Is agriculture sector ready for disruptive technologies?

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Is agriculture sector ready for disruptive technologies?

Anand Singh 

Ever increasing demands for food by a growing human population increases the importance and urgency of introducing disruptive technologies in global agriculture that can change the way agriculture is being practiced. Scientists have been focusing on ways to improve crop productivity like variable application of nutrients and pesticides to plants, novel delivery mechanisms, biologicals, fertilizer use efficiency, and climate resilience.

Disruptive technologies are shaping various sectors and helping them achieve phenomenal growth. Agriculture is one sector, where the producers i.e. the farmers are at the bottom of pyramid as far as the benefit sharing from agriculture and associated industries are concerned. Some of disruptive innovations in agriculture are in early to mid-stages of introduction or being marketed in selected countries, mostly for cultivation under controlled conditions and in developed countries.Adoption challenges aside, scientists in public and private sector have been developing and introducing such technologies, which coupled with digital technologies have potential to change the way agriculture is practiced. We discuss selected disruptive technologies for agriculture sector.

Root Zone Optimization: Root Zone Temperature Optimization (RZTO) technology is based on the premise that if the temperature difference above and below the soil surface is too high, the plants are unable to efficiently transport nutrients from their roots to the canopy thereby restricting the plant from achieving their genetic potential. The technology improves the physiological activity of the roots by selectively heating and/or cooling the root zone and helps plants receive optimized temperature, water, and desired nutrients leading to highest yield possible under a given set of conditions.

Variable Rate Application: The variable rate technology is one of the precision agriculture technologies and focuses on the use of variable rate of seedlings, irrigation, fertilization and pesticides in a field depending upon the information gathered by a variety of sensors to boost yields and cut costs.

FieldScripts, is a crop analysis database, couples billions of files of data on seed types and crop yields with historical weather patterns and identifies the best hybrids and provide a variable rate planting prescription of the seeds of such hybrids for each field. The process is led by FieldScripts Certified Dealers, delivered through the FieldView Plus app on the farmer’s iPad, and executed with precision equipment on the planter for optimized yield for every patch of land in the field.

Likewise, a number of disruptive technologies and solutions (UAVs for remote sensing, input application, autonomous fertigation, magnetic spraying etc.) are making an entry in market, representing tremendous opportunities to benefit agriculture globally. However, their large scale adoption remains a challenge from the perspectives of high initial costs associated with setup and maintenance, more so in developing and underdeveloped countries. The variability in local and regional cropping and agronomical practices also hinder the quicker adoption of such technologies unless validated locally. Moreover, a single technology may be beneficial to some extent, the combination of such technologies could have synergistic effect on crops yields, both quantitatively and qualitatively, benefiting the farmers, consumers and industry alike.

The farmers need incentives and education to understand the benefits and adopt the disruptive technologies in agriculture sector. This could be in terms of initial cost of technology procurement through financial assistance linked to profit and/or subsidies from national governments. The governments of different countries need to develop a regulatory and financial framework for introduction and adoption of disruptive technologies. The key components of these frameworks should be finalized with the help of different stakeholders including private players with focus on incentivizing farmers as well as industry incentives for increased adoption of disruptive technologies in agriculture to meet the increasing demands for foods. A conducive atmosphere and regulatory framework for helping in large scale adoption of disruptive technologies coupled with innovations in all-encompassing digital technologies can drive the fifth revolution in agriculture.

(Anand Singh is Manager in Life Sciences Advisory Group at Sathguru Management Consultants)