• David Guthrie, Author |
3 min read

In my last post, I talked about the impacts of COVID-19 on our food supply chains and offered my thoughts on how these impacts are driving, and will continue to drive, efforts to shore up supply chain resilience in preparation for whatever our next crisis brings. In this post, I want to talk about how agriculture technology (a.k.a. AgTech) can help support and advance these efforts.

It goes without saying that supply chains of the 21st century have gotten faster and more interconnected and that they increasingly depend on sharing even greater volumes of data. As I've discussed, the complexities of these ecosystems create operational risks and reconciliation challenges, as well as fraud and safety concerns.

Meanwhile, customers of the 21st century have three simultaneous expectations of their food — health, sustainability and the overall experience. KPMG in Australia has gathered some illuminating numbers:

"Some 88 percent of consumers desire healthier foods and they are seeking ways to use food to fortify their bodies. The market for functional/fortified foods in 2018 was $247 billion. Worldwide, 66 percent of consumers, and 73 percent of millennial consumers, are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. Yet this must all feed into the experience behind the food – everything from the way it tastes, to how it was discovered, and the story behind it. Worldwide, 77 percent of consumers want transparency in their food."

Meeting these kinds of expectations might sound like a tall order. While numbers like these indicate a trend of rising expectations, they're also essentially business as usual. That's because change is pretty much always driven by customers, who after all provide the fundamental demand—and in the case of agriculture, not just for various types of food but also for how that food is sourced, how it's delivered and how waste is managed.

There's an app for that

Enter AgTech, which is increasingly critical to improved connectedness across each link in this value chain and thus a key driver of farmers' continued ability to provide a sufficient and sustainable food supply to meet customers' needs. It's true that on‑farm connectivity has been a barrier to digitization in agriculture, but improvements continue to be made. This is of the utmost importance because connectivity enables better productivity outcomes and can drive other benefits, such as increased worker safety and improved environmental and social performance.

What's the linchpin? The rapidly expanding reach of the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows physical objects to be sensed and remotely monitored, creating a direct integration between the physical and digital worlds. IoT gives users the information they need, when they need it, which in our context benefits not only individual farms and farmers but the entire supply chain.

Once connectivity is in place, farmers can effectively implement IoT and other digital solutions to improve their productivity, reduce risk, improve safety for workers, and so much more. Between farm management platforms, smart irrigation, weather and climate monitoring, pest management and other technologies, farmers can more effectively harness the power of data and the insights that follow. All of this will lead to more precise resource use, less waste, quicker speed to market, enhanced traceability, improved biosecurity, and ultimately safer food — helping to better meet consumers' rising expectations.

Full seed ahead

Naturally, there are some barriers to quick and easy adoption of AgTech—most critically of which is knowing how to choose, implement and actually use the desired technology. For those wading into these waters for the first time, we recommend focusing not on the technology itself but instead on making sure you have a solid understanding of the business, its current and foreseeable requirements, and the use cases against which AgTech can be applied. When you know your requirements and can clearly state your needs for connectivity, you'll be that much better able to narrow down the options and make the right choices for your operation.

It's a heady time for agribusiness in Canada. Between the immediate challenges of the global pandemic and the longer-term expectations to produce and deliver ever safer and healthier food and food products, there's never been a more opportune time to digitize. Fact is, the intersection of digital technology and agriculture promises to play not just a critical role in alleviating current pressures on our food system but also to build the more dependable and resilient system we'll need in the new, post-pandemic, reality.

Let's do this.