It is now possible to know the irrigation or fertilizer needs of a terrain grid thanks to the multispectral images captured by the camera of a drone that flies over the plantations. Or identify where a pest is beginning to emerge thanks to real-time information provided by smart sensors. Or work the land using autonomous tractors that receive orders from a computer … The technological hurricane transforms everything and not even the countryside, one of the most traditional sectors of societies, escapes this disruptive wave.
Known as precision farming breaks through and begins to bear fruit: more efficient decision-making that allows optimize production, improve the profitability of farms and make them more sustainable. Innovation is gradually entering the agricultural world and in the coming decades its importance will increase due to the challenge of feeding the almost 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet in 2050. For that year, the market for technologies for precision agriculture could reach $ 250 billion globally.
Spain, where agriculture is a strategic engine for the economy, is not alien to the application of technological advances to the field, a trend that today is embraced especially in large farms. “They have a very professional management, an agronomist is almost always in charge of them and these professionals have understood that the cost per hectare of technology is more than recovered with the advantages it produces”, he assures Javier San Martin, professor at EAE Business School and author of the report Agriculture and Technology. R&D in the primary sector. In his opinion, the degree of modernization of Spanish agriculture is high, although it depends on the type of crop. «Where these practices are most widespread is on the vine. The crops under plastic also have a high technological level, with the Netherlands and Spain as the leading countries. Stone fruit and olive trees are also adopting them ”, he details.
Regarding the techniques, those related to the proper use of water, while unmanned aircraft are still a minority. “The use of drones to have a more detailed control will be extended, it is a matter of the service companies reaching all points of the Spanish countryside. In addition, a specialized sector of small, highly technological and very niche companies is emerging around the research that is being done from the autonomies in European projects that are going to be a breeding ground for more advances to be generated. We are fine, but I am convinced that we will be better », San Martín sentenced.
Agriculture and technology are no longer antagonistic universes. And from a business point of view, a window of opportunity opens. “It is not only a profitable business today, but it will be for the next few years and it is an absolutely emerging market area», He maintains Angel Luis Teso, Deputy General Manager of everis Ingeniería.
The financial sector has a lot to say. Ibercaja, for example, has created together with Microsoft, Libelium and Efor the Agrotech project, to facilitate decision-making to the farmer during the productive process of his farms. «It has allowed us to know even more first-hand the reality of our agricultural clients, helping them in their digital transformation process. In the agricultural world, we are fulfilling our responsibility to financially support our clients, promoting socially responsible investment and financing criteria, as well as assuming the challenge of knowing and promoting the digitalization and ecological transformation processes to be useful and get the sector agro be a leader in innovation “, he explains Nacho Torre, Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy of the entity, in which the agricultural world represents 14% in its loan portfolio compared to 6% in the Spanish financial system.
But for the agricultural sector to enter fully into the era of digitization new technologies must reach everyone. «The degree of modernization is equivalent to that of the neighboring countries, much progress has been made in recent years, but this advance is not homogeneous: There is a huge digital gap between large agricultural corporations and small producers, ”warns Teso. Experts agree on the role of cooperatives as facilitators. “One way would be for them to take a certain leadership because they could be an ideal instrument to universalize these types of techniques and ensure that they also reach farmers who are not so big,” defends Javier San Martín.
From the agrarian organization Asaja they influence the lack of preparation. “The new generations are far ahead of the traditional farmer, who is usually not trained in digitization issues,” he laments Juan Almansa, its general coordinator, who believes that the solution to tackle this deficit is through public-private collaboration through training sessions. “It would be necessary to do practical courses and for the companies themselves to teach and guide the farmer. It is about them channeling our training and monitoring us after learning, until we implement the new technologies in the field ”, he adds.
Another pending task is the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). “We must improve the availability of broadband coverage in agricultural and rural environments because without good communications the use of technologies is not possible,” says Teso.
And at a time when all eyes are on aid from the European Recovery Fund, from which Spain will receive some 140,000 million euros, agriculture does not want to be left behind. «The agricultural sector and the agri-food sector go together, we hope that the agri-food sector is not the most favored. Agriculture has been very good during the coronavirus crisis and I think we deserve that, at least this time, we are not the great forgotten», Highlights Almansa.
What no one doubts is the potential for innovation in the field, not only in terms of profitability, but also sustainability. «The agricultural sector is responsible for 25% of the CO2 emissions produced in our country. New technologies, in combination with the use of renewable energies, energy efficiency and management tools, will allow us to achieve decarbonisation objectives ”, recalls Ángel Luis Teso.
Without forget its usefulness to ensure transparency and prevent food fraud. “The consumer demands more and more traceability, especially in those products of a certain quality. This is achieved by digitizing the entire production process, identifying the product from field to table, through IOT (Internet of Things) technologies, advanced coding and use of blockchain technology. Endless applications that show that sowing digitization in the field is synonymous with a good harvest.