Ag Tech - short for agricultural technology - is one of many rapidly growing markets that are being revolutionized by the way that new technologies are changing the way we work. Plenty of specialist ag tech companies are even securing major funding from investors and venture capitalists. Perhaps there's a reason why we call it a "seed round".

When people think about agriculture, they often think about small family farms and Old MacDonald, but the truth is that  modern agriculture is big business with huge farms and acres of crops. It needs technology to function and so it's no surprise that new developments are shaking up the industry at such a rapid pace that it can be hard to keep up with them.

Luckily, many of the key developments in the industry are similar enough that they can be categorized together to get an overall view of what's going on. Here are just a few of the trends that you'll want to keep an eye on.

1. Biotechnology

Biotechnology is exactly what it sounds like - a combination of biology and technology which can be used to improve crops in much the same way as selective breeding. Biotech is already super important in the medical industry, where tools like CRISPR are being used to edit DNA to tackle diseases. Just imagine if the same technology could be put to use in the agriculture industry to improve yields or to fight diseases.

Tools like these aren't exactly mainstream, and there's a long way to go until they're as easy to use as other new technologies like 3D printing. Still, they show a lot of promise and they're already being adopted by some of the big players in the seed industry. They're also very different to genetic modification and will be regulated by different legislation.

2. Sensors

Sensors are getting smaller, more lightweight, more powerful and more accurate, so it makes sense that they'll make their way into the agricultural industry. We can already monitor moisture levels, sunlight, wind speed and all sorts of other factors, but as the sensors get better and better they'll be able to gather more and more data for us to make use of.

We're already starting to see this happen in the explosion of interest in the internet of things, which relies on adding sensors to everyday objects and then uploading that data to the internet. The future of agriculture is the connected farm, and new sensors will be what enable us to truly achieve that.

3. AI and machine learning

There's no point generating the huge amounts of data that sensors give us access to if we're unable to make sense of it. That's where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning come in. As the technology gets more and more powerful, it enables us to process huge amounts of data that no human being could ever make sense of, arriving at new conclusions that might otherwise have passed us by.

For agricultural companies, this could enable them to anticipate poor harvests or disease outbreaks, and it would also help them to make incremental improvements to their operations that have a huge cumulative effect overall. Making decisions based on data isn't just best practice. It'll soon become the only way to do business if you want to be successful.

4.Modelling and simulations

This one relies on a combination of the data that will be gathered, the machine learning technologies which can start to spot underlying patterns and an increase in the amount of processing power that we have access to. With these three assets at our disposal, we'll be able to run advanced simulations that give us a real idea of what's likely to happen under a variety of different conditions.

This type of modelling will enable agricultural companies to test out different approaches in a virtual environment and to get a good idea of what's likely to happen if they carry them out for real. It'll help them to choose the best course of action whether they're deciding when to harvest or whether they're considering investing in some expensive piece of new software.

5. Robots

This is one of the most obvious areas for ag tech companies to focus on, but it's also one of the most exciting. As robotics get better and better, they'll become viable options in all sorts of use cases across the agricultural industry, from working the line for meat production to planting seeds and ploughing fields.

Robots tend to come down in price over time which means that even smaller outfits will eventually be able to use them as a matter of course. They also have the advantage of costing less than manual laborers while doing a more uniform job of things. Robotics might not become the new norm, but they will become a valid option for a variety of situations, and in many cases they'll come out on top.

Conclusion

As you've seen from this article, new technologies have a huge amount of potential to disrupt the agricultural industry, and if the demand is there then the entrepreneurs will soon follow, spotting niches in the rapidly growing market and coming up with new ways to innovate that revolutionize the industry for good.

This is good news for both agricultural companies and the tech innovators who cater to them. In the ag tech industry more than in any other, the technology is all about finding new efficiencies, and those efficiencies can save agricultural companies time and money. If they do that, there's every likelihood that the technology will pay for itself.

Better still, we haven't even covered some of the other advantages to taking advantage of new technologies within the agriculture industry. Used correctly, machine learning, biotech and other opportunities could help us to fight global hunger on an almost unimaginable scale.

Ultimately, then, technology can change the way that the entire industry operates, and if you're not prepared then you can bet that your competitors will be. Don't be the one to get left behind.

Published on: Feb 5, 2018