Feeding more mouths with less workable agricultural land. This is, in a nutshell, the challenge for agriculture in the decades to come. In my opinion, there are four underlying challenges that will soon turn the sector upside down.
1. A Demanding Consumer
Consumers want and demand ever more: from fresh strawberries in December to lactose-free milk and gluten-free bread. Nutritious, delicious, affordable, locally grown food – without any artificial additives, but it needs to keep for as long as possible. Honest products for the lowest possible price, and if possible with a fully traceable origin. It is becoming increasingly important for farmers to show consumers where and when the chicken was slaughtered and where the potatoes and vegetables on their plate were grown.
2. Strict Law and Legislation
The latter – traceability – is not just a consumer’s wish, it is also an ever more stringent requirement from authorities. Far-reaching traceability of agricultural and food production processes is needed to inspect and safeguard food safety. This requires major adjustments in the operating methods of many farms.
Alongside this lies the increasing pressure from both the government and the consumer to combat food waste as much as possible. Think, for instance, of the regulations on animal welfare – and the resulting gradual disappearance of cheap meats – or initiatives like “kromkommer”, which rescues less attractive, but nevertheless tasty, vegetables from unnecessary destruction of foodstuffs. The use of residual flows is also stimulated for realizing circular agriculture: tomato tops are for example processed into animal feed and the manure is subsequently used to help the growth of new crops.
3. The ‘Glocalization’ Phenomenon
Is it globalization? Is it localization? No, the trend is glocalization!
The concept originates from market globalization. Leaders in the agri-food sector – as well as outside this sector – develop concepts for a specific local market that fits their global approach and image. McDonald’s is everywhere, but only in the Netherlands you will find the McKroket on the menu. The hamburger giant in India serves an entirely beef and pork-free menu.
But ‘glocal’ can also mean a different mix of global and local. A good example in agriculture is the local growing of the South-American quinoa crop. Some Dutch consumers demand this superfood, but also want their food to be grown locally. Which is quite a task, as the Dutch saline clay soil is not really suitable for growing quinoa. Wageningen University & Research have therefore improved three new varieties that are more resistant to the specific Dutch conditions.
Another phenomenon captured by the concept of glocalization is personalizing customer contact. An example of this includes the presents that registered customers receive on their birthday. This message or offer is obviously based on your order or search history. It is on the one hand a great source for a personal approach, though it also exposes the size of your digital footprint. It is both as a consumer and as a company important to thoroughly consider the use of personal data, especially since the introduction of the GDPR earlier this year.
4. The ‘More Than Moore’s’ Law
The fourth trend fits within the technological and digital revolution that the agricultural sector has already been dealing with for ages. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of chip manufacturer Intel, in 1965 predicted that the speed and storage capacity of (micro-) chips would double each year. This is known as Moore’s Law. The law still applied until recently, but in today’s development limits are reached that cannot be exceeded. This is why it is now known as the ‘More than Moore’ trend, in which chips are equipped with sensors, antennas or batteries. These analog additions still improve the chips’ functionality, albeit no longer with regard to computing power or capacity.
The digital revolution offers farms unprecedented opportunities for renewal and for meeting consumers’ wishes and legislative requirements. But it is also a compelling development: if you do not take steps towards digitalizing a farm, you will miss out.
Are You Ready?
Let’s be honest: the aforementioned trends are not new ones. The agricultural sector has for a while now been dealing with this to a greater or lesser degree. What’s new is the increasing urgency to act upon them. It is now an indisputable fact that farmers must adjust their business processes to keep up with these trends. Hence, one can no longer ignore that these trends will have a great impact on internal processes and on your organization’s IT landscape (and last but not least, that of your suppliers and customers).
The other side of the story is that there are – also thanks to Moore’s Law – increasingly user-friendly and scalable solutions for optimizing business systems, without the huge investments or disruptive implementation processes.
The right ICT (Information and Communications Technology) platform for a farm is stable and reliable, but is also flexible enough to move along with current and future developments. In other words: the right support that frees up sufficient time and space to run a future-proof farm that anticipates consumers’ wishes, (international) legislation, and other transformative trends.
Are you still not convinced that such a solution exists? The possibilities will surprise you.
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Martijn van Giessel, Business Consultant, itelligence BV