«Vertical farms» in the center of the megalopolis, modelling of agricultural crops, shooting of farmland by means of drones, online monitoring of animals state, intelligent agricultural equipment – all these are reality. These digital technologies are designed to ensure productivity growth and reduction of losses in strategically important industry of Kazakhstan – agro-based industries.
Digitalization elements are introduced in some agro-formations of Kazakhstan: in plant growing, animal breeding, processing of agricultural products. Drones, monitoring sensors of fuel level, satellite navigation. These smart devices allow you to save time and resources, and to predict sowing, harvesting, processing of fields from pests and diseases.
However, these are first steps. Kazakhstani farmers need to introduce the newest technologies in the basic branches of agro-based industries, taking into account the experience of leading countries in this area – Australia, Canada, USA, Germany, and Israel. As the goal on increase of gross output of agricultural products by 30%, set by the country’s leadership, is achievable only in terms of consistent digital transformation of the industry.
Let’s try to understand why technologies are reliable companions of growth of the agricultural sector? How do farmers around the world solve the problem on further business development by means of innovations? Analysts of JSC Holding Zerde represent main world and European trends in digitalization and high-tech innovations in the agricultural sector on the basis of data from open sources.
Farm in center of the city
Agro sector has already accumulated a significant bank of technologies, and will move to their integration in 2018. New agro-technologies, which are just appearing in the environment of start-ups, will join these integral IT systems. Leaders of the process are companies Hortau and CropX, developing integrated wireless networks, to which technologies are connected. Distribution of IT systems of collection, storage, processing and issuance of information will create a basis for large-scale application of Big Data and AI in the agricultural sector.
Urban population in the world is growing, and urban residents changing their habits (they work more at home, they have more free time) and preferences (enjoying organic food grown by themselves). This will lead to the development of vertical farms, allowing growth of variety of crops on a small area within the city. Such technology was firstly implemented only in 2017 in Japan, but it can become a year of its meridian in 2018. For example, start-up Plenty in San Francisco grows 350 times more products than usual on a similar site with reduced water consumption. “Can cabbage make you happy?” is question on main page of Plenty’s website.
Vertical farms are one of the best examples of IT and the agricultural sector symbiosis, their effectiveness is based on complex information systems. The popularity of this trend is confirmed by interest from investors: Plenty attracted $200 million of investments.
Crop modelling is trend, also related with the development of integral digital systems for control of agricultural production. As agrarians can collect maximum amount of information about their crops and analyse it easily, methods of plant modification are simpler.
Drones, satellites, sensors and other technologies will promote accumulation of more data, so growth of R&D quality during modification of the existing agricultural crops is an exponential trend.
You are what you are eating
Modern people want to know more about origin of food and its properties. Labelling of food, stories about who, where and how grow it. Transparency and availability of this information is principle, embedded in the work of number of agricultural innovations. The fact that there is a demand of consumers makes such innovations attractive for investors.
Certain land parcel can better suit for growing of one crop and worse for another. Data collection and processing technologies make possible to identify this, and farmers can maximize usefulness of each individual site, which will allow them to increase productivity and better management with available resources.
Large agro-holdings use technologies of precision farming more actively. While these are measurements, soil analysis, increased yields, saving of fertilizers and protective equipment, monitoring over the field in real time mode. But personalization of sites is an innovation of the nearest future.
Bioinformatics is new trend based on computer storage, analysis and exchange of big biological data. There are huge databases of genomes in Europe, USA and Japan. There are databases of proteins; USA and Switzerland launched Uniprot site. Targeted accumulation of large amount of information will promote enrichment of knowledge about biology, which will lead to better understanding of biological processes and phenomena and more active modelling of crops in practice.
Indian start-up StellApps developed life exponents’ tracker, which is put on a cow and monitors its state in real time, in 2011. Such technology allows timely response to sudden events and building of new strategies for animals handling. Nowadays such trackers are not yet very common, but in 2018, demand for them is expected to increase. This is related to the first trend – creation of complete digital systems in agricultural companies.
