Outlook 2020: Is This the Year for Precision Agriculture?

Meister Media Worldwide
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Bringing together some of the smartest minds of the agriculture world in Southeast Asia, Meister Media Worldwide’s first-ever Precision Application Asia event in Bangkok, Thailand, in November served as a powerful platform for value chain creation and exchange of ideas around the tools of agriculture’s third revolution — ag tech — especially for the millions of smallholders across Southeast Asia.

The event moved forward one of the most important conversations in agriculture today: how precision agriculture is affecting the application of seed, fertilizers, water, and crop protection products, and how to capitalize on this evolution.

The end goal is shared by all: scalable, sustainable development.

Presenters and attendees took advantage of superb networking opportunities at the event and examined in interactive, multidisciplinary sessions how data is driving new application methods. Think drones, variable-rate application, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered spot application, and new formulations of crop inputs. All are poised to help improve food security and livelihoods in the region and address critical issues like climate change and soil degradation.

“We’ve hit an inflection point where agriculture technology will dramatically increase yields in developing agriculture economies like many in Asia, and it’s because we’re experiencing a third revolution in modern agriculture that combines the benefits of the previous two, mechanization and the Green Revolution,” said David Frabotta, Meister Media Worldwide’s Editorial Market Development Director. “Through farm data that creates better decision support from service providers and agronomists, smallholders in Asia have the potential to leapfrog over 100 years of agriculture technology that was previously unavailable to them … but it won’t happen overnight. It requires a value chain to develop around existing agronomic systems in a way that integrates seamlessly into local paradigms.”

Other takeaways from Precision Application Asia include:

Real-world use studies: Summer Deng, Sales Director with DJI Agriculture, the world’s top drone manufacturer, explored real-world use studies and partnerships with local service providers. “This year more than 80% of rice grown in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province was sprayed by drone, so it has already repressed tractors and manual sprayers. In Thailand there are 10 million hectares of rice fields, which is one-third the size of China’s, so I think the market potential in Thailand is huge,” Deng said.

Disruption’s role in value chain creation and how existing channels must evolve: Paul Voutier, Director of Knowledge and Innovation, Grow Asia, shared that the challenge for agritechnology disruption in ASEAN lies in cost, which is often too high for a small rice farm in western Sumatra that makes $2,000 in annual revenue, for example. Voutier described five digital business models that have emerged, including peer-to-peer digital lending. “ASEAN farmers pay 50% to 100% annual interest rates on fertilizer and crop protection inputs they buy. This is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs in ag.”

Untapped opportunities: Markus Scherer, Consulting Director, IPSOS Business Consulting, examined the role of drones in agriculture and country case studies. Agriculture drones can conserve 20% to 60% of crop protection chemicals and be 40 to 60 times more efficient than manual labor. “In China there is a very relaxed viewpoint of how and when agriculture drones are able to be used. They are testing night flights as well as multi-flight drone options, so that’s a gamechanger in terms of attractiveness of using drones.”

Regulatory challenges and opportunities: Bjoern Roepke, Head of Regulatory and Product Safety, Bayer Crop Science, discussed the keys to get public buy-in for drone adoption: establishing civil aviation law and ensuring safe operation. Asia lags far behind the West on effective land use; the continent also has persistent labor shortages and worker exposure issues — all of which drones address. “In one operator exposure study in Malaysia, where the operator was doing the mixing and loading, the drone was shown to be more than 100 times safer than backpack application,” he said, stressing that disseminating such information on drone safety to regulators is crucial.

More than drones: Tong Wei, Global Cooperation Director, XAG, explained how companies are evolving from pure hardware manufacturers to multi-faceted ag companies, by providing prescriptions and compiling data to deploy predictive analytics. XAG cooperates with financial institutions and insurance companies by tracing chemical use, predicting how much a farm will earn, and evaluating losses, which in turn give farmers, notably in China, greater opportunities to secure financing and recover losses.

Rethinking adjuvant-nozzle interactions: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for adjuvant formulations and nozzle combinations used in new application methods, which can influence drift and deposition. A commonly used combination is half-rate water with a TT nozzle, which greatly reduces drift but impacts coverage. “The human eye can see objects down to approximately 100 microns without magnification. People don’t worry about things they cannot see,” said Fernando Lopez, Agro Asia Pacific Lead, Lamberti But they cannot ignore driftable fines when it comes to drones — more research is required to find a balance between coverage and on-target formulation properties.

Government initiatives spur precision developments: Wanlapa Nunual, Senior Investment Promotion Officer for Agriculture Industries, Thailand Board of Investment, shared insight into the Thai government’s new economic model, “Thailand 4.0.” Agriculture is vital to the Thai economy, contributing more than 10% to its GDP. ASEAN countries are investing in agriculture infrastructure through business incubators and development initiatives aimed at creating sustainable, scalable services to primarily smallholder farmers, including its Smart Farm lending facility.

Outlook 2020: Is This the Year for Precision Agriculture?