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Key considerations: AgriTech for your agriculture business

Home Agriculture Key considerations: AgriTech for your agriculture business

By Estelle Lubbe – Co-Founder and CXO of The Awareness Company

TECHNOLOGY continues to transform industries globally as the trend towards digitising operations to enhance efficiency continues. According to Oxford Business Group’s Agriculture Africa Report 2021, the sector contributes around 15% of the continent’s GDP and employs a significant number of people. Technology can play a significant role in streamlining agricultural operations across the value chain to enable efficiencies, maximise yields and contribute to food security on the continent, but there are several considerations to take into account.

There are some very important questions that an agricultural business must answer before procuring technology. It is critical to first determine whether your farming business is ready for technology and what your technology strategy is. It is also essential to have a clear idea of what you would like to improve with the technology, whether you have the budget and how this will disrupt your business. Ensuring that you have overall buy-in from all the decision-makers of your business is crucial, otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Another key consideration is whether you have a good, stable internet connection on your farm. Most technology today utilises the internet in some way, whether it is to operate or analyse the data generated by the technology. Connectivity is therefore imperative to the success of next-generation agriculture technologies, regardless of whether your goal is to increase productivity, increase your processes, reduce your input, improve access to market or a combination of these. Low power wide areas (LP-WAN) networks such as LoRA and Sigfox, allow sensors to send tiny packages of information frequently and the batteries used in these devices can easily last for years, making them excellent for agricultural use cases. However, these networks and devices have pros and cons of their own. To ensure you get the best return on your investment, before investing in rolling out one of these networks, it is important to consider future technology plans, including what devices you may deploy in time and whether you can access them on your mobile phone. In an ideal world, you would want a combination of one of these and a GSM network to ensure that you can choose the best device to solve your problem.

A farm might also require electricity for the solution depending on what type of solution is deployed, which means consideration needs to be given regarding the different options around available solar or generators as well as future maintenance requirements and taking the security of the equipment into account.

The next big part of an AgriTech deployment is the adoption of both the technology and the processes that come with it. It is important to understand what type of skills will be required which will necessitate upskilling employees, giving them insight into the value the technology will bring to the farm and, in turn, to them.

It can be difficult to determine the return on investment (ROI), which is why setting goals and objectives upfront is crucial. You need metrics that can be accurately measured such as process and employee efficiency, crop quality improvement, money and time savings, as well as how long you will benefit from the technology and increasing your environmental sustainability as a farm through reduced water consumption.

The costliest mistakes made in the process of procuring AgriTech lie in not doing adequate research, therefore the initial research is imperative. Once you have identified the outputs you are after and determined your ROI goals, it becomes a lot easier to identify potential solutions and service providers. Ask for demonstrations and testimonials, so that you can understand the technical capabilities of your suppliers, and check that you will have access to local support for any hardware and software you implement. Ensure the technology is simple enough to use so that it doesn’t detract from your core business and make sure any peripherals required, such as replacement batteries are readily available and at what cost.

Start small and scale from there and ask for advice from your peers. Test the technology you would like to deploy on one or two use cases and build on it from there. You might also think your problem is very linear and unique, but the chances are that someone else has also encountered the same problem. Also, ask the technology companies that you are engaging with for advice. Even if their solutions do not solve your problem directly, they can give you a third-party perspective and point you in the right direction to find the most suitable solution.

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