The future of agtech: sensors, vertical farming, and cows
In the recent years multiple technology startups have emerged to develop alternative and optimized modes for cultivation.
Just a few years ago, innovation in the world of agriculture has come through technology startups. With a fast development, tech startups have given rise to new economic models with less intensive or optimized forms of cultivation in agriculture. Benefits can be seen not only on the company growth, likewise, on the average amount of technological tools used in single farms.
Whether investing in innovations at the service of “producing better”, or facilitating interaction between farmers or with their suppliers and customers, tech startups seek one common thing: through cutting-edge technologies, to encourage farmers to improve their economic model, their yield and their environmental footprint.
The usage of all types of data, starting with the soil (moisture, agronomic, geographical, meteorological), can not only predict variables but advise farmers on soil trends in order to finally reach optimal crop growth in their "own style", as crop variability differs from place to place.
The agricultural sector is one of the main land users in Europe, shaping the landscapes of rural areas. It has various direct and indirect impacts on the environment and is itself dependent on natural resources. Agricultural land plays an important role in land use patterns in the EU. Meadows and cultivated land together account for 39% of Europe’s land cover. Furthermore, current agricultural models have shown their limits in terms of their impact on the environment, biodiversity and production with negative effects such as pollution, biodiversity loss and shrinking yields over time. In addition to a growing global population obviously has put the question of sustainability at the centre.
But here is when technologies come into play. In the last years, we have seen the introduction of many new agricultural innovations that will influence the way agriculture management is done. So, what kind of future can we expect for agtech companies in Europe and agriculture?
Europe as a driving force
Europe has always been a dominant force in the food and agriculture industry. France, Germany and the Netherlands are the top three food exporters. Europe is also home to leading knowledge institutes in the field of food and agriculture, such as Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands or Rothamsted Research in the UK.
For instance, The European Commission has its Horizon2020 programme, a €79 billion fund to stimulate early-stage research and innovation across sectors and bring new technologies to market across Europe; soon be followed by Horizon Europe, the next research and innovation framework programme. The Commission’s proposal for Horizon Europe is an ambitious €100 billion research and innovation programme to succeed Horizon 2020.
European food-tech startups also attract multiple investors, having doubled it investments in 2019 to €2.3 billion, with 'Next Gen' products gaining momentum.
With that being said, what are the main agritech innovations that are currently convincing investors, society and consumers?
1- Smart sensors
Sensors are implemented to control the environment and provide 24/7 data. Soil moisture sensors, predictive software, dashboards and drones can scan entire plots of land, evolving the previous 'make a hole in the ground to feel humidity' for high-quality remote sensing via smartphones and apps.
This is when Sensoterra steps in: a leader in wireless soil moisture sensing, providing data-driven solutions for optimizing land and freshwater resources for agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, and Smart cities. LoRaWAN technology and wireless connectivity empower better decision making for land management through smart soil moisture measurements. With thousands of Sensoterra sensors in the ground, generating over 60 million data points globally, Sensoterra grows every year and have been supporting from small to big-ag growers.
Single-depth sensors, from 15 cm to 90 cm.
2- Virtual reality and AI
Another innovation that has earned its place in the agtech sector is 'virtual reality'. Farmers are already using it to survey the field and determine the quality of the soil, pick up the appropriate crops and use the soil potential for crop production.
Overall, AI plays an important role, from crop protection, assessing the best time to harvest and monitor herd crop or herd performance. Whilst almost all sectors of the economy have to deal with the climate crisis and the issue of sustainability, agriculture and food production are one of the areas at the forefront of rapid and revolutionary change.
Likewise, on the dairy market, there are AI software that uses machine learning to help manage dairy cows where users have the ability to keep track of individual cows and manage them appropriately, with insights into milk yield, antibiotic plans and biological cycles.
3- Vertical farming
Vertical Farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers, mostly incorporated in controlled-environment agriculture systems. It is expected to grow to almost €2 billion by 2025. The main forces driving this growing trend are consumer demand for organic food, free from pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It also has the potential to reduce the dependency of countries on food imports and reduce carbon emission linked to global supply chains.
Sensoterra is a technology startup based in Amsterdam, helping growers in agriculture, landscaping and smart cities since 2014. When working with Sensoterra soil moisture sensors, growers start to respect soil necessity for water, at the active root zone, other than traditional techniques that can cause misinterpretation. Data don't lie, on the contrary, it reduce under- and over-irrigation problems leading to reduction of fertilizers and pesticides, less pests, healthier roots, healthier plants, optimal yield to scale up and feed bigger populations.
Caroline is a Soil Data Manager at Sensoterra. Previously, she worked as a laboratory analyst, responsible for data analysis of roots and soil, identifying pesticide contamination and plant accumulation. Her background is in Environmental Science, with a Masters's degree in Water & Environment from Radboud University.Get in touch