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Agriculture, one of the oldest and most fundamental occupations of mankind, has always been exposed to risks such as fires, floods, drought, frost, hail and locust plagues, to name a few.

“Today, however, climate change, an increase in the frequency of weather-related events, the increase in cyber attacks, changing consumer behaviour and food safety also play a significant role in agriculture risk management,” says Liza de Beer from Old Mutual Insure: Retail Business.

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This, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing pressure on farmers and the agricultural sector to provide food for an ever-growing world population, intensifies the need for risk management in a changing environment.

“We believe that a strong focus, not only on risk management but also on smart agriculture technology, can help the agricultural industry to overcome many of the challenges it faces,” adds Liza.

Blockchain technology in agriculture

“Currently, there is an increased focus on supply chain and food system vulnerability. We are seeing an increase in the use of blockchain technology, which enables farmers and the agricultural industry to get a transparent, secure and trustworthy look at the supply chain,” says Liza.

This is an important development, as more and more consumers want to know exactly where their food comes from and how and where it was produced, stored and shipped. This traceability is useful for product tracking, demand and supply management, and to comply with the industry’s quality standards.

Robotics can boost productivity

The technology involved in drones, as well as aerial and satellite imagery has been around for several years. This technology continues to evolve. For example, satellite imagery can provide a fairly accurate view of topography, soil conditions and water flow to manage soil erosion, among other things.

Agricultural robots can be used for repetitive tasks such as sorting, packing, weed control, pruning, thinning and harvesting. Today, people around the world receive parcels delivered by robots, and farmers are adopting similar technology for agriculture. Moreover, this technology is expected to have a significant impact on the dairy industry.

“We already see the appearance of various applications such as fruit picking, crop-spraying and de-weeding robots. It is expected that the use of agricultural robots will quadruple by 2025.

“The technology differentiates between crops and weeds by using deep-learning algorithms similar to facial recognition. It reduces the application rate by as much as 77%, lowering costs while also improving environmental impact,” explains Liza.

Adopting conservation practices

There is strong focus on regenerative agriculture by adopting conservation practices. Water conservation will likely grow in the coming years, based on previous water scarcity periods that have had major implications for farmers and their production levels in several regions of the country.

“At the same time, the heavy rains since the beginning of the year and the devastation caused is another reminder that climate change is driving unpredictable weather patterns,” says Liza.

The focus on sustainable farming is intensifying. This includes practices aimed at reversing the effects of climate change by restoring depleted soil and embracing low or no-till practices. Conservation tillage and crop rotation also help to reverse these effects.

“To further ensure food security, we can expect an increase in indoor vertical farming this year, such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, as arable land is negatively affected by climate change and other factors.”

Smart agriculture in the future

Smart agriculture aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of products, while optimising the human labour required for production, will enable farmers to do more with less. It will also enable them to digitise their operations (from water technology to maintaining and restoring soil), and to protect the environment for future generations.

“The global smart agricultural market is driven by both an increase in demand for agricultural productivity and rapid technological development around the world, and we will surely see a further adoption of this fast-evolving smart agriculture technology this year,” concludes Liza.

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This article is intended to provide information, and not any advice. Old Mutual Insure Limited is a licensed FSP and non-life insurer.