Presentation at the Foro Global Agroalimentario, Mexico
On 12 October, Digiscape FSP leader Andrew Moore gave the closing presentation at the 2018 Global Agrifood Forum, hosted by the National Agriculture Council of Mexico. The Forum attracted a strong, international lineup of speakers who covered a range of aspects of the topic “Agriculture 4.0: the Agribusiness Revolution”.
It was a particular honour to have President Enrique Peña Nieto attend to formally open the Forum.
Edited highlights from Dr Moore’s speech are below.
Technological change is only one of several “megatrends” that are impacting global agriculture. The graphic at left is from a CSIRO report to Agrifutures Australia, but the level of consensus at the Forum about these trends – across countries and across stages in the agri-food value chain – was striking.
Australia and Mexico are different countries with different agricultural sectors, but they also share some similarities:
- largely urban populations
- grain and extensive beef production are important agricultural industries
- low levels of agricultural producer support by OECD standards.
The “fourth industrial revolution” is an interlocking set of new technologies that together can be expected to change every sector of the economy, including agriculture. How these changes will play out is both uncertain and contested, but the outlines of some likely outcomes are emerging.
The available evidence suggests that being a farmer is a hard-to-automate occupation; but the practice of farming will change dramatically.
Automation of agriculture is already under way, for example in the steady advances in cow milking technology. A slightly less obvious example: the fibreglass bull at left was on display at CSIRO’s AgCatalyst event in August 2018; it is modelling the eShepherd device that automates a century-old technology, namely the barbed-wire fence.
CSIRO’s 1622 tools for helping nitrogen management in the hinterland of the Great Barrier Reef are an example of how combining sensing technologies and predictive analytics can match decisions to local contexts. The Forum showcased other tools that do the same, for example the Mexican COMPASS project presented by Saravana Gurusamy.
The Forum quite properly focussed considerable attention on the value chains downstream from the farm, and how the 4th Industrial Revolution will affect them.
There is another set of value chains upstream form the farm, that provide inputs, machinery and advice to farmers. Technologies such as modern farm information management systems can enable farmers to connect more effectively with these value chains.
The information that accompanies agricultural products will increasingly determine their price. Different kinds of information will be valued by different kinds of customers: for example some buyers of avocados may be focussed only on food safety, while others may prioritize (say) their greenhouse gas footprint or the growers’ story. Connecting the right information about products – and the right to access that information – is one opportunity for distributed ledger and “smart contract” technologies.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques are becoming part of the standard toolkit for agricultural scientists and engineers.
To extract value from these techniques, however, datasets of sufficient size need to be assembled…
… and often this will mean persuading the holders of the
data to trust us enough to allow the data to be aggregated. Technical approaches to issues of trust can only ever be part of the solution.
Another important enabler of trust around data is the regulatory environment. Each nation will set its own data regulations; and they will be set with the whole national economy – not just agriculture – in mind.