Good Listening to (not yet) Smart Farmers

Area where I live is mainly based on agriculture economy from small-mid size farms. When I’m not traveling, I can meet my friends and some of them are farmers. They produce good wine, cheese, delicious fruits and vegetables. I’m lucky because I can talk with them tasting their “gems” over dinner.

They are proud talking about their products, but I am seeing them become anxious when we talk about precision agriculture. They feel too small, the landscape is not flat enough, expert technicians aren’t available, machine and systems are slow, expensive, mainly prototyping… in the meantime they receive a lot of pressure from the marketing of innovation. They know, they should do something, but they don’t know where and how to start an effective solution for the real business development. In a while they become nervous and It’s not because of the wine. Good Listening to (not yet) Smart Farmers is the key factor here for innovators and technologists.

Labor cost has relevant impact and recently the lack of labor is beginning a serious issue. At the same time product quality is not more a key selling point but a mandatory prerequisite to sell the product. Finally, resource usage optimization is strategic both for budget and the green new deal.

Farmers know that very well and for sure they can add more challenges for the agriculture in the current age.

Can super sophisticated robots take care of growing plants? Is it possible to calculate and provide optimal quantity of water, nutrients and herbicide? Can the robot harvest food from the field, pick only ripe ones, select good vs bad, sort out by size or class… ?

That’s precision agriculture! For sure one of the big trends in these last years. A lot of research institutes and several start-ups are investing their efforts in this field.

Technology and robotics are more robust and affordable at the date. Artificial Intelligence is the enabler for concrete applications operating in real (uncontrolled) environment such as open fields.

Nothing new in my introduction. It’s quite common if you are used to read articles from farming or robotics… the one is underling challenges and difficulties the other is announcing amazing technology to solve everyone problems.

Some questions come to my mind:

  • Do farmers and start-uppers have same expectations, timing, budgets?
  • How far they are?
  • Do they talk same language and understand each other?

As Computer Science Engineer focused on computer vision, I’ve special eye in smart agriculture and AI.

Product and process innovation is my job. As Field Application Engineer, I meet enthusiast start-uppers with “disruptive idea” in the pocket every day. I meet big company who looks at cost-benefit and handles with care frictions in the dynamic of changes.

My farmer friends aren’t lucky, size of the farm and landscape are key factor in smart agriculture but is still interesting to listen how farmers perceive technologist!

From my perspective the big challenges are

  • What is needed to bring farmers and application scientist on the same page?
  • How to enable real business on both side?
  • Is smart agriculture smart enough to use all the data precision system can provide?

An effective and smooth adoption of smart agriculture seems unavoidable. I’ll try to add my small contribute to the discussion with further articles.

Precision Agriculture vs Smart Farming is the corner key where to start the discussion.

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