Field drones and cow sensors: Why farmers rely on digitization

Agriculture is particularly far ahead when it comes to digitization. Eight out of ten farms in Germany already use digital technology. And the interest in doing more is very high. The fact that digital agricultural technology sometimes raises new problems, such as the greater influence of manufacturers, does not change that much.

In a representative survey by the IT industry association Bitkom 500 farmers in Germany were asked about digitalization in March. Together with Till Meinel, Vice President of the German Agricultural Society (DLG), Bitkom CEO Bernhard Rohleder presented the results. “The study underscores the experiences of the German Agricultural Society with hard facts,” says Meinel. “The agricultural industry mainly sees opportunities when it comes to the use of digitization.”

Some farms are already tracking in real time whether the dairy cows are doing well while the livestock is being traded digitally. GPS-controlled agricultural machinery is the most widespread. The sharing of data is also accompanied very positively.

There are tangible reasons for the high pressure to innovate: animal feed and fertilizers are becoming more and more expensive, and the heat and drought caused by climate change are affecting farmers. Farmers expect more efficiency and savings from the technology in order to withstand the cost pressure. The technology also makes it possible to meet increasingly stringent environmental and animal husbandry requirements.

58 percent of those surveyed already use GPS-controlled agricultural machinery. 24 percent plan to switch to it. There is a great deal of interest in artificial intelligence and big data, for example for the selective treatment of weeds. Only 14 percent currently use it, but 59 percent are interested. Field robots – they already have 3 percent, they want 30 percent –, intelligent feeding systems, milking and barn robots, and sensor technology are also in great demand.

78 percent of those surveyed see digitization as an opportunity and 14 percent as a risk. It is striking that the smaller the farmed land, the more skepticism prevails. Meinel explains this by saying that the advantages of digitization have an even greater impact on larger agricultural companies. In addition, the high investments are harder for small businesses to manage.

Graphic: Which technologies farmers are already using

Graphic: Which technologies farmers are already using

500 farmers in Germany were asked which technology they are already using or what they are planning.

Among the obstacles, the farmers in the survey mainly named the high investment costs (83 percent), followed by concerns about more bureaucracy (65 percent) and insufficient interfaces (58 percent). Other factors include poor internet access, concerns about losing data sovereignty, a lack of digital skills and concerns about IT security.

With digital technology, agricultural machinery manufacturers are also becoming more powerful. “There are always attempts by the big manufacturers to implement their own company strategy through hardware and software compatibility,” confirmed Meinel when asked by heise online. However, he doubts whether the legislature can get the problem under control. In addition to digital repair manuals, some of which are not generally accessible, there is also a lack of know-how among agricultural machinery dealers. It is also difficult to combine tractors and attachments from different manufacturers, as is common in Germany. Manufacturers’ options became clear when, at the end of April, stolen agricultural machinery from Ukraine was remotely blocked.

However, the high willingness to invest compared to the economy as a whole could also lead to new problems. 17 percent are already planning to invest in digitization. 43 percent are still considering. “The great demand for an expansion will be a challenge in times of interrupted supply chains,” says Rohleder. In addition, the state has a duty to further expand mobile communications and broadband in rural areas. “Without infrastructure, we won’t be able to exploit the potential,” warns Meinel.


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