There are two undebatable facts about digital technology in this era. One, it is ubiquitous; two, it is here to stay. Not only has digital technology become part of our daily lives, but its impact and potential are significant across all industries, including the agricultural industry. Once a traditional and labour-intensive sector, agriculture, in recent years, has undergone tremendous digital transformation, bringing about innovations, improved efficiency, and increased competitiveness.
This article explores some of the most significant ways digital transformation has changed the status quo in agriculture. Researchers and stakeholders in the industry, particularly in Africa, will find it an invaluable resource as it reveals the potential that can be tapped from embracing digital innovation.
Here are some of the impacts of digital transformation in the agricultural sector:
Farmers worldwide who have integrated digital tools and technologies into their operations are experiencing improved farming processes, waste reduction, and increased productivity. This improvement in efficiency is visible in the following aspects:
- Task automation: The innovation and use of robotics and autonomous vehicles for agricultural operations has reduced the need for manual labour. For instance, tractors equipped with GPS and mapping systems can now be programmed to perform specific tasks, such as ploughing and planting, with a high degree of accuracy. Automating operations like this has helped in saving resources like time and manpower. Thus, farmers enjoy a reduction in labour costs. They can also skip mundane and physically exhausting tasks to focus on other areas of their operations, therefore increasing productivity.
- Data-driven decision-making: Digital transformation has also facilitated efficiency in decision-making. With digital tools, farmers are able to gather and analyse vast troves of data with actionable insights on soil quality, weather patterns, and crop health. Access to these data enables adequate planning, optimised farming processes, and intelligent business decisions. In addition, insights from these data help in predictive analysis. Farmers benefit from predictive analysis as they are able to avoid potential problems and take proactive measures to improve their crops.
Precision agriculture is a farming management strategy that uses technology to gather and analyse data on agricultural factors regarding crops, soil, and weather. This information is then leveraged to improve farming practices and scale farm output. An instance of precision agriculture is farmers’ use of satellite imagery and drones to map fields and monitor crop health or the use of precision irrigation systems to reduce water waste.
Digital transformation promotes precision agriculture by providing tools and technologies with which farmers can gather and analyse data on their crops and fields. This enables them to optimise their practices and demonstrate better judgement on issues such as fertilisation, pest management, and harvest timing. A few of the tools and technologies that have facilitated precision agriculture include sensors and IoT devices, Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), machine learning and predictive analytics, and variable-rate technology.
Improved Supply Chain Management
Digital transformation improves supply chain management in agriculture by providing tools and technologies that can be used to track food products from farm to table. This provides end-to-end traceability and increases transparency for consumers and regulators. Some of these tools also are used for managing inventory to ensure that only what is needed is produced and delivered.
In recent times, digitisation has also facilitated a significant improvement in the collaboration and communication between farmers, suppliers, distributors, and retailers, reducing duplication of efforts and improving efficiency. More so, farmers and supply chain managers can access and analyse data on market trends and consumer preferences, enabling them to make informed decisions and respond quickly to changes in demand.
Digital transformation has also proven effective in optimising delivery routes, reducing transportation costs, and reducing the carbon footprint of the supply chain.
Access to Information
With digital technologies, farmers have been empowered to share and exchange information about best practices, bringing about improved efficiency and the growth of the industry. Access to industry-relevant information through digital platforms helps farmers optimise their processes and realise better yields, ultimately spurring market competitiveness.
Some of the ways digital transformation improves access to information in agriculture are:
- Mobile applications: Farmers can access information about market prices, weather forecasts, and best practices through mobile applications, making it easier for them to make informed decisions and stay on top of the latest developments.
- Online marketplaces: Digital platforms can connect farmers with buyers, providing them access to new markets and customers.
- Social media and online communities: Farmers can join online communities and use social media to connect with other farmers and experts, sharing information and tips and staying up-to-date with the latest developments in their industry.
- Agricultural Research and Development: Farmers can access the latest research and developments in agriculture through digital platforms, staying abreast of innovation in practices, tools, and technologies.
Improved Data Management
With digital tools like agricultural data management systems, farmers can store and manage data on their crops and fields, making it easier for them to access and analyse information. Digital technology has also had a significant impact on agriculture through big data. Farmers can now collect and manage vast amounts of data on everything from weather patterns and soil conditions to crop growth and pest infestations. For example, farmers can use data analytics to predict which crops will be most profitable in a given year, or to monitor and predict weather patterns, allowing them to plan for the most efficient use of their resources.
The agricultural sector is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions today. Digital transformation, however, has the potential to revolutionise the agricultural industry, improving sustainability across the supply chain. This revolution has begun even now, with notable impacts in areas such as the following:
- Advanced telemetry systems: Through the use of GPS, advanced telemetry systems provide relevant and accurate information on asset management and usage. This information can range from fuel consumption to future maintenance schedules and idle time, which helps to make eco-friendly and business-friendly decisions for improved sustainability.
- Smart cattle farms: Agriculture today can benefit from digital technology through innovation like IoT-enabled sensors, which monitor and provide accurate feedback on the amount of greenhouse gases produced on the farm. This technology also utilises advanced analytics in presenting insights and carbon emission reports.
- Precision Agriculture: Digital tools enable farmers to apply inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides more precisely, reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and improving soil health.
Effective Policy-Making and Implementation
In an industry where workers formerly seemed cut off from the rest of the world, technology has brought farmers to the consciousness of those who matter. Internet connectivity and the increase in the use of smart mobile gadgets in remote regions have created more relevant data for policymakers.
With this digital innovation, farmers can sign up on relevant industry platforms, serving as a centralised database for the government, researchers, and other stakeholders. With this readily available access to farmers’ data on crop production and plot performance, banks and insurance companies are also able to identify potential risks, design relevant policies, and swing into immediate implementation.
Ultimately, digital transformation has facilitated better policy-making to favour players in the agricultural industry.
You might also be interested in reading our curated list of Must-Have Digital Solutions for Businesses in the Agriculture Industry.
In conclusion, digital technology has revolutionised the way the agricultural industry operates. Digitalisation has continued to drive unmatched progress and sustainability in the agricultural industry, starting with the modernisation of farming procedures, increased value creation for all key players in the industry, and improved distribution of agricultural supplies and products to farmers and consumers globally. The use of precision agriculture, automation, and big data has improved efficiency, increased yields, and reduced costs.
The future of agriculture will continue to be shaped by these advancements, and farmers who adopt these technologies will be well-positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.
As an organisation at the forefront of driving efficiency on the business level and growth on the industry level, Hidden Brains Africa is harnessing technologies to deliver lasting solutions to agribusinesses.
Want to learn more about what we do and how we can support your farming business? Talk to our experts today.
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