Hung, Chia Hung（China Productivity Center Smart Agriculture Promotion Department）
Agriculture is an important basic industry for national development and social stability, as it allows the human control of the natural resources and the supply for the demand of livelihood. With rapid social and economic changes, Taiwan is faced with problems like intensified climate change and shortage and aging of the rural labor force, which add to unprecedented challenges. Traditional agriculture has no alternative but to resort to incorporation of inter-sector technologies in the pursuit of upgrading and transformation.
With the evolution of the times, the continuous emergence of new technologies and the trend of cross-sector integration, the whole world is entering a new age of technological revolution, seeking the transformation of traditional industries, including agriculture, through integrated technologies. Application of new technologies is one important means to promote agricultural upgrading and transformation. For instance, the intelligent automated production system and big data are state of art technologies that can collect agricultural production conditions such as climate, soil, and crop status through environmental sensing and image recognition. The data thus obtained can be integrated with IoT technologies and automated agricultural machinery to form a collaborative farm management decision-making model, which can effectively solve problems such as risks of production, aging agricultural population, and labor shortages, and eventually lead to new opportunities for Taiwan's agriculture.
2.New impetus for industrial upgrading and transformation
In order to promote the innovation, upgrading and transformation of domestic agriculture, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has been promoting the "Smart Agriculture" technology guidelines since 2017 for the development of an agricultural production model that is different from the traditional labor-intensive model. Rather, the selection is based on the high demand for industrial upgrading, better opportunities for incorporation, competitive advantages, and the advantage of the turn-key transfer. Ten leading industries are selected by the COA, including orchids, plant seedlings, mushrooms, rice farming, agricultural facilities, main crops for export, marine fishery, aquaculture, poultry, and livestock. Intelligent technologies such as ICT, IoT, Big Data, AI, and imaging AI. A smart production, sales and digital service system are all incorporated through two major axes of "smart production" and "digital service".
With the efforts of COA and various academic experts, the "Smart Agriculture Project" has developed a number of smart technologies and facilities for agriculture, fishery, and livestock industries, such as environmental monitoring and disaster alarming, pest control, production and sales traceability systems, and technologies of biological physiology and quality testing. Machinery and tools from overseas are introduced to meet domestic industrial needs. Other diversified agricultural machinery, labor-saving intelligent, machine assistive devices, and UAV applications are studied and developed. During the promotion of the project, many technical service providers have also successively got engaged in the development and commercialization of smart agriculture technologies to provide practical and efficient solutions to farmers.
3.Mastering new cross-sector technologies to meet changes in agriculture
Based on industrial demand, availability, and competitive advantages, 10 leading industries are selected as key development areas. However, these industries, with different attributes, all have different problems that need to be solved. The mushroom industry, for instance, is troubled with insufficient manpower, low production efficiency, lack of equipment coordination, uneven qualities and other problems. There is urgent need to seek transformation on the production model in terms of field operation and facility design. Under the smart agriculture project, the smart temperature control system is used to monitor the mushroom growth environment, data are collected from the cultivation of bacteria, and the most suitable planting environment for each variety is studied. All these have become the exclusive technologies of the business operators. A variety of species have been developed, and the related technologies have been extended to the marketing channels. The production system developed allows managers to monitor the operation of the equipment and make quick response to abnormalities. The automated equipment has reduced the labor cost by 70%. As the human error probability is reduced, the rate of on-time shipment has reached 95%, the yield has increased to 99.5%, and the production capacity forecast accuracy has increased to 93%. This has helped reduce the inventory costs by 20-40%, and achieve the goals of high-yield, high-quality, energy-saving, and efficient operation.
The aquaculture industry has been faced with problems of over reliance on manpower and human experience, abnormal climate, and high unpredictability. The focus of development is on the sensing application to reduce the cost of labor and lower business risks. Under the smart agriculture project, aquaculture farms have adopted the aquarium bio-information image sensing technology to monitor fish conditions. Bait feeders are used to accurately feed and reduce residues. Automated fry catching devices are developed to reduce human movement in the pond that may damage the fish nests. Aquaculture operators, in collaboration with ICT operators, have started using sensor monitoring equipment with connection to the Internet of Things so as to automatically record data of the breeding environment and water quality, and provide real-time monitoring data graphs to the operators as early warnings to minimize losses. An expert system is developed to produce digital information of the production experience for decision making.
The business of animal husbandry also faces the problems of aging farmers and manpower shortage. The high-temperature and high-humidity working environment and the lack of complete production records also make it difficult to quickly analyze and interpret problems. An intelligent poultry house control system suitable for hot and humid environment has been developed, which incorporates the automatic temperature control box, the spray system, and information collection equipment. Breeding information is collected through IoT technology, and compiled into a big data system for analysis. There is a mobile device application (APP) set up so that farm operator remain informed of the breeding information at any time. The use of technological tools solves the operation problems of poultry houses and the multiple livestock farms in the same area. This helps improve the motivation of young people to engage in animal husbandry, and solve the problem of labor shortage, and facilitates decision making and traceability management to substantially save manpower and costs.
The COA has introduced smart agriculture in different points of the agricultural industry chain since 2017. The government's involvement in digital services has fueled the trend of cross-sector collaboration in smart agriculture. After more than four years of hard work, the use of smart technologies in agriculture has displayed preliminary effects and has increased the incentives for agricultural enterprises to further devote to the upgrading and transformation. The production processes are improved so farmers benefit from precision management and stable income. Agriculture is no longer a 365-days-a-year labor-intensive industry. The incorporation of smart agricultural technologies in Taiwan, such as smart machines, sensing technologies, Internet of Things, big data analysis and other pioneering technologies, allows farmers to save time and labor and do their job with ease and convenience. This will lead to a horizon of happy agriculture.
Looking at the future of agriculture, it will enter an era of efficiency, safety and risk control. It will also be an age of stable quantity, high quality, and convenience and efficiency. In the face of the global challenge of agricultural upgrading and stronger competition from overseas, Taiwan has no alternative but to continue the introduction and integration of smart technologies in order to have the production and marking digitized in a new intelligent model, as this will ensure the upgrading and transformation of agriculture, which will remain safe, secure and sustainable.