How has big data changed farming?

Steven Loeb · October 5, 2023 · Short URL:

Innovative startups include Intelia, Taranis, Conservis, and Sentera

As the world becomes increasingly connected, with more data flowing in than ever before in history, every company in every industry absolutely needs to capitalize on it; those that don't will be left behind, or at least swallowed by those who can harness the power of analytics and insights. Like many entrenched industries with legacy players, like law, banking, and insurance, agriculture has been a bit slow when it comes to adopting new technologies.

It's not as if the desire wasn't there: a study from McKinsey in 2018 that surveyed hundreds of farmers, the said they were "enthusiastic about the ability to use technology to improve equipment maintenance, project management tasks and aftermarket purchases." Yet they faced what McKinsey called "unique challenges," such as long cycles for experimentation, connectivity issues in rural areas, and complex systems affected by weather, which made digitizing more difficult.

In the last few years, however, the agriculture space has finally begun to adopt these technologies, including soil sensors, GPS-equipped tractors, and weather tracking, giving them greater visibility that they've never had before, and in real-time.

As such, the space is growing: the global market size of big data was valued at $877.5 million in 2022 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 7.63 percent, reaching $1.4 billion by 2028.

How big data is used in agriculture

Thanks to big data, farmers can now take insights, which are backed with a slew of historical data, and use them to analyze different aspects of their business, including which crops should be planted and the method of cultivation that would best be used.

For example, data analytics can be implemented in all aspects of the supply chain, from cultivation to irrigation to harvesting to supply chain management to logistics, giving them the information required about when, where, and how to plant.  That can data relating to weather patterns, soil quality, pest infestations, crop yields, market prices, or consumer demand.

Data can also help with understanding different environmental factors, including unpredictable weather, such as severe storms and drought, as well as changing insect behavior. Being able to understand and predict shifts in these conditions may help farmers better prepare, while also preserving resources. 

It can also help with minimizing waste, which is a big problem in the argiculture/food industry, to the tune of 119 billion pounds of food, or 40% of all food in the US, going to waste every year. Data can help cut into that by understanding which products are selling best and when. It can also tell the farmers where they are losing efficiency by using too much or too little  water, fertilisers, or pesticides. Using data for resource allocation can help them reduce costs, minimise environmental impact, and enhance sustainability.

They can also use data to identify new farming techniques, improve crop varieties, and enhance agricultural practices. 

Who's who in the space

There are, of course, big players in the agricultural data space, including Raven IndustriesTrimble, Topcon, FarmersEdgeand Relex Group. But it's the startups where the real innovations are happening.

That includes Intelia, which enables real-time data flow of information between the farm and all other parts of the poultry value chain; Taranis, a crop intelligence and precision agriculture technology that provides digital monitoring, reporting, and verification services; Aerobotics, a data analytics company, providing tree and fruit insights enabled by drone imagery and artificial intelligence; Sentera, a provider of analytics and machine learning insights for digital agriculture; OneSoil, a digital product company providing a platform that helps farmers and agricultural companies be more profitable and sustainable; Agribotixa drone-enabled software company that provides advanced imaging and analysis for precision agriculture; and Conservis, a provider of farm management software.

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