Agriculture 4.0 is a term for the next big trends facing the industry, including a greater focus on precision agriculture, the internet of things (IoT) and the use of big data to drive greater business efficiencies in the face of rising populations and climate change.
In 2018, the World Government Summit published their report called Agriculture 4.0 – The Future Of Farming Technology, in collaboration with Oliver Wyman. The report addresses the four main developments placing pressure on agriculture in the near future: Demographics, Scarcity of natural resources, Climate change, and Food waste.
The term “Agriculture 4.0” has entered the public consciousness. What are some of the changes this means for agriculture’s future?
The role of big data
Big data has the potential to benefit the whole supply chain and will play a greater role than ever before in transforming the agriculture industry. The advanced connectivity of a global agriculture network provides a vast number of benefits up and down the supply chain: Farmers can use their data to apply the right products, at the right rates, and at the right time; distributors can use data to source inputs and position themselves for maximum advantage in the market; manufacturers can improve their means of production and better target their customer base.
The role of big data is one of change, likely the largest change seen in agricultural operations this century. Big data will make the whole chain more competitive and profitable, but these benefits won’t just extend to those at the top level. Farmers will be empowered by increased insights and precise advice granted to them. Tighter specifications and traceability – made possible by data connectivity – will increase margins across the supply chain, while boosting quality to meet the demands of local and international buyers. Increased visibility for all parties will lead to higher outputs and greater trust which, in turn will lead to more consistent returns and increased profitability – against a backdrop of better use of resources and lower environmental impact.
In recent years, there has been a steady rise in farm adoption rates for advanced data solutions in agriculture. The image of “Big Data is only for Big Farming” is finally starting to wane. More and more farms understand the value in being able to measure their performance, including variable rate soil pH control, variable rate nutrition, variable rate seeding, live in-line quality sampling. Many farmers are adopting an experimental and business-minded approach to utilizing solutions that work for them – testing and implementing one improvement at a time over multiple seasons.
Big data isn’t so much about what the changes will be, but how we’ll get there. Data is the medium by which the industry can take its next steps for a more sustainable and profitable future.
IoT sensors in field and on livestock
The Internet of Things (IoT) has seen a huge acceleration in recent years, with smart devices becoming more prevalent, and increasingly able to share with one another. According to research agency Gartner, a projected 20.5 billion connected devices will be in use by 2020 – outnumbering humans by 4-to-1.
Farm devices utilization of IoT is set to become the norm, not the exception, as mobile software becomes increasingly interoperable (i.e. different apps are able to share and use the same data sets). This would mean an end to entering the same data sets multiple times into different systems, significantly reducing financial and time costs that arise from human error. Sensors on farm are already used to monitor soil nutrition, temperature, moisture, and more. IoT means connecting all those systems together, removing the need to repeatedly enter data into multiple apps that don’t talk to one another. In short, imagine a farm where all useful information is automatically and seamlessly unified, letting the farmer get on with work that matters.
Recent research indicates that the IoT creates $14.4 trillion in value across all businesses. Adoption means smarter data usage across the agri-supply chain driving better informed, more profitable and sustainable farming and food production.
New technologies are already disrupting the established norms of farming, with previously unaffordable devices now accessible and regularly deployed on farms across the world. Scout drones provide an “eye in the sky,” scouting for pests in the field or dry spots requiring extra attention. The latest advances in sensor technology means drones are now able to use additional wavelengths in the light spectrum to assess crops, spotting weeds and sick crops from the air.
Blockchain is also on the rise, creating a new mode of interaction in the supply chain: trust is established by consensus between parties and backed by technology, eliminating the need for an intermediary.
It doesn’t end there; blockchain has applications that go way beyond basic transactions. Blockchain can reduce inefficiency and greatly improve food safety. Traceability is also improved, with regulators quickly able to check the source of foods and detect the scope of any contamination issues.
These and other technological breakthroughs are acting as a significant disruptor, driving change and greater efficiency for hundreds of industries– including agriculture.
Improved precision agriculture and the benefits
Precision agriculture has seen adoption rates surge in recent years, with the market value expected to grow from approximately 5.09 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 to 9.53 billion U.S. dollars by 2023.
Daily operations across the whole supply chain already generate vast amounts of data, used to improve on each business’ particular remit. By seizing the value that already exists in that huge lake of data and making it dynamic, farmers can derive better performance and productivity.
Precision agriculture enables farmers to do more with less, identifying the key parts of their farm that offer the best ROI for suitable investment, backed by more effective farm decision making that is more immediate, whether it’s recognizing pest threats sooner or preparing for severe weather events.
Precision agriculture, backed by smart data usage, can identify parts of a farm that will deliver an investment return or would be better delivering sustainability and conservation outcomes. Through smart data use, it’s possible for farmers to better understand their output practices and understand what changes can generate the greatest value.
Agriculture 4.0 is more than just a movement. The term has entered use as a catch-all term for the next step forward in agriculture: a smarter, more efficient industry that makes full use of big data and new technologies to benefit the whole supply chain.
 Leading the IoT, Gartner, 2017