Agri-tech trends for 2024: digital maturation and sustainable productivity

As the world-leading trade fair for agricultural machinery, Agritechnica is a good indicator of what the agri-tech sector is doing and where it’s going. Sagentia Innovation’s Alun James and Stefanie Settlin attended this year’s event in Hannover. Green productivity was the headline theme, but they also noted significant maturation of digital trends which have dominated previous events. Some of these will play a critical enabling role in sustainable agriculture.

Autonomy and digitalisation: from concepts to concrete examples

The last Agritechnica was held pre-pandemic. Back in 2019 there was a lot of chatter about future autonomous vehicles, but concrete examples were thin on the ground. This year, major agri-machinery companies like AGCOCNH and John Deere were showcasing large autonomous tractors. Consolidation is a common industry theme as major players look to extend and strengthen capabilities in this space. Having acquired JCI, AGCO formed a joint venture with Trimble’s agri-tech business and CNH bought Raven, known for its groundbreaking work in autonomous systems. John Deere has also continued its acquisition trail, adding Silicon Valley start-up Bear Flag Robotics to the fold.

Four years ago, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the use of data, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to make farmers’ lives easier. A host of software start-ups sought to capitalise on this, raising significant venture capital funding when interest rates were low and finance was cheap. However, many failed to engage with the farmer and the wider value chain. Securing the next round of finance requires demonstrable ROI, so weaker companies are now floundering. On the other hand, there’s been a wave of acquisitions, with major agribusinesses targeting the more successful smart farming start-ups and unlocking their route to the global agriculture market. This includes BASF’s acquisition of Horta, to strengthen its digital farming portfolio.

Smart farming promises more targeted use of resources including water, fertilizer, and plant protection products. Sensor technology plays a critical role, and machine learning enables better calculation of treatments to maximise yield while preserving resources and minimising environmental harm.

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