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Updated 06 Jun 2020

4 Digital trends that are going to play a critical role in the future of agrifarm

There are four rising digital trends that will influence the productivity and profitability of your agribusiness. 

Nicole Crampton , 25 October 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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In 2050, there will be an estimated 9.6 billion people on the planet, overall food production will need to double in the next 30 years to meet the demand. This means that demand will soon outrunning supply. In order to meet this growing demand you, and other farmers are going to have to work smarter, by implementing digital solutions.

Digital technology and analytics are transforming the agriculture industry, allowing your farms’ field operations to be more insight driven and efficient. “Digital-based farm services are helping to improve financial performance and boost yield,” according to Accenture. The combination of digital technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) with its big data analytics and visualisation capabilities will help your farm to become more productive and reach that lofty 30 year deadline.

However, less than 20% of acreage today is using digital agriculture technologies because of the high cost of gathering precise field data, says Accenture. SME agribusinesses need to implement digital technologies in order to remain competitive, increase their yield and reach double production by 2050.

Related: Why you should invest in agriculture skills development


There will be an estimated 9.6 billion people on the planet by 2050, overall food production needs to effectively double in just over 30 years. To meet this coming demand, your agribusiness needs to produce double, from the same sized land. To achieve this you’ll need to optimise your entire operation by introducing digital strategies.

How digital technology is changing farming

Digital technology will not only allow your agribusiness to capture data on your farms performance but it will also allow you to analyse and extract insights from this data. “By generating detailed insights into operations and the environment, it will assist you in making data-based operational decisions to optimise yield and boost revenue, while minimising expenses, the chance of crop failure, and environmental impact,” says Accenture.

With these insights you can improve your output, profitability and competitiveness, while reducing wastage.

Here are four rising trends you can implement to increase yield and drive profitability:

1. Connected farms

The Internet of Things is when two machines talk to each other to increase efficiency. An example of this would be the new Smart Fridge, which talks to your online grocery account when it detects you’re getting low on milk. The Smart Fridge will then ask you if you want to buy the milk and it will handle the transaction online.

The growth of IoT in agriculture has already begun and is resulting in a major shift toward digitisation, competitiveness and optimisation by 2050 there will be 2 billion sensors in use.

This digital solution will help to solve the rise in demand and can increase production by up to 70%, potentially feeding the 9.6 billion people in 30 years.

IoT can improve your agribusinesses product quality, crop production, resource usage and cost control, while transforming farming and food production across the world. Agriculture Internet of Things can increase your crop productivity by managing and controlling the following functions:

Water supply management– IoT has the potential to conserve 189 billion litres of fresh water a year. “The Agricultural IoT, integrated with Web Map Service (WMS) and Sensor Observation Service (SOS) provides a solution to managing water requirements or supply for crop irrigation,” according to IBM. This technology can also analyse crop water requirements and use water supply resources to reduce water wastage.

Precision agriculture– IoT will help you track weather forecasting, soil quality and availability and cost of labour. This will help to ensure your crops aren’t damaged by a sudden hail storm. Having access to this real-time information can assist you in better planning your course of action, while also taking corrective or preventative measures.

South African case study:

Currently in South Africa Biochip transponders help farmers to keep track of their livestock by for example, connecting cows. This technology also offers real-time information to weather conditions and interconnectivity with operators, dealers, buyers and agricultural consultants can help farmers enhance productivity and increase efficiency, according to IOL.

Vodacom’s Connected Farmer platform can link thousands of smallholder farmers to the agriculture value chain.

Related: Why small players are key components of the agri sector

2. Drones are coming to the farm

Thanks to the drop in price and relaxed regulations around flying drones, they have become perfect to incorporate into agriculture. PwC estimates that the current market for drone-powered solutions in agriculture is USD32.4 billion and growing. Drones offer the potential for addressing several major challenges like increasing productivity, managing extreme weather and increasing yield.

