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Why labor shortage and data utilization are the major challenges in AgTech

Last week at the Seeds of our Future: AgTech & the Connected World, we realized one key thing—no matter where you are in the world, we all face the same challenges in AgTech: labor shortage and the lack of utilization of data. A lot of challenges were discussed throughout the week, but these two were mentioned repeatedly.

In an industry like AgTech, it’s important to bring together the different stakeholders— governments, farmers, tech companies, and representation of countries from all over the world—in order to unite and solve the most important challenge to us all today: scientists are predicting our population will increase by another billion people by 2020. How do we feed them all?

At “The Seeds of our Future: AgTech & the Connected World,” Silicon Valley Forum welcomed more than 100 delegates from 17 countries to the AgTech Immersion Program and more than 250 attendees to the AgTech Conference. The AgTech Conference on April 6thhighlighted challenges and best practices from countries such Brazil, Canada, Japan, Israel, and New Zealand, just to name a few. In this blog post, we’ve summarized some of the highlights from the country panel and speakers.

 

The lack of utilization of data in the agriculture industry

In Israel, farmers experienced a pear tree epidemic in which the they  were warned through technology and data to trim their pear trees; many of the farmers didn’t trust the data, and thus resulted in 80% of pear tree loss.

Tracking and collecting a ton of data can be overwhelming for not only the farmers but data scientists, too. Thibaut Scholasch, Founder of Fruition Sciences, expressed the importance of collecting data that can be linked to a specific action. As a data company for vineyards, they collect all available data, but only use around 50% of it. Data collection usually depends on what the time a farmer needs to implement a corrective action, Scholasch explained, but collecting one data point every hour is a good start.

Fruition Sciences started a separate company focused on programs that help educate the vineyard industry about data. The major challenge has been to helping farmers understand data—how and why they can use it to improve their vineyards.

 

Labor shortage – working in agriculture is not “sexy”

Throughout the week, many of the speakers lamented a shortage of young people choosing to pursue a career in agriculture, particularly within family-owned farms and businesses. Many see labor shortage as one of agriculture’s major challenges, as the current generation of farmers is aging. We’re currently faced with producing more food to feed the growing population—with less workforce to do it.

By contrast, Denmark’s agricultural labor challenge is not due to slow technological adoption, but relocation—“many people are moving from rural areas to urban areas, and thus don’t see a profession or career within agriculture,” said Lars Ole Hansen, Executive Advisor Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Fisheries. Hansen proposed a solution: providing improved public transportation between rural and urban areas, thus make it easy for people to commute.

 

The future of AgTech

Paul Whiston, CEO of LIC Automation, says that farmers of the future will be relying a lot on the decision tools available and the productive nature of AI. Dr. Cather Simpson, Inventor & CSO of Engender Technologies, believes that farmers will have more productivity for less work—“like having a washing machine. We don’t spend five hours washing clothes anymore—we put in the wash and then we can leave it in.”

Lars Ole Hansen from Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Fisheries sees a future in agriculture with more application of precision technology that will help achieve environmental goals, and ease some of the strict regulations that are not popular within farmers and politicians alike.

What we can learn from Japan is their experience and knowledge in factory automation, and the “process mentality that can help streamline and optimize in agriculture,” says Michael Gomes, VP Business Development at Topcon Precision Agriculture. One example of future automation that Michael Gomes mentioned would be that “one employee will in the future be able to operate several pieces of equipment, instead of just one.”

 

Bring AgTech stakeholders together

CJ Boguszewski, Head of Business Development at Soracom, mentioned that, because of the competitive nature of agriculture, many farmers are forced to think about their own businesses first—how they can survive. “A farmer who is at the top half of the farming group don’t necessary want to make it better for the farmers in the bottom half, when they can make themselves more successful,” Boguszewski said. The bottom half of the farmers are more likely to implement data and test out new technology in order to become more competitive.

New Zealand has one of the most efficient dairy farm systems in the world, thanks in part to the fact that New Zealand has a history of not subsidizing farms—instead, they have farmers work towards profit. Since New Zealand is such a small country (too small for the farmers to scale) the farmers have unified, and now collaborate with global partners to find key distribution channels.

AgTech is not only related to agriculture but also the energy industry, i.e. solar and water. According to speaker Marnix Doorn, Head of Agriculture Division at Fraunhofer Chile Research, Chilean researchers put together programs and activities “where they bring together farmers with solar energy companies, in order to discuss how farms can be more energy and water efficient.”

 

 

Silicon Valley Forum is already looking forward to the next edition of the AgTech Week to bring together even more stakeholders and more countries—we are ready to join forces in tackling key agricultural challenges, in order to build a sustainable world for us and future generations. If you’re interested in learning more about next year’s program and to receive updates – join the Facebook Group: AgTech – The Seeds of Our Future.

Coming soon: all the content from “The Seeds of Our Future” AgTech Conference panel discussions and talks on video. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow any of our social media channels!

 

We would like to thank our partners Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon ValleySidley Austin LLPInter-American Development BankConsulate General of CanadaNew Zealand Trade & EnterpriseMinistry of Foreign Affairs of DenmarkEmpraba and Intermestic Partners.

 

Authors: Xi-Er Dang and Micaela Youmans
Product Marketing Specialist / Head of Ops. and Communication

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