowners did not finish elementary school and 27 percent of them are illiterate. Additionally 53 percent have completed elementary school but did not continue their education further. Obviously, these circumstances have a major negative effect on how they run their farms, the kind of decisions they make, and whether they are capable of implementing new technologies or not.
In comparison, the situation in the U.S. is quite different. Around 30 percent of American farmers went to college, and about half of them actually graduated with a degree. However, because of the prices on education and expenses that a farm would require, many have to make a choice between pursuing education or going into farming. Even so, some farmers also manage to attend post-graduate programs.
Age is another impactful factor. In 2013, it was discovered that 31 percent of the farm managers in EU were older than 65 years. Meanwhile, only 6 percent were 30 years younger than that. In the U.S., the figures are similar. An average American farmer is 58 years old. And more than 33 percent of all American farmers are 65 and older.
Telecommunications infrastructure issues
Availability of Internet connection is an important factor when implementing ag tech tools and techniques. The U.S. has no issues with it. Based on this poll, 94 percent of American farmers say that they have access to high-speed internet. However, there are significant issues in Europe even today. It turns out, internet access can still be problematic in some parts of the UK. In 2017, only 59 percent of homes in rural areas had superfast broadband internet. As a result, farmers in further located areas struggle with implementing new technologies and tools. This is a global issue that must be tackled worldwide.
The focus on the future
If something works today, it does not mean that it will be as efficient tomorrow. This relates to the farming approaches too. Experts from all around the world emphasize that ag tech is the future. Based on this report, precision farming will be the biggest trend in agriculture by 2030.
Ag tech tools and techniques show great results both in the U.S. and worldwide. For example, as this study has found, precision farming approach used on hundreds of acres of land leads to significant increases in profit.
Meanwhile, financial and strategic investors are aware of how financially promising the future might be if the crop demand will grow as much as some predict. This is why they are extremely eager to invest in ag tech and the companies that implement precision farming.
For example, The Investment Corporation of Dubai poured $203 million into ag tech, while Japan-based SoftBank had allocated $200 million. Moreover, there is already proof that on average food-and-agribusiness companies have provided higher returns than many other lucrative industries.
All in all, ag tech can enable you to capitalize on the available data, make more informed decisions, get better results,and earn more money while using fewer resources.
Alexandr Sakal is chief science officer for EOS Crop Monitoring, a digital agro platform for effective farm management.