Agriculture 4.0: Technologies at the heart of agtech

‘Agtech’ has been described as the fourth agricultural revolution – a marriage of data, farming and technological innovation that will further transform the industry and help us to achieve so far unrealised levels of productivity (such as the long-sought 20t/ha wheat yield), efficiency and environmental sustainability

This theme was much in evidence in Abu Dhabi at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture 2018 where Dr Marc Larousse, VP Business Development at Alltech, was a speaker.

3D printing

According to Dr Larousse, eight technologies are at the heart of agtech and all have the disruptive power to transform agriculture. Four of them are software, four hardware. One of them is already being practised by Alltech: after its recent purchase of the feed solutions company Keenan, it decided it could provide a more efficient spare parts service by turning to 3D printing, allowing farmers around the world near-instant access to parts from their local dealer. “But it needn’t stop there: we could also ‘print’ food from its constituent ingredients or provide robots with the means to self-repair.”

Robots & Drones

Larousse sees those same robots as another hardware disruption: he estimates robotics will be a market worth $16m by 2020. “Robots can increase production by up to 25 per cent, reduce workforce injuries and address labour shortages. Similarly, drones have become more and more sophisticated in the space of a few short years, capable of collecting information not seen by the human eye. We’re becoming used to seeing them in arable fields, but soon they’ll be commonplace in livestock husbandry too, providing farmers with essential information on animal movements.”

Sensors

The most disruptive hardware development is likely to be sensors, says Larousse. “The market will be worth $2.5bn by 2025, as sensors become commonplace for monitoring air, water and soil, as well as wearable sensors for animals returning data about movement, oestrus, health and identification. Sensors also provide the greatest overlap between the hardware and software technologies,” he says. “Using artificial intelligence to crunch the data collected by sensors, mimicking cognitive functions such as learning and problem solving, immediately makes that data more valuable to the producer.”

Augmented Reality

What’s also of great value is tech’s ability to help us see what the unaided eye cannot. Larousse believes augmented reality – where live views of real-world environments are enhanced by computer-generated images – will bring together multiple data streams from drones and sensors.

“Such data might include being able to identify individual plants or animals as being pathogen carriers, helping to eradicate disease before it becomes a problem.” Similarly, virtual reality would allow farmers to check livestock and crops remotely, customers to view in real-time the farm from which their meat was sourced, and veterinary students to undertake familiarisation and learning sessions before operating on live animals.

Blockchain

Finally, there’s blockchain – the technology that gathers, interprets and shares information, in a reliable, transparent and incorruptible form. “It’s the technology that makes Bitcoin work, and it’s coming to a food chain near you,” says Larousse, enabling everyone in that chain to see who was in control at each stage of the journey. 

Click here to read about agtech challenges and opportunities

Dr Marc Larousse, Alltech’s vice president of business development
Dr Marc Larousse, Alltech’s vice president of business development, said the agtech revolution would prove to be a ‘digital comet’ for the disruption – and innovation – it would bring to farming
Drones have become more sophisticated
Drones have become more sophisticated in the space of a few short years, capable of collecting information not seen by the human eye
Blockchain technology makes Bitcoin work
Blockchain technology makes Bitcoin work, and “it’s coming to a food chain near you,” says Larousse, enabling everyone in that chain to see who was in control at each stage of the journey