Digital Transformation of Agriculture: Some trends and insights

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Agriculture is undergoing a tremendous transformation in the collection and use of data to inform smarter farming decisions. There are references to such products like Farminsight, Echelon, Maglis, or FieldView , Granular with major players like Monsonto, DowDuPont, John Deere, BASF, Bayer and others. Details can be found in literature. it not certain whether the start of the trend happened after introduction of  GPS sensors enabled tractors, but it was the oblivious start for reference. Farmers and entrepreneurs are starting to compete with agribusiness giants over the byte of information – data.

green tractor
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The very data has three different usages like reuse for different purpose or recombine with other data to create new insights or even extend to new applications that are not yet created. Based on these very premise there are many more agriculture start ups being established than it was possible before. Farm machines equipped with sensors and cameras are capturing minute field-level data like soil moisture, leaf greenness, temperature, seeding, fertilizer and pesticide spraying rate, yield, fuel usage, and machine performance and are changing the way agriculture is being practiced. There are major changes happening over all the patterns of data collection, however the most noticeable change are happening in the upstream input markets like machinery, seed, fertilizers and chemicals.

As has been mentioned elsewhere there are different levels of players participating in this digital management i.e., Data specialists, Data Strategists and finally Data Holders. Each of those players are changing the nature of the game with setting up trends and direction. These very players co-existed for many years are now started to venture into each others area to gain competitive advantage. To elaborate data specialists are those who are good at analyzing the data, data strategists are those with big data management. While the data analytics trend is occurring at all stages of the agricultural vertical chain, the most noticeable changes are happening in the upstream input markets of agriculture value chain. To give a brief introduction, the agriculture value chain consits of Input suppliers, Farms, Traders, Processors, Retailers and finally Consumers. There are major dynamics in the nature of these dynamics and there a number of excllent reviews available on this strategies from a number of business schools.

Now coming to the topic of how best the Digital Technologies can be applied to manage these agriculture practices, there are many applications being mentioned. The Major categories of these topics include Weather and Climatic Data Changes, Soil Management, Crop Management, Land management, Weeds remediation, farmers insurance management and finally Farmers decision Support systems. Besides this there was also a significant announcement from NASA for the development of MERRA analytics services which is Cloud Enabled Climate Analytics as a service. Some of the applications of Digital technologies include

Weather Management- It is used to forecast weather changes to understand the likely weather changes and their impact. These predictions which when used in conjuction with drought and flood assessments can deliver a very good insights like how to protect farmers for anticiapted drought and associated insurance management or compensation challenges. On a side note my post doctoral thesis was on the same topic where I have used Weather Forecasting using numerical modeling of NCAR data using WRF modeling tool.

Soil Management includes studying the characteristics of the soil and classifying the soil based on soil moisture and soil temperature and classific example has been the irrigation management for watering the plants by Lucy and how it creates a conflict with her neighbour (Michael Robertson TED Talk)

Crop management involves providing a decision support system to help in addressing crop rotation management, i.e., how to identify crop rotation among other factors, crop stress management. Like these there are many examples of managing the weeds like selective identification of weeds using different techniques.

The notable use of digital techniques is to manage the insurance management. This application involves better management practices and support to help in insurance. How to improve productivity. The other uses of this technique includes management of finance for farmers, easy installment maangement and finally farmers export management.

To master competition in this digital age, Agriculture companies needs to make use of digital technologies to build platform based business models. These platforms make use of customer interaction to create value added services such as real time insights, showcasing scientific inputs, market inteligence and  insights around food storage facility management using temperature controlled conditions, weather insights including Irrigation information systems, and drought predictions and connecting farmers with stakeholders with real time dynamic requirement analysis, transportation route management. These services along with support for selective seed management practices or chemicals along with insurance (compensation) and company managed loan approvals & management will be a major diffferentiator for companies in years to come and it will help companies in managing asymmetric competition.

Thanks – Jak

 

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