From robotics to distributed ledgers and vertical farming, Eoin Lowry, head of Agri Sector at Bank of Ireland, looks at the tech trends that will shape the future of agriculture.
Ever since the creation of the plough, technological innovations have shaped agriculture allowing farmers to grow more food while becoming more efficient and more environmentally friendly. The Covid-19 pandemic put greater emphasis on the sector’s future sustainability and long-term resilience.
This is accelerating the role technology will play in making the sector more profitable, more efficient, safer, and more environmentally friendly in order to survive disruptors such as Covid-19 in the future, while meeting the demands of feeding 10bn people globally by 2050.
But does this mean new technologies will replace the expertise of farmers? No.
Precision agriculture will reduce sector’s environmental footprint
In contrast, technology will augment rather than replace the intuition and know-how of farmers as no two farms are the same and farming differs greatly around the world.
Robotics and automation will overcome challenge of finding skilled labour
In an economy with high employment levels where skilled farm labour is difficult to find, robotics and automation will be essential in cost reduction, quality enhancement and environmental performance.
A few decades ago, the idea of tractors driving themselves on the farm was implausible.
Now, tractors equipped with GPS technology coupled with automatic steering systems are used to improve the placement of seeds, prescribe the precise quantity of fertiliser required for a particular area and improve harvesting operations to reduce wastes and costs. This also reduces the need to perform repetitive tasks, improving the health and wellbeing of the operator. Robotic milking has already gained a foothold in the dairy sector while many other routine farmyard tasks are being automated.
Technology could improve transparency and fairness along supply chain
Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) such as Blockchain show potential to dramatically improve the transparency of transactions and the inclusiveness of Agri-food value chains.
Both producers and buyers can gain from more transparent transactions. For example, producers can avoid intermediaries and connect directly with retailers, food service operators, and even consumers, thereby receiving a fairer price for their products.
Moreover, faster and easier transactions reduce the food losses that occur when, for lack of a buyer, perishable products remain too long in the field or in storage.
Vertical farming allows food to be grown closer to consumers
This is the practice of producing food in vertical layers within a dedicated structure (such as a building, warehouse, or shipping container) using indoor farming techniques combined with technologies that allow for the control of environmental factors such as light, humidity, temperature, atmosphere, and nutrition.
There are three main types of vertical farming; hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. Vertical farming uses only a tiny fraction of the amount of land and water required for traditional farming.
Furthermore, these ‘farms’ provide a clean and controlled environment that can easily be isolated, allowing for chemical (pesticides/ herbicides) free production in a climate-resilient context.
Finally, since vertical farming facilities can be located in urban areas, the products do not have to be transported long distances to reach the final consumer, which implies significant savings on agri-logistics costs as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions.
These insights were published as part of a Bank of Ireland Sectors report on the Acceleration of Technology. Full report: