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The future of farming, maybe

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 02 April 2019, 8:53 pm

An obvious area for New Zealand to lead the world in new technology is agriculture. So, how does our Government view the future of farming? A report from Sapere Research Group, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), provides some insights.

While the report - which has been compiled from a mix of international research and expert interviews - is primarily focussed on farming megatrends (environment concerns, scientific developments, changing consumer behaviour), it's interesting to see how it views the application of technology that is common in other sectors.

A good place to start is 'big data'. According to the report, the experts believe that big data can boost economic gain while at the same time reducing environmental impact. A win-win, you might think, but the report's authors says it is not that easy to achieve.

"According to the experts we spoke to, the challenge around big data in agriculture is less about recognising the value of collecting data and more to do with analysis of that data into an easily usable form to aid decision making. Processing capability is lagging the technology around generating and collecting data, so that is the next step towards paradigm change motivated by environmental considerations."

Then there is social media and the rise of the 'influencer' - which for the uninitiated is basically people with lots of followers on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter.

"Greater use of social media and associated 'influencers' to deliver information and enhanced participation in online forums and platforms is likely to be required in future, as opposed to traditional media and published articles. Transparency and trust in the data is the key, and may take some time for farmers to get used to, according to the experts," the report notes.

As for robotics, this technology has the possibility to radically change the primary sector - but not in New Zealand.

"Robotics is also seen as possibly changing the economic model in farming. In particular, intelligent robots can make small-scale production viable again, following a move towards 'bigger is better' that seemed to dominate more recently. Again, there is also a sustainability dimension to the use of robotics, through better monitoring and management of soil and animal quality and elimination of pests and disease without resorting to indiscriminate use of agrichemicals," the report says.

"While potentially impactful, vertical farming, and to a certain extent the use of robotics, are concentrated on crop production. This is not a prominent feature of relevant activity in New Zealand which is mostly pasture. Furthermore, the relative abundance of land in New Zealand means the impetus to investigate vertical farming is not major."

Finally, I had not expected blockchain to pop up in the report but it did, and it's worth noting how this was viewed in report.

"Blockchain could have the potential to contribute to greater transparency through the supply and value chain as well as enhance the security of information being transmitted by farmers in relation to say, environmental effects. However, the technology is not well understood yet, and its use is as an enabler of other game-changing trends rather than the driver of change itself."

You can view the report here.


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