Thursday, July 25, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Tech, Big Data and agri-business – welcome to the future

Of course, farming, the global food and farming industry and data have evolved together for hundreds of years. However, what is happening now is due to the wider use of agri tech products and services, including the use of bio tech, be it in the field, in the processing factory or in distribution to the point of sale.

This has also led to the explosion of digital based data. Modern machines can record enormous amounts of this – which can then be analysed and interpreted to refine and improve all production processes.

We are often asked how farmers are going to be able to survive let alone thrive in the future, when faced with a whole series of supply chain shocks from the impact of climate change, soaring commodity and energy prices, not least caused by the situation in the Ukraine and the need to produce food in a more sustainable manner. it

There is no “magic bullet” here to be found, but the use of agri tech products, services and technologies is all part of the potential answer. Used carefully, there is the opportunity to produce livestock and crops more efficiently, in a more sustainable fashion and more competitively in the future. But only if we use the tech that is available.

Attitudes, needs and requirements vary

In some parts of the world, there is still resistance to the us of bio tech as an example, as seen recently in SE Asia vis a vis the production of Golden Rice. In the EU, which has long been deeply suspicious about the use of GM crops, attitudes are slowly changing, with gene editing now allowed. This has been driven by a number of factors, but not least concerns over food security, because of the supply chain shocks mentioned above.

In Africa, the issues of climate change and crop/livestock diseases are unlikely to go away full stop, but the use of bio and agri tech could help mitigate against these issues. There is a strong need for it. In livestock, there is a race on between the leading breeding companies for more disease resistant animals, not least because of issues such as African Swine Fever (ASF). This can be accelerated using bio tech and some notable successes have already been seen.

North America has always been a supporter of the use of bio tech in farming and so it no surprise they are at the forefront of the use of agri tech solutions too to produce more efficient, sustainable and agri food products too.

Some other industries have though been quicker adopters of tech based solutions. Banking. Healthcare. Telecoms. Retail. Logistics. Travel and transport. Agri-business is playing catch-up to some degree, but it is now progressing very quickly.

Better use of data brings benefits

Agri tech developments also involves the better use of data. There is though quite a lot of concern at times not least over the ownership and subsequent use of this particularly among some producers. The trend towards using more and better data   in farming and food is though unstoppable. Consequently, its collection, analysis and dissemination needs to be embraced and controlled – and there needs to be reassurance and even legislation that protects the integrity of this data.

Supply chains themselves are becoming more sophisticated. In fact, they are not really chains any more, they are networks, complex systems of input suppliers, farmers, processors, 3rd-party logistics, distributors and retailers. All those involved/contributors/participants are increasingly bound together by increasing digital connectivity.

We must remember though: we are still near the beginning. Big data and agri tech applications will be an ongoing journey of knowledge and discovery that will never really end. As consolidation of the supply network accelerates, more data will be generated and shared.

Getting the use of data right will help drive both the top and bottom line of a balance sheet. Being linked up with numerous data streams can also lead to much better forecasting, planning, product ordering, automation of functions such as invoicing and cash collection – and will lead to an enhanced understanding of customers, and to better customer experiences.

A role for Thought Leadership

What might stop all of this? There are a few things that come to mind. Consumer attitudes towards how food is produced? But the tech could help make food healthier, more affordable and see it produced in a more sustainable manner. All good things surely? The complexities of the industry? The issue of costs of investment in data-collecting equipment. And, of course, concerns about data security.

This issue really needs the leadership of the key players in the supply chain to show the way forward. For the leading players in farming and food sectors, as well as having great tech there is a need to assume the role of thought leaders. Collecting, analysing, and presenting hard data is one thing: it is the ability to be able to interpret this to provide clear, meaningful, useful guidance others in the supply chain that really counts.

What needs to happen for agri-business to make best use of agri tech?

The global agri food sector is in something of a perfect storm, caused by supply chain shocks, the impact of climate change, the issue of food security, ongoing tech acceleration and geo – political world events. As a result, efforts to digitise systems and harness their potential need to be accelerated across agri-food and drink businesses. There needs to be a move towards “digital unification”.

Flexible, data-backed analysis will help us all, as we address the pressing issues of our world: including sustainability, the development of more resilient agri procurement methods, as well as more efficient processing and marketing of our agri food products. It will be those that can make best use of the agri tech the that is available, collect and record data efficiently, and then have the capacity to interpret it, who will thrive in the future that we are moving quickly towards.

John Giles is a Divisional Director with Promar International, the agri food value chain consulting arm of Genus plc.  He has worked on numerous projects in the agri food supply chain in some 60 countries around the world, including the UK, the rest of the EU, North America, SE Asia, India, China, Africa and Latin America.