Future farmer is scientist
Price of one burger of alternative protein is 11 dollars against several thousand three years ago. Progress in this area can be rapid in 2018. These trends make us think about know-how of future agrarian. Nowadays knowledge in the area of technologies determines success in agriculture. Perhaps future farmer is a scientist, who spends most of its time in laboratories, where it intercrosses crops. More and more agricultural labour is automated, more and more digital technologies are working to improvement of productivity of agro-business. The profession itself is changing.
Current state soil and plants is constantly monitored by sensors, and high-performance systems are used for information analysis. Required data is transmitted in real time to farmer or manager for determination of optimal planting time and other decisions. This allows you to spend only that amount of resources which you need.
Such proprietary software is used, for example, by Cargill Company. State of the fields can be monitored by means of drones, and then, as a farmer from Iowa does, information is put on the map and fertilizers or pesticides are used strictly on the site, where they are necessary for achievement of maximum result.
Nowadays farming is built on collection and analysis of big data – only so we can survive in global competition. Due to the analysis, the farmer constantly sees an aggregate picture of its business and makes quick strategic decisions. For example, if there is an ongoing monitoring of infection rate with agricultural pests of surrounding farms, each farmer will receive an alarm signal in time and purchase chemicals, which will allow it to save its crop, as proposed by Brazilian start-up Aegro. Analysis of information within several years will provide an opportunity for prediction of timing of pests’ appearance.
Stable supply channels are required that the farmer receives necessary raw materials, spare parts and chemicals on time and that products are quickly shipped and properly stored. IT system opens the possibility of selection of the best suppliers or contractors, and storage of information throughout the chain increases transparency of production. So, the entire product path from the farm to the table is easily traced.
News from fields
Big data allow monitoring of status of fields, determination of optimal moments for planting, watering, and fertilization. Extended weather data are analysed, including statistics for last years, as well as changes in composition of the soil and state of the crop. All information is recorded by sensors, drones or even tractors, and then transferred to processing. The largest producer of seeds and fertilizers, company Monsanto, announced that the basis of its business will be data processing technologies.
Mobile technologies are crucial for those, who spend most of their time in the fields. Usage of applications provides immediate access to all necessary information – about state of fields, equipment or livestock. Together with data on weather and soil conditions, a farmer can make operational decisions at any time and at any place, using, for example, application of the Californian Company OnFarm.
Internet connection is an excellent method for optimization of equipment load, reduction of downtime and performance of repair in time. Equipment of one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers, John Deere, can transmit information about state of the crop. And appearance of self-controlled equipment is in future of the company. Perhaps they will come to the fields earlier than on the streets, because speed is less there and it is not necessary to analyse road situation.
Digital animal breeding allows monitoring over state of livestock by means of drones or fixed sensors. Moreover, shooting by means of drones makes possible to calculate “field greenness index” – an indicator of its suitability as a pasture. If data is unfavourable, the system will recommend changing of the field. Shooting, performed by John Deere Company, can reduce expenses for field survey by 90%.
Digital technologies allow to train farmers to advanced methods of work, and also to maintain uniform production standards in different parts of the world. For example, Nestle has trained 10,000 farmers in West Africa to modern farming and storage techniques. As a result, the company received quality-assured products, and farmers – access to global market and marketing at high prices.
World experience demonstrates that usage of IT technologies in agriculture can reduce up to 20% of unplanned expenses, and the impact on digitalization will grow in the near future. In case of proper usage of IT technologies, the agricultural sector can be the driver of the third modernization of the economy of Kazakhstan. At the same time, Kazakhstan repeats path along which the Western world is moving. And if somewhere innovations turn into trends, then sooner or later the Kazakhstani agricultural sector will adapt them. And it can take advantages of late adopters: to apply adjusted, effective working system, not passing all the way of evolution.