Against the backdrop of the pandemic, AgriTech has steadily risen to the fore, as 2021 exposed global supply chain weakness and the urgent need to address climate change, triggering a shift in mindset with the way we grow our food. These technological advancements in a range of solutions are set to persist as Agritech entrepreneurs and investors will expect greater tech-driven innovation in the coming year. Light Science Technologies looks at the top five key AgriTech trends to watch out for in 2022.
Global growth in AgriTech
Indoor farming is being gradually rolled out across the globe, establishing greenhouses, vertical farms, polytunnels, aquaponics and other automated growing environments. If 2021 was the year of the Agritech boom, things are set to continue as global investment shows no signs of abating. In fact, the surface hasn’t even been scratched in terms of market potential, with plenty of untapped opportunity for technology and investors alike.
“Over the past five years, more than 3,000 AgriTech start-ups have entered the scene. However, their combined revenue was less than $100 million. This shows there’s room for more players in the sector as it’s impossible for anyone company to have a monopoly and effectively address all the challenges. This is good news for investors. There is potential for a 25-30 per cent growth in the AgriTech start-up segment by 2025,” said Nukul Upadhye, co-founder and CEO, Bijak.
Asia is just one of the international hotspots for growth, as too is the Middle East, where it is highly reliant on imports. Industry reports stated that AgriTech start-ups in India received around $1 billion between 2017 and 2020, with the country being the third largest receiver of AgriTech funding in the world. In the Middle East, start-up Pure Harvest Smart Farms which grows food in glasshouses in the UAE desert, will soon expand its operations to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, after securing $60 million in funding, and Abu Dhabi will host the new Aerofarms facility thanks to a share of a $150 million national investment pot. It is expected to open in the early part of 2022 and aims to grow lettuces, tomatoes and berries.
Efficient grow lighting and sensor technology
The anticipated sharp rise in energy costs will force farmers and growers to focus on the adoption of smart, efficient environment-friendly technology. This can be done in a variety of ways: a switch to LED grow lighting offers growers a more customizable and capable lighting solution, enabling them to control heat and light more effectively, reduce long-term costs, and offer a bespoke solution to match the specific needs of plants concerning crop type, climate, and available grow space. Sensor technology also allows growers to manage their environment with more precision, only using the resources they need, such as light at the right times and CO2. Sensors not only help indoor farmers conserve water and increase crop yield but avoid energy wastage, thus reducing costs while implementing more sustainable ways of agriculture.
IoT and optimized crop monitoring
The most prevalent trend is the Internet of Things (IoT), which enables farmers to better monitor the needs of crops. IoT technology negates the need for intensive labor, required for crop monitoring in traditional farming which is costly, while also providing an alternative solution to the current labor shortage, a critical problem faced by farmers. An IoT device contains one or more sensors that collect real-time data and gives accurate information remotely, monitoring temperature & humidity levels as well as plant tracking and much more. IoT sensors are also being used in irrigation systems for the automated delivery of water to crops.
The benefits of CEA
Indoor farming provides a feasible solution that increases food security and improves control over growing conditions, increasing yield potential and allowing for growing all year round. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is an area of enormous potential, driven by an urgent need to establish sustainable farming practices in the face of a burgeoning climate crisis, as well as land and food shortages. CEA methods also reduce pests and diseases, and different growing environments including vertical farming, greenhouses and polytunnels, among others. This means higher yields are produced using fewer resources and less carbon emissions. Indoor farming is also not reliant on weather being in a closed environment, something that is becoming increasingly more unpredictable and erratic as a result of climate change which is wreaking havoc on traditionally grown crops, through drought, extreme temperatures and floods.
AI driving AgriTech innovation
Advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are boosting prediction accuracy, offering real-time insights on weather events, crop classification, and diseases of plants, helping growers make informed decisions. AI algorithms can detect any crop irregularity or disease in plants, allowing timely detection and corrective response if required. Start-ups are unearthing more innovative solutions using AI to improve overall agricultural quality, such as harvest quality vision (HQV), a recent AgriTech innovation that scans and determines the color and size distribution of fruit and vegetables, significantly curbing time and cost. Another example of AI-powered technology benefiting growers is Planticus, an app that has been developed by Belgian start-up Ask Attis, providing plant disease and pest detection before possible crop damage occurs.
AgriTech’s advancement in robotics and automation
Automation in irrigation, farm machinery, and harvesting further ease farm operations, while minimizing losses. The new levels of efficiency afforded by automation are a solution to the increasing demand for food and a fast-growing global population. Customized, agricultural robots are assisting farmers with repetitive tasks such as fruit-picking, harvesting, planting, transplanting, spraying, seeding, weeding, revolutionizing agriculture. We’re seeing more deployment by farmers of smart agricultural machines, such as GPS-enabled autonomous and semi-autonomous tractors for harvesting. Robots offer improved overall productivity, prevent human-induced errors and reduce dependence on manual labor while providing convenience.