Digitization, Internet of Things and sustainability - these three megatrends are guiding many industries since more than a couple of years, and we would maybe not link them to fruit growing right away. Nevertheless, technologies and sensitivity to 'green' matters are more growing in interest for the agriculture sector than you might have thought.
For the Future Hub at the Interpoma Connects Event 2020 in Bolzano, 300 most promising start-ups out of more than 2,700 actives in this sector were selected and looked at more closely. During this analysis, nine trends were identified linked to the megatrends digitization, IoT and sustainability that, are going to shape the branch in the upcoming years:
Analyzing the startup scene in this branch we see that by far the most technical developments were made in the Robotics and IoT sector, working on new solutions with drones, sensors and smart agriculture machines. 40% of the founders invented solutions to digitize the farmer's life, by delivering holistic management platforms and monitoring systems. Sustainability is the guiding principle for 11% percent of the young companies, and we see innovative developments especially in water management, packaging and eco-friendly products.
Most of the startups (over 90%) who brought up new solutions in the agricultural/apple sector come from Europe. Especially in France (16%) , Germany (15%) and Italy (13%) we saw a lot of movements and innovative solutions.
In this article, we are going to have a deeper look to the main trends driving innovation in the apple industry - Let's jump into the topic!
Growers' experience is a powerful source of knowledge to efficiently manage orchards and get good results out of them. Nevertheless, current specific circumstances, as more unstable climate conditions and stricter requirements of the market, are rising the need of higher accuracy in orchard analysis and more efficient decision-making processes.
The technology industry is quickly reacting to this need and there are many start-ups focusing on solutions to improve the quality and the speed of the decisions taken. These are usually software-based products that exploit the power of artificial intelligence, image recognition or data analysis to make the life of farmers easier. In the context of digitization, we see three main trends that should attract your attention: software-as-a-service solutions for orchard management, yield monitoring and estimation and the growth of farm management integrated platforms.
With Software-as-a-service solutions for orchard management, we define those digital tools that aim to collect, elaborate, and provide advanced information on the field or orchard and the related products. Thanks to the help of sensors to be placed into the field, weather stations, images and algorithms, growers can take more informed decisions throughout the entire season.
Multispectral imaginary has a great potential, as it can provide specific field information, just by looking at it. For example, Ceres Imaging is aimed to do so, integrating images with analytics and providing insights on irrigation management, nutrient management, pest and diseases management and even labor management.
Looking at soil monitoring, Sensoterra has developed a system for wireless soil and water optimization. Thanks to the sensor to be put into the soil, the user gets data about the active root zone and is able to better manage irrigation and soil products.
Even if we can't control weather conditions, we can at least use systems that help us better forecast it. For example, Weenat provides a sensor that analyses the specific local weather conditions, to give customized insights and treatment recommendations.
For many years, growers have manually collected fruit sizing data and counted hundreds of fruits on trees, one by one - an immense effort. The digital revolution makes the farmers life easier and changes this approach, by introducing disruptive technologies to automate and refining the process.
A first example in this sense is Pixofarm, which is able to provide current and forecasted average size of the apples, growth rate, fruit count, predicted production and size class distribution at the harvest time, by taking pictures of the fruits with a smartphone. The power of imaginary is getting importance in precision agriculture, as proved by Intelligent Fruit Vision, the start-up using a camera on tractors, to count fruits on trees. A similar approach is the one by GreenAtlas, which, thanks to its hardware, is able to count fruits and flowers in the whole orchard.
The introduction of data crunch into agriculture obviously presents some downsides as well. Two of them are the many data sources involved and the loss of a tracking system. To solve this pain point, many companies are offering integrated platforms to provide the decision makers with a unique access to information and a tool to keep track of the every-day activities.
In this sense, companies as Agricolus or Spacenus provide different versions of integrated platforms. Showing different types of data, growers can keep a better overview on their fields and orchards and have in one place all the information from their monitoring tools. Deaverde, through an activity log, helps keep track of the treatments applied and the products used is a handy feature of management platforms.
Our houses, cars and objects of daily use are becoming our best friends: they measure, detect, and collect data about what we are doing and what is happening around us. By analyzing these data points, they are able to give us back valuable information to increase the quality of our life. Thanks to recent innovative technologies, also agricultural machines, weather stations and in-field equipment are becoming "smarter". New solutions can drive themselves, take decisions, provide real-time overview and complex analyses. What they have in common is the goal to reduce the number of daily operational activities that make farmers life too busy.
