Digital Agriculture: People, Profits, Planet

By Aiden Connolly

A short history of Agriculture

The agriculture industry is tried and true. From humans first ventures into farming, just 9,000 years ago, the industry has done things the same way for hundreds of years, family farms passing knowledge from generation to generation. Agriculture’s ability to innovate has been limited by the scarcity of data; even as the industrial revolution brought fertiliser, the green revolution brought irrigation and genetic selection has improved performance, the challenge is to measure performance improvements when variations caused by climate, soils and management are so great.

The number of people directly involved in agriculture and food production has significantly decreased all over the world, including the US. In the late 18th century, about 90%[1] of Americans were involved in farming. Today, it’s about 2.5%. Even in China, where 35% of the population farm[2], the middle class is increasing in size and people are moving off the land and into cities and urban areas.

Clearly consumers are more and more removed from food production, creating a gap in understanding and knowledge with respect the business of agriculture and food. As a result, a myriad of challenges have ensued.

What challenges does agriculture face?

An Industry Misunderstood

The realm of food and agriculture is replete with misconceptions or even ignorance about how food is produced, where it comes from, what labels mean, etc. The lack of education on the part of the consumer causes a great deal of strife for the agriculture industry. Unfortunately, by the nature of being fragmented the industry has an uphill battle.

Animals start on one farm and often change hands at least once if not more before heading to a processing facility, a packaging facility, grocer or supermarket, to finally being purchased by the consumer. With some species, such as cattle, multiple actors are involved in their transfer and this can make tracking individual animals particularly difficult. This is another factor disconnecting producers from consumers.

[1] https://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/farmers_land.htm

[2] http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat9/sub63/item348.html

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