Technology is always evolving and throughout the global pandemic, it has proven its worth in more ways than one. Industry across every sector has relied on digital communication tools and innovative new ideas to help keep business moving – and the agricultural sector is no exception.
Brian McArdle of ProDig Attachments has many years of experience in the agritech industry and says technology is very much a part of the future of farming. “The main areas placing pressure on the agriculture sector are population growth, urbanization, climate change, scarcity of natural water, floods and droughts and food waste,” he says.
“Whether looking at it from a political or farming perspective, the conclusion points to the need for advanced technology for sustainability and profitability.”
Robbie Walker, CEO of Keenan agrees and says technology has never been more important in the sector.
“Everyone is really pressed for time – so lifestyle is a big issue as is farm economics and profitability,” he says. “And from a consumer agenda, all of these things can be much better achieved with new technology, be it digital, biotech or robotics. So farmers need to start using new tech to achieve these goals.
“The advantages to customer are primarily around trying to drive farm efficiency, profitability, time management and also the green agenda – as a more efficient farm will be a greener farm if it produces less carbon and nitrogen. We have moved from an era of just selling products and now entered an era where we also sell a service. And in these modern times it is not just a face-to-face consultancy – when we think about marketing in the past, it was all brochures and trade shows, whereas marketing for the future is about delivering insights to customers so they can make businesses more profitable and efficient.
“InTouch collects data on-farm and allows us to know what is happening on a day-to-day basis and provide feedback to the farm so we can help them be more efficient and also provide an overall solution of machinery and consultancy. But we can also supply nutritional products so it’s a bundled offer as the farmer gets much more out of their machine – they are not simply buying a still, they are also getting a positive output on life, business and environment.”
James Maloney says the right R&D has led to some great innovations and brilliant products, but traditional engineering companies have to meet the changing needs of farmers.
“They need to align themselves with what is happening within the community and sector as profitability and efficiency go hand in hand,” he says. “If you create a machine which can make a farmer’s life easier and can solve a problem, it will be more profitable and reduce the time spent deciding what has to be done. R&D is massively important, but the return of investment has to be there for farmers who have to pay for everything, so the sector has to be innovative.
“Indeed the sector has gone through many different periods of transition, and I think the next one will be focused on the low carbon agenda, protecting soils and environment but also making sure to maintain profitability because we have to remain economically viable for our companies to be able to expand.”
While it is obvious that the agricultural sector needs to constantly innovate, Brian McArdle says it’s important to understand the driving factors behind digital farming – and manufacturers should be leading the way and listening to what farmers are requesting.
“It’s all about efficiency and making their lives simpler while increasing profitability within farming,” he says. “Things are changing at a rapid pace – with automation, sensors, disruptive technology, and cultivator methods and we have to listen to what farmers require and be proactive as you have to stay ahead to be in the game.”
Drones, robots which work 24 hours a day, platforms for exchanging knowledge, and understanding what is going on in the soil are just some of the ways in which technology is assisting modern farming methods. But while there are plenty of opportunities to be had, James Maloney says bringing ideas to market isn’t always straightforward.
“We have seen some challenges coming through and to be quite frank, the biggest challenge is commercial savvy or access,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a closed shop as it can be difficult to get into large companies or even countries. So it’s about relying on a network and figuring out where you can access into those markets.
“Also what companies offer those markets will vary in different countries and they will need to access different things. For example, Europe is definitely on the Green Deal and looking at environmental stuff but Americans are not there yet, so talking about Green in North America won’t get you far, but if you talk about efficiency you will. It’s the same thing but how you present and position it is very important.”
The experts agree that the European market is getting ‘pretty crowded’ with manufacturers but there are plenty of other areas with potential including the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The Asia/Pacific region is also deemed an exciting prospect from an ag-tech perspective
Environmental issues are also very topical; with issues including reducing nitrogen and carbon emissions, ammonia pollution in barns, farm nitrates leeching into water, and the requirements and regulations around these topics all looking set to be very relevant in the coming months.
Technology can not only help with providing answers to these problems but also enables communication and information-sharing between relevant parties.
And while the onset of Covid-19 was certainly a game-changer for the sector, it also provided some benefits.
“We are all aware of the challenges it presented from an operational perspective and it drastically changed the way we interact with the customer,” says Robbie Walker. “And the cancellation of major international trade shows played havoc with traditional marketing campaigns.”
But Brian McArdle says key account management across the world has become better and webinars and conference calls have made it possible to reach a wider audience with more frequency.
“Of course it does take training as people need to be savvy to know how to do it and it’s different as it’s a very sharp meeting with a strict agenda and a quick follow up,” he says. “But collaboration has been better across the board – and with more people from different parts of the world coming together at the same time, you can move things along, so we have sped up some of our initiatives.
“This is a very unique opportunity for ag-tech. The cost and time involved with attending shows is colossal – so if we can achieve substantial sales without those costs we can innovate and develop products more.”