Very effective tools in this sense are robots and the Internet of Things, meaning networks of physical objects, that are embedded with sensors, software and other technologies, so that they can connect to and exchange data with the Internet. Hereafter we provide you with an overview on how these robots and IoT solutions are implemented in agriculture and with some examples regarding the utilization of drones, IoTs in farming and smart agricultural machines.
Drones are autonomous aircrafts, flying over specific areas. In the application to agriculture, they are able to take pictures or videos, while flying over fields and orchards.
Aerobotics leverages its drones to support fruit growers in orchard management, problem tree identification, pest and disease management and yield management. GeoVisual focuses also on the optimization of harvest activities and labor costs, while Greensight is able to customize drones with sensors, in order to provide the most relevant information to the single users.
IoT systems in agriculture can leverage soil and weather sensors to provide valuable insights, as for example Agranimo, which provides the user with sensors working on micro-climate analysis. More into the direction of pest monitoring, Trapview offers an insect trap combined with sensors to be placed into the orchard, that monitors and lure all kinds of insects. As a last example, Mycroclime offers a custom IoT solution for agriculture, which combines different sensors with the possibility to integrate them in a cloud system.
If autonomous driving is still on its development as concerns cars, it is already a must-have for machines in agriculture. Thanks to sensors and remote control, farmers can "drive" and check on their tractors and machines, almost without leaving the house.
Agerris has developed field robots, who are able to move around the orchard and provide specific information about their operational areas, becoming advisers, sprayers, mappers and yield estimators for the grower. Tracdrone can replace workforce in all those time-consuming everyday activities with an unmanned remotely controlled tractor. In the direction of providing support in harvesting and pollination, Roboticsplus has developed an unmanned ground vehicle that can help growers in the main steps of fruit seasons.
Sustainability is one of the megatrends shaping our lives and so it does for agriculture: The sector is by nature aligned with this approach and we see many solutions on the market that are trying to make fruit growing greener and more sustainable.
There are many environmental and socio-economical aspects that influence our sector of interest, in different stages of the production chain. From scarce resources management over waste recycling, to new solutions for pesticides and fertilizers: many topics related to sustainability play a huge role in agriculture.
Let's have a glimpse on the recent developments in water management, packaging, and plant production products.
Water is one of the most important resources for agriculture and the decisions about irrigation are crucial for growers. Therefore, getting more information and controlling tools for water can be strategic elements for a good growing process.
SmartWatering wants to leverage sensor to automate the irrigation process and decisions, based on soil and climate conditions. HydroPoint also provides a system, able to give insights on water flows and leaks. Instead, a solution that wants the plants to take the lead of watering decisions is CommonSensors, which makes irrigation activities be based on specific valves, controlled by the plants.
Production is just the intone step in the fruit value chain, and it is linked closely to the classification and packing of fruits themselves. From a sustainability point of view, finding new ways to pack fruits is an important responsibility of the agricultural sector and there are quite a lot startups operating in this sector.
Biodegradable packaging are a main driver in reducing plastic: at IUV, for example, the team has developed an edible-biodegradable film that can be used to pack and keep safe food. In a similar direction, Packtin is able to get packaging material from industrial and agricultural waste and get new material with a circular approach. Also reusable packaging is an innovative way to deal with packaging food: Cellugy and Arekapak, for example, use bio-cellulose and natural material to produce resistant and reusable packaging.
Last but not the least, one of the most interesting trends we can observe in the agriculture sector regarding sustainability is the reduction of chemicals for growing activities or the research to find alternatives to the most common chemical products. For example, Nitroterra is able to provide clients with customized biofertilizers, created on soil analysis data. Very innovative and fancy solutions are also the ones from Toopi, which has developed urine-based fertilizers and from Ficosterra, that uses algae and microorganisms to favor the development of crops and plants.
After this look at the main innovation trends in agriculture, we can state that this sector is definitely going to break the old cliché of having a mostly traditional approach; In fact, this sector is going to develop incredible technical innovations. The megatrends digitization, robotics and IoTs and sustainability have arrived in the daily lives of farmers and will support them in various scenarios. We are keen to follow the further developments of the previously described trends and very curious, what technologies have in store in the next years.