The agriculture of the future will be farmer-led, AI-driven, based on data and increasingly smart machines

by | Apr 4, 2023 | World Agri-Tech, xFarm Team

Matteo Vanotti, CEO of hi-tech company xFarm Technologies, was a speaker at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Here’s what he’s taking home after two intense days of discussion with some of the world’s agribusiness heavyweights.

If there is one industry that unites each of the world’s eight billion people today, it is agriculture. We all need to feed ourselves, every day. And agriculture is what makes that need a reality, producing food of all kinds on every continent. But the challenges ahead are greater than ever, and so are the solutions needed to safeguard the right to healthy food. This is what was discussed in San Francisco to find out how best to deal with the near future.

On March 14 and 15, 140 speakers from 55 countries, nearly 200 start-ups and more than 400 agri-food businesses, including large corporations and outstanding scale-ups, discussed the future of global agriculture and the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco.

There are two major challenges in particular: the climate crisis and population growth in many countries of the global south, with the planet’s population set to approach 10 billion within 30 years. Others are less well known to the general public but equally important, such as the high volatility of agricultural commodities’ prices.

Science and technology can help us feed humanity today and tomorrow, adapt to new climate scenarios, and dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, which is now a top priority. The star will be AI (Artificial Intelligence), which is the focus and goal of the major efforts of universities, research centers, agribusinesses, governments and companies like xFarm Technologies to digitize agriculture and make it more environmentally and productively sustainable.

In San Francisco, everyone was talking about this. Farmers need access to practical advice based on data, collected by sensors in the field, machinery and equipment, satellites, smart cameras, and more. This will enable the development of new technologies to provide farmers with timely advice and increasingly accurate support for agronomic decisions, enabling them to make efficient use of water – a resource that is now extremely precious even in many formerly rainy European countries – and agricultural inputs, to achieve better yields and to use truly intelligent machinery.

This applies not only to farmers but also to supply chains, OEMs, insurance companies and food companies. Agriculture is a diverse and complex industry that requires teamwork. That is why the use of farm management software is a unique opportunity to create a digital ecosystem that connects all these players. Today’s limited use of farm-level insights is a problem, but digital platforms can solve it and also enable the calculation of Scope 3 emissions – that is, emissions related to farm activities, which account for the vast majority of emissions – by relying on primary data. 

That AI will play a central role in agriculture in the coming decades was clear to everyone at the summit. By analyzing data from multiple sources, algorithms will provide farmers with recommendations on when to perform certain operations through dynamic models that can learn from the feedback they receive. In fact, they already can.

In the not–too–distant future, we will also be able to predict commodity prices based on data collected by satellites, estimate the amount of CO2 sequestered in this or that field, and automate many operations that currently require human intervention. AI will also improve disease detection in plants and animals, helping farmers take timely action.

But humans will continue to play a key role: their sensitivity, intuition and ability to contextualize every experience are not and will never be replaceable. Technology, including AI, can help. But it cannot replace the fundamental role of the farmer.

As I mentioned earlier, we are very focused on AI at xFarm Technologies. We are strengthening our AI team to dive even deeper into this new technological universe and deliver an increasingly value-added product to our 170,000 farmers around the world. It is no coincidence that my presentation at the summit was titled “Sustainable AgTech Platforms: Making digitization a greater reality for more farmers”: I shared how xFarm Technologies is supporting the digitization of the agriculture sector, making it greener and better prepared for the transformations of the 21st century.

I found very curious and interested interlocutors at the event, because in food companies with thousands of farmers, as well as in small and medium family farms, there is a great awareness of the centrality of digitalization – as well as the urgency to make such a transformation ubiquitous.

The big players in the sector need to be more involved, because it is not easy to engage farmers in the supply chain on the path of innovation and change to make their operations more sustainable. But it can be done, and we have already demonstrated it for large international supply chains.

In San Francisco, we also talked about resilience strategies, climate-smart commodities and climate investments, regenerative agriculture, robotics in agriculture, soil health, controlled environment agriculture, and much more. In short, we were all talking about the future in San Francisco. And as the summit came to a close, after yet another cup of coffee, I was filled with hope: the challenges ahead of us are enormous, yes, but we can do it. We really can.

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