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8 Disruptive Digital Technologies... with the power to transform Agriculture

Aidan Connolly's picture
[Knowledge base item]

10,000 years of agricultural evolution can be largely grouped into just four development eras: Paleothic (early domestication of plants and animals), Antiquity (roughly the 2000 years BCE, in which more efficient farming systems were developed), the Modern Era (roughly 1700 to 1900 when mechanization and fertilizers emerged) and the Green Revolution (1930s-60s, when transformative crop genetics and fertilization practices developed).

As with so many things, the pace of change- even in agriculture- is increasing rapidly, and it turns out that even agriculture is not immune to the changes of the digital age. Technological innovations have the ability to transform every link in the food chain, from seed to fork.

The need to embrace the opportunities these innovations offer is real: in order to feed the nearly 10 billion people with whom we will be sharing this planet by 2050, crop and livestock productivity improvements are essential. Agricultural efficiency is still relatively poor: 7 tons of feed is needed to produce just 1 ton of meat. It takes 880 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.

Further, climate change is already requiring changes to crop management, and access to fresh water and good soil are becoming serious limitations for agriculture.

Finally, there are competing food requirements. In wealthier areas, food is a relatively small part of the household budget, and consumers are becoming prosumers, with high expectations for the standard and types of food they want. At the same time, global hunger and food scarcity are serious challenges: nearly 800 million people are undernourished. And connecting both is the global food chain: ensuring that there is transparency, traceability and trust between producers, processors and prosumers.

Fortunately, the makings of a fifth agricultural revolution are here, with the potential to reduce or eliminate all of these issues. These eight emerging digital technologies (PwC2016) each have the potential to transform agriculture. They range from the specific technical tools to new ways of seeing the existing system. Some, especially the first ones, sound familiar but their use in agriculture is novel. These 8 digital technologies can be categorized into four each of hardware and software and when combined with the IoT (Internet of Things) can profoundly change the way food production works.

I discuss the 8 technologies at length in my blog on LinkedIn. Please enjoy and leave a comment if you have information to share!