As in most industries, digital technology is a formidable lever for innovation in agriculture. But, perhaps more than elsewhere, it appears as a response to questions that are as urgent as they are fundamental.
The various agricultural sectors now face several challenges, each capable of undermining the current state of balance for decades, even centuries: to produce the quantities and quality required to feed the world; to conserve soils, natural resources, biodiversity and safeguard people’s health; to limit global warming and adapt to it; and to promote the role played by farmers and increase employment in their sector. Common to these problems is that they call for a re-examination of farming practices, formed of organized channels and routes for increasing recovery and distribution. Data can provide a decisive contribution.
From drones to satellites, from cameras to sensors, in recent years, technology has developed, providing the means to know the exact composition of soil, the state of plant development or the location of agricultural machinery. Operators have access to every last detail in all aspects of their business and can use this information to better control their operations. However, the agricultural sector has, as yet, only scratched the surface of this data flow. With the power and flexibility of new analytical and cognitive tools, farmers will finally be able to access the full value of this resource. The knowledge and understanding provided by amassing and processing information from various sources and of different types would immediately allow them to refine their practices and adapt to the new economic, regulatory, social and environmental needs of their profession.
Precision farming is the first to benefit from advanced analytics. Thanks to images from the new Sentinel-2 Earth observation satellite, farmers can improve their farming practices, especially in terms of utilization rates of raw materials. This example also illustrates how platforms revolutionize established roles and business models, as in this case, with the disintermediation of advice made available to operators without the intervention of a cooperative or group. The importance of platforms in the restructuring of sectors and value chains has been identified, in particular, in the Agriculture-Innovation 2025 report, which calls for the creation of a large, open national agricultural data portal. Acta – the network of French Agricultural Technical Institutes – and ACAP – Association of Chambers for Agriculture in the Pyrénées – have also initiated a movement with API-Agro* which includes data from the Agricultural Technical Institute (ITA).
Data analytics can also contribute to the development of new crop models reconciling economic and environmental constraints. This is the case of the Lyonnaise Urban Farm in Lyon (Ferme Urbaine Lyonnaise, FUL), a high-tech culture unit that Atos helped to implement. Bristling with sensors, furnished with robotic tools and steered by data, this laboratory-cum-greenhouse autonomously provides ideal conditions for plant development. This innovative tool gives users the opportunity to plan the creation of high-performance, high-quality farms in urban areas, and develop ultra-short distribution channels.
Finally, data analytics are naturally still a privileged means of agricultural research. Atos is a global advocate for high-performance computing, as it is essential to, just as an example, the work of genotyping and the selection of varieties that will be capable of solving future food and climate crises.
All these projects show, however, that technology is still just a tool. So that the world of agriculture can make full use of it, and so that applications and innovative services that will concretely address its challenges can emerge, it is essential for it to be an open and multidisciplinary ecosystem, a catalyst for innovation. This is the case of the Agreen Tech Valley that brings together actors in Orléans from all backgrounds and all agricultural and technological disciplines. Such initiative collectively aims to take a region, a country, into the future of agriculture.