What is the precision agriculture and what kind of effect has it for agriculture 4.0.? Starting from the definition, Agritech, precision farming and agriculture 4.0 represent the technological revolution under way in the agricultural sector. Precision farming technology is a plantation management strategy that uses modern instruments for agronomic interventions in compliance with the actual plantation needs and the biochemical and physical characteristics of the soil.
Sensors, drones, blockchains and many others are the new agricultural technologies used that lead to the so called the 4.0 agriculture revolution. Consequently, the words agritech, smart agrifood or smart agribusiness mean the use of the most recent technologies applied to the agricultural sector.
WHAT IS THE PRECISION FARMING AND WHAT IS IT FOR?
Precision agriculture uses systems able of detecting the various parameters of production, such as those installed on combine harvesters. They continuously monitor the amount of crop production to understand the results. Most systems, which operate in analysis and monitoring of crop, use drones. Thanks to this technology it is possible to obtain all the data necessary to manage soil and plants, in order to safeguard their health and increase their yield.
Italian agriculture, in particular, is going through a transition phase due to climate change, budget cuts, bear markets and new consumer tastes. To overcome this stalemate a company must necessarily innovate, keep up with the times and exploit technology to solve the many problems in the sector.
Aid must also come from the public administration, which should guarantee more income and more sustainability for businesses. Despite the numbers of agricultural production bode well, software and apps for precision farming are not yet success. But something is being done: less technical means and higher yields, lower consumption and greater efficiency, lighter impact on the environment and complete traceability.
If agricultural prices were higher and the means of production cost less, more would be invested in new technologies. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce production costs and increase the intrinsic value of agritech products.
Furthermore, precision farming reduces agricultural production costs and rationalises resources, as well as allowing production process and final agritech products to be well qualified on the market. The adoption of agritech solutions has numerous economic advantages, but in the initial phase it requires the public support, and this should also give the right boost to the national agricultural system. Nowadays, incentives are earmarked only for farmers, instead, little is earmarked for precision farming, often considered only an approach to obtain funding for non-essential technologies.
In other words, farmers replace tractors for agricultural machinery with assisted driving systems, only according to the contribution they will receive. From the other side, the public body, does not help the companies that want to invest in this sector, as it fears of being not able to spend EU funds, and so finances sectors with greater tendency. Thus, the agro-mechanical companies, which truly invest in innovative farming practices, are unjustly penalized.
This approach will have the effect that agritech will spread the same, but among the cutting-edge companies, while public funds will continue to waste the opportunity to create a real development in this important sector.
Pros and cons of Precision Farming
The precision farming meets different needs: increase in quantity and quality, savings in production costs and environmental protection.
The real obstacle is the mistaken belief that agricultural producers have about precision agriculture. Precision farming is still seen by many as an expensive technology with negative economic effects, whose benefits are appreciable only on wide surfaces. Actually, even small companies can be at the forefront and must be protagonists of the agritech by access to the best technologies.
Sustainability is the main aim of precision farming, because it enables to meet the different needs of agricultural realities, in terms of increasing yields and quality, as well as saving in production costs and protecting the environment.
On a qualitative level, agrifood brings two kind of benefits: it allows the reduction of foreign substances’ residues, improving the quality of the products, and it allows to track the entire production process.
The possibility of full traceability of crop production makes the consumer aware of the complexity of the farming process. This enables them to trust more and recognise the true news from the fake ones on food, but also it allows them to consider more environmental aspects. Control on position and intervention time reduces technical means and energy consumption, as well as, it ensures respect for natural areas, with a less incisive impact on the environment and biodiversity. This farming management is a model of wholly sustainable agriculture.
AGRITECH AND PRECISION FARMING IN ITALY
The future of agriculture is based on the development of the agritech, with an increasing number of start-ups involved in this growing sector, especially in Italy. Agritech needs continuous training and specific know-how to keep pace with transformation and innovation. These agricultural technologies concern the development of new plantation techniques and precision farming, new production and distribution processes and product traceability.
The term agritech indicates new opportunities deriving from new technologies and products that will contribute to satisfying our nutritional needs. In particular, the areas of interest of the agri-food and most of the intelligent agricultural systems are:
These field are fundamental for the development of the individual companies and countries.
Italy is the second European power in the agriculture sector, although in the last few years there was a decrease of -6% in production and Italian agricultural companies are in a fragmented situation. Large companies are valued and enhanced more than small and medium-sized enterprises, with a great expenditure of energy and economic resources that is not directly proportional to actual agricultural production. However, Italian excellences have a prominent place within the European Union, above all thanks to:
Moreover, in recent years Italy has been ranked first in Europe thanks to the multi-functionality of its agricultural enterprises. It means, farms do not just produce food and/or fibres, but retail their products, take care of the public asset, conduct educational activities and much more.
The Italian agricultural sector, still very tied to tradition, can benefit from technologies that revolutionise the everyday life of companies, for example the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, by exploiting the sensors and the Internet of Things it is possible to develop precision farming, a management system of the soils that, through biochemical and physical analyses, allows the execution of interventions aimed at crop health. But not only the Internet of Things, also robotics, automated devices, biotechnology, agricultural software, drones, big data and blockchain can change the destiny of agricultural enterprises.
Agritech data in Italy
Startups in the agrifood tech field have incredible growth and development potential in Italy, where the sector has 18,853 enterprises. Among them, 10% belongs to the extended agrifood, i.e. start-ups that use drones, but that have yet to discover their application in the agricultural field.
Last year, there were more than 300 smart agrifood applications on the Italian territory, but there is still mistrust about agriculture technologies 4.0. In fact, despite being the second European agricultural power, Italy has only 2.5% of the global market in this sector. The main reason of these data collection is the lack of awareness of agritech benefits. Also the small size of farms, often family-run, are the cause of the reluctant attitude towards agritech technologies.
Among the most advanced regions, there are Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Lazio. The north grows by 80%, the centre by + 58% and the south and the islands grow by 78%.