The Networked Farms Are New Tools for Digitizing Agriculture

High-tech production is the newest trend in the dynamically developing agribusiness and digital revolution is changing its face. Agriculture is an important part of any society: it is the origin of the vast majority of food, which compose the essentials of human existence. Having analyzed the most noticeable technological trends in agrarian industry, experts have concluded that IT technologies will be its main driver in the near future.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that more and more startups are attempting to grow vegetables in warehouses and cargo containers, where automatic sensors can monitor the light, humidity and temperature of the soil. These innovators hope to change the entire vegetable-growing industry and enter the market with better, fresher and cheaper products that would overtake traditional agricultural products, which are very dependent on outdoor conditions.

It is no surprise that businessmen and global agricultural companies invest in such projects. To reduce costs, more and more global food manufacturers are paying attention to monitoring and optimizing processes. For example, Masayoshi Son, the richest businessman in Japan, has already invested $200 million in the creation of the Plenty smart-farm complex, which is capable of increasing yields 530 times over conventional fields. He was joined by Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board of directors of Alphabet, and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos, who also invested in the project.

There are also interesting developments in Russia. For example, Russian scientists have recently presented a unique technology for growing plants which will make it possible to fully replace import by local product. One of these smart strawberry farms has been built in Novosibirsk where, according to Siberian climatologists, the sun shines 70 days a year at most. The state-of-the art portobello mushrooms growing and packing facility Mushroom Rainbow in Kursk region built by developer Alexander Udodov is practically unique in Russia.

Since Russia introduced embargo of agricultural goods against the EU, mushroom cultivation has become one of the most promising domestic food markets as the share of imports had reached 85%. In addition, Russia consumed less portobellos than, for example, Western Europe. Although in recent years the industry has shown steady growth—in 2016 the market capacity was 44,000 t of mushrooms per year, in 2017 it was 46,200 t, and the share of Russian production increased from 30 to 52%—demand still exceeds supply. According to Alexander Udodov, owner of Mushroom Rainbow, Russia’s leading producer of fresh portobellos, one reason for this is that mushroom cultivation is one of the most high-tech productions in agriculture. The uniqueness of Mushroom Rainbow is that the complex production of organic compost and mushrooms on the same Dutch technology used by leading world producers is concentrated in one place. Such integration is rare for Russia.

Modern technologies offer a lot of attractive opportunities to optimize resources and increase the productivity of agricultural land. However, the introduction of smart technologies requires significant investments, and few are willing to take the leap. For example, New York–based BrightFarms postponed plans to build their farms due to high costs. Even Alphabet abandoned its own project for growing crops indoors in 2015 because it did not reach the planned energy-efficiency target.