Audrey Courant, Principal at DuckerFrontier, attended several conferences at the Innov-Agri Show in Toulouse on September 6, and will attend the German exhibition AgriTechnica on the week of November 13. Meeting innovative manufacturers and service providers feeds DuckerFrontier’s core business – to seek out and provide the industry’s best insights to our clients. Coupled with DuckerFrontier internal data and expertise in the agricultural sector, below are some key thoughts related to the digitalization of the sector.

It’s a fact, while the agricultural landscape is currently experiencing a generational change, it’s also – and partly consequently – becoming more and more connected. Whether related to product, technical or technological innovation, the market is bustling with new services and solutions to ease farmers’ jobs and increase their business performance. When looking at how products are changing, the agricultural market is seeing the emergence of new plant varieties that are resistant to disease and provide more productivity. Moreover, crop protection products and new fertilizers allow for a better environmental footprint, thanks to slow-release properties and limitation of nitrogen volatilization.

In addition, farmers are working on advanced crop techniques with new crop cultures, innovative crop rotations and row-spacing harmonization. All these techniques help improve soil quality and ultimately, crop yields.

However, the area experiencing the most innovation is technology. Indeed, the agriculture market is experiencing a rapid move toward digitalization with the increase in precision tool usage, the gathering and analysis of big data, the emergence of new sensors and robots, as well as the rapid emergence of smartphone apps and specialist social networks.

Let’s look at the current solutions used, their advantages, and the questions they raise. Precision farming and high-technology tool usage is quickly growing in Europe. These tools range from the traditional GPS (each offering specific levels of accuracy), to weighing equipment, sensors, drones and even robots. Machine manufacturers report that approximately 80% of new farm equipment sold in Europe has some form of precision technology component. Moreover, in the UK and French current agriculture fleets, more than half of the fertilizer spreaders are equipped with a precision weighing instrument. In Europe overall, this share is close to 40%. Precision farming is currently viewed as the number-one trend in the agricultural sector influencing farming businesses.

These precision tools allow for higher comfort and better user autonomy, but also have a better environmental footprint due to input savings and efficiency (better precision in fertilizer and/or crop-protection products). Even the economics of these solutions are recognized by farmers in Europe. DuckerFrontier’s past studies show that, although few farmers measure the benefits of precision-farming-tool usage, they estimate a 5% savings in input purchases, and 10% fewer hours required for the same volume of work.

Another new term linked to the digitalization of the farming sector is “Big Data.” Indeed, most of these precision farming tools (sensors, robots, drones, etc.) provide a wealth of information to users. For example, in France the BSV (Bulletin de Santé du Végétal) provides national information concerning the monitoring of plant disease, based on advanced algorithms. Machine manufacturers are also able to upgrade their equipment by analyzing the most frequent failures and improving manufacturing processes. The analysis of agricultural data is also a way for farmers to look at benchmarks, share best practices and ultimately enhance their own processes. In the U.S., the Farmers Business Network is a group of farmers who – based on an annual contribution and the download of their own business data – can compare their own harvest information with the entire group data.

Despite the breadth of benefits that digitalization brings to the agricultural sector, some questions arise. First, these solutions are relatively expensive, but it’s difficult to quantify the actual savings they provide. However, advancements should rapidly drive hardware and software prices lower as their usage increases. Secondly, the compatibility of these technological solutions raises questions, but those should be alleviated by the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), which is developing the ISOBUS norm. Lastly, critical issues surround how data is gathered, the complexity of data analysis, user education, and the confidentiality and ownership of information.

The entire agricultural industry is trying to answer these questions, to accelerate the growth of digitalization and improve business. Communication has never been more intense on an agricultural subject, so let’s keep talking!

Using exclusive research and an expansive network of industry professionals, DuckerFrontier offers market intelligence and consulting services that help you navigate the industry and the forces that impact it. To connect with a DuckerFrontier team member, and learn about our expertise in the agricultural segment, contact us.