By Karen Abrams, MBA
IT & Small Business Consultant
United States agriculture is estimated to be a nearly $400 billion industry. The global agriculture industry generates around $2.4 trillion for the global economy. Around the world, the farming industry employs nearly 40% of the population; the World Bank puts the food and agriculture sector at about $4.8 trillion.
The farm industry is another frontier in technology driven by the demand for data by farmers, government agencies, commodity traders, hedge funds, biotech companies and, seed, chemical and fertilizer manufacturers. Farmers want to improve yields, lower production costs and compete globally. Industry stakeholders generally want answers to questions like: Which seed varieties were the most successful and where? Which plant populations performed best? Whose recommendations (eg nitrogen programmes) outperformed their peers?
Technology companies across the world are seeking to gather and access data and turn it into usable information for stakeholders who will pay a premium to accomplish their own organizational goals.
“Agriculture tech is defined as technology that increases the efficiency of farms and these technologies can be divided into seven major categories: farm management software; predictive data analytics; sensors; drones and robots; smart irrigation; new farms and marketplaces.
Farm management software companies like http://granular.ag enable farmers to more efficiently manage their resources like farm animals and crop production.
Predictive data Analytics startup companies like Brazil-based http://strider.com include those that focus on using big data and predictive analytics to help them make better decisions related to energy savings, increased efficiency, optimized herbicide and pesticide and risk management.
Sensor related companies collect data and help farmers monitor crop health, animal health, weather, soil quality, waste, water usage and other factors to help them make better decisions. One of the upcoming players in the sensor industry is www.agrilyst.com.
The drone and robot category includes companies like Ceres Imaging and Blue River Technologies. Blue River Tech developed the Lettuce Bot which when dragged behind a tractor, watches rows of lettuce crops, comparing what it sees to millions of saved images. When it detects either a weed or a number of lettuce heads crowding each other out, the machine sprays fertilizer too potent for the target, but nourishing to the surrounding crops.
Smart Irrigation companies like http://hortau.com provides systems that help to monitor and automate water usage for farms.
The new farms category includes companies like Freight Farms targeted to urban growers like chefs, restaurants, distributors, vacant lot developers, activists, entrepreneurs and schools.
Freight Farms offers complete farms built entirely inside a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ shipping container. Freight farms are outfitted with all the tools needed for high-volume, consistent harvests. Each module can grow 4,500 plants a month and do it in tight quarters. Owners can also control the sophisticated hydroponics and violet grow lights with the touch of a smart phone.
Farm data alone is expected to be a $25 billion revenue opportunity, but industry players are still trying to work out how data can be collected, structured, stored, shared and monetized in a cost effective manner. Right now, companies based in the United States, India, Croatia, Kenya and Ghana seem to be leading the agriculture tech revolution and an increasing number of farmers around the world are using these technologies to gain costs and yield advantages. Local universities and entrepreneurs should be investigating opportunities to bring these same advantages to Guyanese farmers. In an increasingly global world, local producers can quickly find themselves at an economic disadvantage if they do not familiarize themselves with the tools of technology that can help them to survive and even thrive in the global farming industry.