Here are a few ways aerial and ground-based drones can support you throughout the crop cycle:

Crop monitoring:

If your agribusiness is spread out over a large area of land, it could create obstacles if you are using inefficient crop monitoring systems. Instead of spending a large amount on getting satellite imagery, you can use drones. They can show the precise development of your crop and reveal production inefficiencies, says PwC, offering you better crop management.

South African farmers are using drones to check crops and track their cattle. Alan Winde, Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunities, says: "You can monitor your crops, you can see where your fertiliser is too low or your biomass is too low, irrigation is too low or too high." Because farmers now don’t need to drive out to their herds, drones have halved their petrol costs.

Crop spraying:

You can use drones as part of your crop spraying strategy. “Drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real time for even coverage,” says PwC. This results in increased efficiency, while reducing the amount of chemicals wasted and entering the ground water. Experts also estimate that aerial spraying is five times faster with drones compared to traditional machinery.

Soil and field analysis:

You can use drones in the start of your crop cycle to produce accurate 3D maps for early soil analysis, which you can use to strategically plan your seed planting pattern. After planting, the soil analysis can then be used to offer insights into irrigation and nitrogen-level management.

3. Sensors for optimised agriculture

Agricultural -farming

Infrared sensors can now be attached to centre-pivot systems, which measures the temperature of the leaves on the canopy of your crop. This allows you to check the health of your crop and see if it is getting the right amount of water, which is more accurate then soil based sensors.

Once, the data has been collected the computer compares it against stress thresholds for the specific crop to determine how much to irrigate. “Different zones within the circle may have unique thresholds based on soil type, drainage characteristics and other factors, and will get different amounts of water,” says Matt Weiser.

“Sensors are informing farmers real-time about crop requirements such as water, nutrients, not only in general but spatially explicit and high resolution,” says Rolf Sommer, soils Africa program leader with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

These sensors collect data to help farmers to manage various systems, for example water, on your farm. From soil moisture to leaf transpiration, pump speed to valve status, a farm field these days can seem as wired as an airport,” says Matt Weiser, water and flood control specialist.

Considering the drought that devastated South Africa’s agriculture industry last year and into this year, water scarcity is causing farmers across the globe to make tougher choices and run on slimmer economic margins. These IoT sensors can now offer one way to exert more control over your basic inputs, such as water.

Related: 5 Types of insurance you need for your agribusiness to weather all seasons

4. Digital financial solutions to focus on the business side of agriculture

More and more financial institutions are advancing financial solutions for Agriculture, by offering digital solutions like online payment and credit solutions. Financial solutions designed specifically for the agriculture sector are growing in prominence. Smaller companies and start-ups are helping to bridge the gap between farmers and financial institutions:

For example, FarmDrive, a Kenyan venture is connecting unbanked smallholder famers to credit, while assisting financial institutions cost-effectively increase their agricultural loan portfolios. 

In Kenya, M-Farm and Cameroon’s AgroSpaces inform their users of pricing to remove price asymmetry between farmers and buyers, assisting farmers in earning more.

Digital technology can open up untapped potential for you and your agribusiness to improve food production efficiency. From precision farming to an efficient food supply chain, technology could bring major economic, social, and environmental benefits, reports HBR. Not only will the digitisation of your agribusiness help you to remain completive and increase your productivity and profitability, but it will also help you navigate climate change and the fluctuating weather patterns and changes going forward.


  • IoT in agriculture can assist you in improving strategies, by analysing crop water requirements, tracking weather forecasting, soil quality and availability, cost of labour and pest control.
  • Drones can’t only offer accurate real time data on how your crops are doing across your whole farm, but can also reveal how healthy your plants and soil are.
  • Sensors can give you data on soil moisture, leaf transpiration, pump speed and valve status, to name a few.
  • Financial management solutions are developing to cater specifically to the agriculture market to ensure the health and strength of the agribusiness.
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About the author

Nicole Crampton

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