Agriculture: Key things to consider when investing in technology solutions
By Estelle Lubbe - Mar 11 2020
More and more farmers are taking the leap towards starting to adopt industry 4.0 technologies. Let’s look at some key thing you need to consider when you yourself want to take that leap:
1. Why do you need to invest in technology?
With the growing population, restraining environmental factors, economic problems and ever-changing circumstances, a shift is needed towards precision farming, smart farming and ultimately, data-driven farming.
So what are the promises that technology is making in this regard? Firstly, improved efficiencies: Technology is promising to extend the farmers overall capacity. This means growing your operations, saving you time while also increasing your control. The second biggest promise surrounds costs: Saving you money by, for example, optimising your product usage. Also, increasing your profits by increasing your crop yield or livestock productivity and improving the quality of your products. The last biggest promise is all about sustainability. On the one hand, sustainability of you as a farmer and your business. On the other, sustainability of the environment by reducing your impact on it by, for example, decreasing pollution.
2. What are the key challenges and some arguments when it comes to investing in technology?
Agriculture is one of the most conservative domains out there. Even though we are seeing an increase in technology adoption, traditional approaches are limiting the speed at which solutions can get invented, but more importantly the speed at which solutions are improved.
From a technology readiness perspective, most farms are not in a very satisfactory state. To address this challenge, farmers need to be eager to start somewhere. We are by no means suggesting an entire tech-makeover on the first go, just start somewhere. Part of this challenge is also telecommunications infrastructure. This is a global issue in this domain. If a farm does not at a bare minimum have a good internet connection somewhere, any technology they deploy will be limited and the analysis of the data will probably be outdated.
Another big challenge is the cost of technology. An initial investment in technology can be costly. When you do take that leap, you need to remind yourself that it is a long term investment.
When it comes to technology adoption, a lack of education and skills is one of the main challenges. Farmers need to realize that they will not only have to invest in the actual technology, they will also need to invest in individuals by means of upskilling.
3. What are the realities that you need to know and be aware of when you invest in technology?
We are finding that farmers are complaining that technology is not doing what they thought it would and they are struggling. This struggle is made worse by the fact that many solution providers are over-promising and under-delivering. Farmers are paying costly subscriptions to only get an SMS alert when a cow has left a geographical area. No real-time awareness or location tracking, no historical data analysis. An SMS is not real-time tracking and a dot on a map or even a heat map is not data analytics! Honestly, farmers are left not knowing which solutions will provide them with the insights they need, or even which solutions will work at all. The market seems to have a lot of solutions that are static and not delivering.
4. What is the recipe you should follow when you are ready to invest in technology?
A. You will have to undergo a mind-shift: I would like to reiterate that any expenses into technology should be seen as a long term investment that will potentially bring in/save much more money than what you spent implementing it. Continuous innovation is what makes digitization in any domain a success. The fact that something works today does not mean it will work as efficiently tomorrow. You can also not wait for the perfect solution because your solution will need to adapt continuously together with your operations.
B. You will have to take a data-driven holistic view: The success of any technology implementation will always get measured by the way you make use of your data. Everything influences each other. That means integrating the data from all your technology is crucial if you want to have real-time insights and make the best-informed decisions.
C. You can not afford to be technology research lazy: Make sure the technology was built for your harsh environments and that it can take the heat, rain and cows that might want to eat it. Along with that, make sure your technology provider understands your actual problems and that the technology will answer your actual questions.
D. Last, but not least, be ready for the change and challenges: Be ready for the problems that will come with digitization and digital transformation. You should be ready to learn to work with and use the technology and the data. Most importantly, you should be ready to upskill your employees to not only enable them to move that soil moisture sensor to a better location but to actually make the informed decisions you need them to make using the technology outputs.
Adoption of technology is not a new thing, it just takes on different forms. Years ago farmers planted seed by seed with their hands. Then the industrial revolution came and farmers need to start mass-producing food for the growing population. So the farmer bought a tractor. The farmer learned to operate that tractor and to even maintain it. The farmer also taught his/her employees how to operate and maintain the tractor. The same must be done right now with industry 4.0 technologies.
- The Awareness Company