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There’s a steady but sure-footed transition towards digitisation of agriculture globally. Digitisation means holistic deployment of information and communication technologies to empower farmers to take the best decisions in the least possible time.

Think using satellite images to monitor crop health or installing soil moisture sensors to accurately gauge crop water requirement. Imagine using GPS to programme a navigation path for a tractor to complete a farm operation. The possibilities of such technologies are endless. A.T. Kearney’s paper “Agriculture is Fertile Ground for Digitisation” highlights this unfolding paradigm.

New Normal  

Global population is touching 7.5 billion. The rising population in emerging economies is demanding more and better food. Advancement in medical sciences is increasing average life expectancy. There is greater pressure on global agriculture to feed so many, all at the same time.

The shrinking arable land cover due to competitive land uses (roads, homes, buildings, infrastructure etc.) is forcing arable land to deliver more yield of better quality per hectare, season after season. Extreme weather often damages standing crops this negatively affecting supply, market arrivals and prices.

The long-term forecasts by FAO and OECD have shown a severe drop in production and either stagnant or dropping prices of crops. All these constitute New Normal in global agriculture.

 

Major Trends

In addition to the emerging realities, A.T. Kearney also examines few key trends disrupting traditional agriculture:

Shifting demand patterns: 300 million tonnes of meat are consumed annually. This meat comes from 300 million cows, 1.4 billion pigs, 60 billion poultry and 900 million goats and sheep. A shift in people’s food preferences towards vegetarian / vegan diets has dipped the demand for livestock. An estimated 800 million tonnes of crops like grain, corn, soy etc. are used as animal feed. Their demand and consumption will be impacted.    

Biofuels’ impact: After animal feed; the largest consumer of crops is the biofuel industry. Between 2000 and 2015; annual production of crops like sugarcane, canola and corn rose from 18 million tonnes to 150 million tonnes. While biofuels survive on government subsidy, a fall in crude oil price and uptake of electric vehicles will possibly lead to a downfall in energy crop cultivation for biofuels – thus reducing demand for agro-chemicals.

Intensive agriculture: Modern industrial farming is characterised by monoculture, lack of crop rotation, double cropping etc. This leads to lack of soil recreation, reduced fertility, falling yield potential and mutated / resistant pests. This is often accentuated by increased use of agro-chemicals thus aggravating the very same problems for which the chemicals are being applied. An estimated 15% of standing crop is lost each year to pest attacks. Food and retail companies are aggressively either reducing chemical inputs or are demanding stringent residue benchmarks well below 20 – 50% below legal limits. Besides, social activism and regulatory action concerning food safety and opposition to genetically modified organisms too is rising globally.

Food wastage: An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost / wasted each year for many reasons. Reducing this wastage can potentially feed the existing population with 20% less food.

 

The Impact 

All the developments noted above are giving rise to precision agriculture. Within its ambit are diverse technologies like self-driving tractors, autonomous robots for farm operations, soil and leaf sensors, weather stations, satellite and drone imagery, intelligent irrigation systems and variable rate applicators.

Bundling these technologies will deliver value throughout the crop lifecycle in the future. They will bring greater predictability and insight in farm operations, prevent either too little or too much of nutrient and chemical dosage applications, optimise labour and mechanised farm operations and while doing all this, generate the best quality, safest possible yield with as low costs as possible. Large scale crops can register an estimated 20% to 30% incremental yields as per the A.T. Kearney report. 

As more farms are brought aboard online decision support platforms; continuous monitoring will be a reality. Learnings from one location or crop can be applied to another thus greatly saving time and capital resources. The “network effects” of such digital platforms cannot be emphasised enough. With more growers joining such platforms in days to come, geo-tagged and highly contextual agronomy advice can be delivered by studying patterns, trends and crop behaviours.

 

Decision Support

The report also notes that digital decision support platforms (like KisanHub) will play a pivotal role. Diverse technologies like autonomous tractors, image processors, sensors, satellites and drones invariably generate voluminous quantity data which needs rigorous analysis. Without the right analysis, large datasets only lead to a deluge of information thus queering the pitch for informed and precise decision making. Sifting through large data sets also consumes time thereby prolonging execution mandates. 

KisanHub platform integrates multifarious datasets. Think crop growth simulation, weather-based pest and disease monitors, on-farm hardware integration (sensors, weather stations, farm machinery etc.), drone and satellite imagery, field trials, soil maps and analytics, intelligent irrigation models and yield estimation, among others. Seamless integration of these and many other datasets helps uncover hidden trends, patterns and hitherto unexplored behaviours. KisanHub is thus able to deliver sharp actionable insights within its credo of growing more, using less.     

The “how” of decision making is obvious. Decision support platforms will provide answers to the “what” “when” and “why” of tomorrow’s agriculture. Precise, predictable and profitable farming is at the heart of this new thinking. The shift from ad-hoc decisions to well-informed decisions is underway. And KisanHub is right at the heart of all this action.  

The source material from A.T. Kearney can be accessed here.



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