Digital Transformation of Agriculture after 2020

Digital Transformation of Agriculture after 2020

YANG,CHAO-WEI(China Productivity Center Local Revitalization Business Group)

Impact of Global Climate Change and Covid-19 on Agriculture

According to the latest estimates by the UN, economic recession caused by the Covid-19 has added at least 83 million undernourished people in 2020 so the total number of people in long-term starvation could reach 132 million. Because of the pandemic, small-scale farmers may be limited in their time and ability of farming, attending to the livestock, fishing, trading in the agricultural market, etc., and they may also face livelihood problems of the rising food prices and limited consumer purchasing power. An FAO survey in Afghanistan stated that the output of grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products has reduced by 50%. The capture fisheries and aquaculture industries suffer substantial loss by the reduction agricultural product prices as a result of the restrictions on transportation and logistics, border closures, and reduced demand for the food and beverage industries. Prices of major crop items like rice and corn, fruit and meat have not undergone drastic changes, but fresh vegetables on local are the mainstream products of local agriculture.

Global climate change is volatile. Taiwan suffered a strong cold front in 2016, which caused agriculture and fisheries losses of nearly 2.5 billion NT dollars. In 2020, for the first time in 56 years, there is no typhoon heating Taiwan. Despite the regional storms in Taipei, Keelung and Ilan, which even caused a large-scale landslide on the Taiwan Railway system (Ruifang Section) and suspended the eastern line for 10 days, the precipitation concentrated in reservoirs in the northern area whereas the central and southern reservoirs were faced with the alarms of drought. Irrigation for rice paddies in the first season of 2021 has been suspended in central and southern Taiwan (Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Chiayi and Tainan) as announced by the Council of Agriculture. This is an immediate problem faced by the agriculture. In 2018, Taiwan’s food self-sufficiency rate was 34.6%, which suggests 65 % of the food has to be imported. On top of that, there are the problems of the aging farmers, the declining birthrate, and the small scale farming, etc., which all make it an urgent issue to consider how to use technologies to reduce agricultural risks and costs.

Diffusion of the Dynamics of Smart Agriculture

In 2017, the Council of Agriculture launched the smart agriculture programs with the themes of "smart production" and "digital service." The idea is to integrate the concepts of people, things and environment, optimizing human resources, smart technologies, and industrial environment. The targeted R&D needs and intelligent technologies are incorporated into top 10 leading industries. With the gaps in the production, manufacturing, storage, and sales carefully taken account of, through the analysis of sensing, Internet of Things, intelligence and big data, intelligent equipment, machines and tools are quickly introduced through technical service providers to improve the overall agricultural production efficiency and capacity.

In 2020, the launch of the 5G application has accelerated and deepened the smart agriculture technologies. The Council of Agriculture completed the flat-land RTK positioning system across Taiwan at the end of the year. The "Uber of Agri-machinery (農機Uber)" APP platform has integrated people like farming agents, farmers in possession of large farming machinery, and operators with agricultural drone spraying licenses, which will largely increase the utilization of large agricultural machinery and drones. In the annual agricultural fair, many innovative agricultural products and services are displayed, such as intelligent environmental control facilities, image recognition technologies, agriculture drone pesticide spraying services (植保機代噴服務), unmanned vehicles, labor-saving assistive devices, robots for five labor lines of dairy cattle farm, and multi-axis robotic arm applications. Some operators even have the data collected from the field integrated with the consumer data for a comprehensive and precision analysis and decision making. This will certainly lead to fruitful results in the near future.

Digital Upgrading and Industrial Transformation

The introduction of smart agricultural equipment/facilities is also showing an M-type polarized situation. Large agricultural enterprises have sufficient resources and manpower to adopt equipment, but smart farmers may find that an unattainable goal. The high technology standards, high cost, and the long time required for cost recovery simply discourage small farmers. Mr. Chen, Deputy Minister of the Council of Agriculture proposed the "Smart Agri-management Alliance" approach. In this alliance, agricultural enterprises with more resources serve as the core of the alliance, which directly connects with the contract farmers on the production end and links to the processing and marketing channels on the circulation end. The information of the production and marketing chain can be integrated in a virtual situation room, where the operators work on the smart agricultural common information platform built by the Taiwan Agriculture Research Institute to make strategic decisions on the cloud system. It is a hierarchical control system, in which the division of labor is practiced, where small farmers focus on the field work to ensure the yield and quality of the products and to use IoT to connect to the upstream and downstream information of the Smart Agri-management Alliance. On the other hand, the enterprise owner manages on the platform to improve the overall productivity using the digital tools.

For small farms, the Council of Agriculture has developed free digital applications such as Farm Helper (田邊好幫手), e-farming (農務e把抓), and Nong Lai Ji (農來記). Farmers can use their mobile phones to keep track of the farming work, keep accounts, and monitor the daily farming information like the volume and the price, which has largely met the needs of farmers in farm management and cost analysis. Agricultural research and extensions stations all over Taiwan provide disease and insect diagnosis services. Farmers need only to send the pictures of the pests in the social media platforms to receive professional diagnosis and remedial suggestions by experts. To further strengthen the capabilities of smart agriculture, farmers can join the Smart Farmer Development Program (智耕農養成計畫) at National Taiwan University and other basic and advanced intelligent agriculture courses offered by the Farmers’ Academy.

In addition to the resources of different scales made available to agricultural enterprises and small farmers, a smart agricultural R&D diffusion project is also launched this year. It is hoped that through technical service providers, the R&D results of the previous three years can be introduced to the field of smart agriculture, so that, on one hand, the needs of farmers can be satisfied, and, on the other hand, the development of commercial products can be accelerated to prepare for the turn-key transfer of Taiwan’s smart agriculture. It is hoped that in the near future, consumers will be able to enjoy the vision of smart agriculture--safe, efficient, and low risk. Farmers in Taiwan can make triple amount of money by achieving double productivity with only one share of labor.