What are the implications and the future of technology in the farming sector?

What is ‘augmented agriculture’ and what technologies does it use? SIMA offered an answer to this question in a talk dedicated to innovation in agriculture.

It examined the topic of augmented agriculture, the digitalisation of this sector and its future which began with an international presentation of current practices in the farming sector. André Laperrière, the executive director of GODAN, was the first speaker in this talk, and set the scene.

About GODAN

GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition) is an international programme whose aim is to promote the sharing and harnessing of open data in agriculture. The organisation was created under the auspices of the G7 in response to worldwide demographic growth and climate change.
Currently, malnutrition affects more than 800 million people in the world, and if no action is taken between now and 2050 this number will rise to 3.8 billion, representing 35 to 40% of the world population. The aim of GODAN is to investigate innovation in agriculture and look into how to produce more and better, specifically in regions with unexploited potential.
During this century, the world will be required to produce as much food as humanity has produced in the past 8,000 years. It is therefore essential to promote innovation in farming. André Laperriere believes that to do this, it is important to “pool our knowledge and generate innovation, either by creating new methods or by sharing proven methods with people that are not yet aware of them.”

What is the importance of data in farming?

In 2018, GODAN boasted more than 860 member organisations united behind a joint objective to share knowledge by harnessing data, figures and analyses used for innovation in agriculture. Indeed, data has a major impact on farming productivity. Data can exist in one of several categories:

  • Geodata
  • Weather
  • Markets
  • Pest infestations
  • Diseases
  • Equipment
  • Social and economic data

These information categories can each influence optimised agriculture, production, costs, profits, improved nutrition, catastrophe prevention and quality of life. Among these, the three data types which appear to have the most impact are geodata (observation, use of satellites and drones), weather information (with respect to climate change) and market fluctuations (it is essential to produce, but equally important to sell what you produce).

Each data type is important, but according to André Laperrière, “what gives the most potential to data is combining them. Because when you have data from different sources, you can correct errors, fill in gaps in your information and get a more comprehensive view of the situation.” 

Data should not only be integrated horizontally, but also historically in order to identify trends and conduct predictive analysis. The aim is to capitalise on agricultural opportunities or mitigate risks. 

Data is therefore a valuable asset in the farming world. Nevertheless, raw data does not directly provide conclusions but requires interpretation, which not all sector stakeholders are capable of doing.

How has innovation in agriculture met with a digital divide?

There is a massive gap between large, industrialised farms and the vast majority of the farming world, meaning small farms which do not always have the resources to enlist the services of an engineer to interpret data. This discrepancy is what is referred to as a digital divide.
The majority of crop farmers in the world who use tractors work on fewer than four hectares of land, and therefore do not have outsize or automated tractors. However, innovation in agriculture offers the chance to use more affordable technology, such as in the following examples:

  • A solar powered soil moisture sensor which transmits information resulting from the comparison of weather data and soil irrigation conditions. With this type of sensor, the farmer can identify the driest parts of the land and anticipate watering requirements by cross referencing them with forecasts for bad weather.
  • Many growers would like geostationary data to warn them of problems. A satellite can detect rodent infestations, allowing the farmer to pinpoint the problem so as to deal with the pests without delay. The idea here is to have an intermediary who interprets the data and supplies this service to small growers, dispensing them of the need to analyse their data in detail.
  • One GODAN partner has developed a smartphone application with which to take photos of insects or weeds. In the space of a few seconds, artificial intelligence compares the photo with millions of other data in order to identify the threat and how to get rid of it.

These examples illustrate that the digital divide is gradually being bridged. It is however important that all efforts relating to innovation in agriculture are conducted internationally. André Laperriere wraps up the talk with an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Speakers: Marie-Cécile DAMAVE, AGRIDEES and André LAPERRIERE, GODAN

Watch a full-length video of the talk “Augmented agriculture: a reality today and in the future” (in French) :