How Agtech trends are overcoming the food production shortage – It’s all about the data. Part 1: Data Collection
There are many ways in which food productivity gains can be, and are being achieved, but none more effective than through the application of technology. AgTech or AgriTech is the term used to describe the employment of technology within the agriculture sector.
It is widely documented that to keep up with the growth in global population, estimated to be 9-10bn in 2050, that food production must increase by 50% in the same period and that is before the effects of climate change threaten to reduce yields by up to 25%. Following the trail blazed by other sectors, agriculture is turning to technology for productivity gains.
AgTech has been a growing industry for several years. Following the acquisition of Climate Corporation by Monsanto in 2013 for almost $1bn, the following year saw record levels of investment, surpassing that of the more widely known FinTech and CleanTech sectors. That investment has continued to increase year on year, as has the sophistication of the technology being applied.
Yet despite the diverse ways in which AgTech industry is evolving, one constant remains, that of data. Put more specifically, at the centre of a clear majority of AgTech solutions is the collecting, storing, analysis and sharing of data to automate processes, inform decision-making and direct resources. In this three-part series of short articles we take a look at the current and future trends in each area, starting with Data Collection.
AgTech Data Collection
The last few years have seen an explosion of sensors hit the AgTech market. These range from ground based devices that measure and report data points such as live soil moisture levels, through to machine based sensors monitoring crop height and adjusting fertiliser levels accordingly in real-time. As AgTech investment increases, we should expect to see continued growth in the sensor market place including convergence devices that can sense multiple data types in a single unit, thereby reducing capital costs and maintenance overheads.
Satellite and airborne remote sensing has for many decades played a crucial role in informing the agriculture community. The resolution of satellite imagery has increased significantly over that time enabling decision-making at more granular levels. Drone use within agriculture has slowly built momentum for several years now as they represent a next-gen step in both the flexibility of imagery collection as well as image resolution. Yet drone use for agricultural purposes is not without its hurdles; affordability, airspace regulations and usability are just three obstacles holding back the potential on offer.
Crowd sourcing too has its place in the AgTech data collection process. Considered to be of inferior integrity when compared to remotely sensed data, in developing countries where sensor technology is out of the financial grasp of many farmers, it has potential to provide a cost-effective way of gathering crucial data at scale using simple mobile phone technology. However, it too has its hurdles to overcome – firstly there needs to be an incentive for farmers to collect and send data, finding an incentive large enough that farmers are motivated to collectively provide their information is difficult. Secondly, the integrity of crowd sourced data can be questionable despite the use of analytical and data cleansing techniques to remove outliers conflicting data points. Thirdly, crowd sourcing is only useful when used at scale and that means not just providing an incentive common enough that it touches a whole country’s farming community but also presents high operational and marketing costs in communicating the existence and benefits of the crowd sourcing initiative. Yet despite these challenges, crowd sourcing remains an alternative option for highly scalable ground-truth data collection.
Please look out for next week’s article on AgTech Data Analytics.