As part of the Barbican’s major summer exhibition AI: More than Human, the Connected Food panel brought together industry experts to discuss food production and farming, and how we will grow, harvest and distribute food in the near future. As part of the panel, Lindsay Suddon Chief Strategy Office at Proagrica, one of the leading global providers of integrated digital connectivity solutions for the agriculture industry made a strong call for improved connectivity in the industry in order to drive increased value and productivity.
“Data means absolutely nothing unless you have the means to ingest and analyze that data, compare it with other data, and come up with actionable insights,” said Mr Suddon. “Farming is increasingly producing a lot of data… however, you often find that what’s then being done with that data is very little, if anything. In itself, data is useless. You need the platforms through which data can be transformed into real insights that drive the valuable increases in compliance, productivity and profitability.”
In his responses, Mr Suddon addressed a key factor that has continuously undermined agribusinesses’ attempts to implement their own technological solutions: it’s simply not their strong point. “A lot of agribusinesses have spent quite a lot of money over the past few years coming up with their own data platforms,” he said. “A lot of the time that’s really been a bit of a distraction from their core business function. I think they’ve made a classic mistake in many instances of trying to create proprietary solutions and burning a lot of time and money doing it. Many are waking up to the fact that this is an unnecessary and costly distraction.”
Every link in the supply chain from manufacturers through to farmers stands to benefit from an industry that is connected and dynamic in their use of data. For farmers, this means a more informed and reliable supply chain behind them, in addition to the valuable data insights that help them to be more compliant, efficient, and profitable.
In particular, this will also help alleviate some of the pressures relating to climate change, making the required drastic structural shifts more accessible to the industry. For many agribusinesses, the will exists to mitigate the effects of climate change, but the solutions are out of reach. With complete insight into one’s own business practices and infrastructure – or, at the farming end, a firmer and more precise form of agriculture that lessens waste and boosts yields these are made accessible and intuitive.
“Look at the drought affecting farmers in New South Wales,” said Mr Suddon. “Look at what happened to the farmers in the Mid-West of the United States with the frost and wet weather that just wouldn’t go away. We’ve got to actually start thinking in larger ways, understanding from a wide array of data sources what ‘good’ looks like and using an understanding of what happened during certain seasonal conditions in the past to instruct our predictive analytics and make more responsive and effective decisions.”
At its heart as summed up by the chair, John Oswald the debate focused on three main issues facing the agriculture industry. Firstly, agribusinesses usually don’t fully understand the value of the data they produce every day, primarily because the mechanisms by which to understand that value have largely been unavailable until recent years. Secondly, every party in the supply chain has certain responsibilities to one another, but those are often defined too vaguely and without robust systems to ensure all parties meet their obligations. Lastly, the concept of food production encompasses a lot more than we commonly believe: it’s soil, it’s climate, it’s water, it’s energy, it’s culture. We can forget the complexity of it. Whatever happens in agriculture, we need a solution ready to face those large implications.