Sowing the seeds for a high-tech farming future
Advanced technology expertise could help make Irish agribusiness more productive and sustainable
Ireland’s opportunity lies not just in the export of food products, but in information technology expertise in this area.
The point where technology and agriculture meet is not limited to farm machinery. There is far more going on in this sector, which last year accounted for about 11 per cent of Ireland’s exports.
Bringing Irish agribusiness together with advanced technology expertise “is exactly what needs to be happening with our food and drinks industry,” Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said at a meeting last week for industry specialists at IBM’s Dublin campus.
Technology can make the fast-growing sector more productive, efficient and sustainable, he noted, which will be increasingly important in a highly competitive industry. Ireland exports 85 per cent of its agricultural production, with much opportunity still ahead. Over the past year, exports to China alone have increased by 40 per cent, and Coveney said he expected China to become the second-most important market for Irish agri-food exports after the UK.
Ireland’s opportunity lies not just in the export of food products, but in information technology expertise in this area. “As exciting as [the growth in new markets] is the opportunity for Ireland to produce and sell the systems as well as the food,” Coveney said.
Ireland has already led in some front-running areas of technology. Beef farmers here were the first in the world to have in place a national DNA tracing scheme. But big data and analytics are expected to have a significant impact in many other ways on agribusiness worldwide, such as becoming tools that can be used to boost crop yields, according to Susan Davies of IBM Global Services.
Role of social media
Drones and satellite images are useful for remotely viewing fields. Even social media has a potential role, Davies said. For one IBM customer, analysing Twitter posts and blogs enabled them to do market research in 10 per cent of the time – three months rather than three years.
Mobile devices can be used in a variety of ways, for accessing information or recording and submitting it to a database. Consider that of the 7.1 billion people on the planet, six billion have access to mobiles, said Paul Davey of IBM’s Irish software group. The explosion in apps will affect agriculture just as it has many other business sectors, he said.
It is not just consumer-oriented apps but the business-to-business area that is taking off. Davey said he believed agribusiness was perfectly poised to take advantage of apps.
The sector would not have had instantly obvious uses for apps compared to an industry such as banking, which began to provide consumer apps early on.
“You don’t always want to be a first-mover. If you’re a first-mover, you can waste a lot of resources,” Davey said.
Agribusiness can come to the area now with a more considered approach. He pointed to one Irish customer, a large agribusiness company, that was using IBM-developed apps in a number of ways.
One app enables a group of managers globally to make large financial transactions instantly. Another app is used for cheese grading. Grading with a “d”, and not a “t”, Davey laughed – a homophone confusion that initially threw him when he was told about the app.
“Cheese is a living thing and goes through different stages of development. The cheesemakers need to report back on the status of each cheese, and now they have an app that lets them send this data back,” he said.