What Exactly Does ‘Agriculture 4.0’ Mean?

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With the 2023 VISION Conference just around the corner, I felt it time to start preparing for the conference itself, as well as the long journey to Arizona from Western Australia (yeah, it’s brutal). When looking at the conference theme — ‘Harnessing the Power of Agriculture 4.0’ — I have to admit that ‘Agriculture 4.0’ was a new buzzword for me, and I had to research what it actually means.

For those of you that are also not familiar with this term, ‘Agriculture 4.0’ refers to the next big trends in the agricultural industry, the challenges the industry faces, and what needs to happen in years to come in order to meet these challenges and feed a population of 10 billion people by 2050. Interestingly, the term ‘Agriculture 4.0′ was coined in 2018 in a report called Agriculture 4.0 – The Future Of Farming Technology, which was commissioned by the World Government Summit.

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With the report nearly 5 years old, and agtech seemingly developing at the speed of light over the past years, reading the report almost felt like opening a time capsule of sorts. Some of the initial comments that stood out to me were:

“Although agricultural investments and innovations are boosting productivity, yield growth has slowed to rates that are too low for comfort.” and “Agriculture 4.0 will no longer depend on applying water, fertilizers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, farmers will use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas.”

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I don’t think that there is a set time frame in this report for when Agriculture 4.0 needs to start, but the authors of the report discuss the different industries and technologies that can be used to achieve these goals: “Future agriculture will use sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology. These advanced devices and precision agriculture and robotic systems will allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly.”

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That made me think: While all technologies mentioned above are now in use, albeit some more than others, have they contributed significantly to the issues at hand? Has the yield growth rate increased significantly since this report was written? And are we on track to feed 10 billion people by 2050? I can’t find exact answers to these questions, but from everything that I’ve read I believe that, while they have all made positive contributions to an extent, none of them have been disruptive and significantly improved the global yield growth rate.

While the article mentions three trends where technology is disrupting the industry I believe that no true single disruptive technology has emerged yet. That begs the question: do agtech startups and scientists have access to everything they need to optimize the results from their ideas and technologies? Talking to agtech founders and scientists, I get the feeling that investment is no longer the hardest part for those with promising ideas; it’s all about getting the right data to power models, platforms, and hardware solutions.

I look forward to discussing this further in Arizona next week. I for one believe that, while we might need to collect more data in specific instances, we can still get a lot more results out of the ag data currently already getting collected. By standardizing all data, getting rid of individual data silos, and allowing growers and agronomists to easily share data with anyone they wish, surely we as an industry are able to give these promising agtech startups what they need to do their part in “disrupting” the industry and helping improve the global yield growth rate.

If you are planning to attend the VISION Conference and interested in discussing this, and many other topics no doubt, further, then please drop me a line on LinkedIn; I’d love to catch up for a chat.

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