AgrifoodDigital Transformation

The digital transformation is here – let’s use it!

The digital transformation is here and it will not disappear anymore. Everyone is already, or will sooner or later, come into contact - be it as a designer, user, regulator or an affected person. For that very reason, digital transformation is not an IT issue per se, even if information technology is the trigger and driver.

Simultaneously with this phase of digital transformation that has arrived in the broader world, our legitimate concerns and grievances about so much of our world are multiplying. Whether climate, energy, nutrition, health, consumerism, work, education or inequality - everywhere we have clear need for action. What if we were to apply the possibilities of digital transformation to these challenges, which are so significant for our society?

The final declaration on the subject of "digitization" at this year's G20 summit in Hamburg read: "Digital transformation is a driver of global, innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth and can help reduce inequality and meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

Then let's get started!

Where do we stand in the different industries? What opportunities can we take and what challenges do we have? Where and how can digital transformation support us?

In this blog post I would like to take a look at agriculture, an industry which suggests to be conservative rather than heavily digitized. Not even close.

The digital transformation operates under the term Smart Farming or Agriculture 4.0 and has the goal of making the production of agricultural products more efficient, but also more sustainable.

To improve efficiency, so-called farm management systems can lead. When looking for such systems on capterra.com, well over 100 providers are listed. Often they provide a kind of "ERP for agriculture". However, crop management  and livestock management systems are also being offered, which focus on mission-critical functions around the production of agricultural products.

The digital transformation in agriculture now enables further efficiency gains. New software-based technical solutions, often implemented through sensors, drones, image recognition and tracking software, can help increase crop productivity and harvest quality.

The so-called "Precision Farming" helps to optimize cultivation and harvesting processes. New or technically upgraded agricultural machines are digitally networked and controlled. Time and location-specific, digitized data on soil conditions, temperature and growth progress can be included in planning and field work. If this is done by simultaneously reducing the use of harmful chemicals to the soil and agricultural product, then it goes beyond merely increasing efficiency and can make an outstanding contribution to improving sustainability and healthy nutrition.

But not only in the field, also in the stable, digitization is catching on. Feeding, milking, manure - livestock is already largely fully automated today. Milking robots have been part of the basic equipment of the dairy industry for some time now. Now these machines can also be networked and, in addition to accurate milk quantities and milking times per cow, also detect and report any disease data.

Such smart farming solutions have the potential to significantly improve agriculture in the near future. The goal is to produce larger quantities of agricultural products, with better quality, reduced use of chemicals and resources and lower costs.

Back in 2015, the United Nations have set the millennium development goals to be reached in 2030. The goal for agriculture is to "end hunger, achieve food security and nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture."

In order to achieve this, according to DLG (German Agricultural Society), it would be necessary to increase productivity, to reduce the environmental damage associated with agriculture, and to organize livestock production in such a way that it is supported by broad social consensus. To solve all three problems at the same time, to make agriculture more sustainable, requires a high level of commitment, innovative strength, know-how, creativity and willingness to change from all concerned.

So, the challenges are big.

As in other industries, there are some hurdles that stand in the way of a successful digital transformation. Sufficient network bandwidth in the countryside is unfortunately still a challenge in Germany. Also, criticism and resistance to change from agriculture, driven by the concern of a further accelerated consolidation process of the agricultural enterprises and as in other industries the produced concern of the data and technology dependence of large players, complicate the conversion of the digital transformation.

Also, a digital transformation that is geared only to the optimization of the previous system through technology and data, is not sufficient to address the significant weaknesses of world food. High food waste, poor nutrition and its consequences, enormous greenhouse gas pollution due to excessive meat production, as well as distribution challenges (hunger and population growth) require a rethink in our society.

When this awareness picks up, new ideas will come from creative minds. They can use the possibilities of digital transformation to turn their ideas into effective innovations. This is where true disruption begins for me.

I wish Happy Christmas and a healthy and peaceful year 2018!