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Agriculture: Connecting People, Planet and Profit

AgTech

The combination of continued population growth changed customer expectations, and the advances in AgTech are rapidly changing a once relatively stable industry.

Generations of children grew up hearing and singing the nursery rhyme, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Much has changed since the song became popular in the U.S.  in 1917 when 40% of the population were farmers and 60% of the population lived in Rural America. 

Small family farms have been replaced with large farms.

Recent research shows that small farms have given way to larger farms. One percent of the world’s farms operate 70% of crop fields, ranches, and orchards, according to a report that highlights the impact of land inequality on the climate and nature crises.

The farm's two main inhabitants are now more diverse in the U.S.

Gen Z is a new type of customer that cares about people and the planet.

GenZ changing agriculture.

Gen Z considers food as part of their brand. On social media, they share what they are eating more than any other group. The food has to match their brand and align with their values. According to Food Industry Executive Magazine, they care about, “health, freshness, and convenience.”

Gen Z also cares about social responsibility, sustainability, and green brands. They buy brands that align with their values over other brands.

The oldest of Gen Z turns 23 years old this year. With a spending power of $143 Billion, they will account for about 40% of global consumers this year.

It isn’t just Gen Z that wants healthy food.  A growing percentage of shoppers (58% in the US ) are insisting on organic or clean food.

IoT driven agriculture paves the way for Regenerative Farming and the GEN Z consumer.

Regenerative Farming

Regenerative agriculture includes No-Till, Organic Annual Cropping Composting, Biochar, Animal Integration, Cover Crops, Aquaculture, and many other regenerative methods restoring degraded soil biodiversity. The regenerated soil reduces carbon emissions, prevents water runoff, eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and increases nutrient-rich crop production. These ancient holistic practices work with nature instead of against it.

The documentary The Biggest Little Farm illustrates the complexity of building a symbiotic farm ecosystem and an immense reward once achieved. Small farms across the country have been the early adopters; now, big Ag companies are following suit. Cargill, McDonald’s, Target, and the Nature Conservancy teamed up this year to launch an $8.5 million project to help Nebraska farmers advance soil regenerative practices. The program could reduce 150,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering into the atmosphere over five years – equivalent to taking 32,000 cars off the road. Additionally,  Walmart launched the Agriculture pillar of Project Gigaton, encouraging companies to adopt best in class agricultural practices and offering resources to support the efforts.

Ancient Practices + Emerging Technologies

The agriculture industry has been slower to adopt change than most other industries, but emerging technologies’ ability to boost return on investment or reduce costs are luring farmers to adopt changes. As a result, Agtech investment is exploding. Farm automation or “smart farming” is the technology that improves efficiencies and automates the crop and livestock production cycle.

Smart Farm technologies include: 

Harvest robots that are very gentle to avoid damaging the produce. Agrobot has developed a robot that can successfully harvest strawberries, and Abundant Robotics has done the same for harvesting apples.

Seeding, Weeding, and Watering Robots reduce the time spent on mundane work. econobox produced the first-ever autonomous machine for a more ecological and economical weeding of row crops, meadows, and intercropping cultures. 

Drones that monitor and identify problem areas with infrared analysis for early detection. They are also being used to apply treatments and plant seeds in ways that do not disturb the soil. American Robotics offers a fully autonomous Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) including an autonomous drone, edge computing powered base station, and analytics platform to provide real-time insights.

Autonomous Tractors can be pre-programmed or controlled remotely. Bear Flag Robotics is making automation more accessible to farmers by retrofitting existing tractors with affordable driverless technology. 

Sustainability Metrics that measure the success of regenerative practices. Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN launched Truterra in 2018, focused on scaling on-farm conservation solutions and creating our food system’s long-term sustainability. This summer, Microsoft teamed up with Land O’Lakes to pioneer innovations that advance the supply chain, expand regenerative farming practices for farmers and food systems, and bridge the rural broadband gap. The companies are focused on developing a connected AgTech platform built on Microsoft Azure that will unite Land O’Lakes portfolio of Agtech tools, including Truterra, WinField United’s R7 Suite, and Data Silo under one unified architecture. By standardizing Azure and leveraging Azure FarmBeats, Land O’ Lakes can empower farmers with intelligent agriculture solutions from dynamic data-driven insights.

The Future of Farming is Connected - People, Planet and Profit

People worldwide have been harvesting the planet’s resources to sustain and enhance lives for thousands of years. Looking ahead, the global population is expected to grow to nearly 9.8 billion people by 2050, presenting a challenge for the agriculture industry to meet societal demands for food, fiber, and feed. 

AgTech connectivity is helping reduce costs, increase productivity, and support regenerative farming and other types of green farming. Smart farms will be vital in meeting the growing demand of a growing population. Connected and data-driven farmers are changing centuries-old practices as they create a smart farm ecosystem. The smart farm and agriculture industry is projected to reach $13.5 billion by 2023.  

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