ForumforAg Food Systems Podcast Summary

Food Systems Podcast 31

In discussion with Matija Zulj Podcast summary

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021

Digital technologies are crucial to sustainability

In our latest podcast, we hear about the impact of smart technologies on farmers, sustainable agriculture and consumers. While they can be a cost burden to farmers, they also promise big rises in profitability, according to Matija Zulj, Founder and CEO of Agrivi, which provides digital agriculture services. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 20-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

Digital technologies seem to rely heavily on farmers knowing how to use computers at an advanced level and having high-speed data access. How does this work out in practice, especially with smaller farmers?

Farmers are even now using smartphones on a daily basis to read what’s happening in their region. They have the devices needed, they have connectivity – even if there are problems in some areas – and we can see adoption of digital technologies taking off. The market is ripe for more adoption.

What about broader services that require soil sensors, advanced machinery or other more capital intensive inputs? Will there be a gap between farms that can afford them and smaller farms that lag behind?

There is a gap at the moment, and some farms need help to lift the burden of the cost of technology. For example, food companies provide technology, both to help farmers adopt it and to secure the sustainability of their supply chains. Input companies also cover the cost of technology. And in a lot of countries there are also subsidies for technology adoption.

Will digital services financially benefit farmers – or will farmers end up paying for them, and not improving their income?

It needs to be a win-win situation. For example, by vertically integrating the supply chain, food companies are trying to bring know-how to farmers to help them deliver the desired quality. If we look from a consumer perspective, if we want to eat healthy, nutritious, safe food, with rising standards, there needs to be cooperation between the stakeholders.

Your experience shows farmers can increase their profitability by between 50-100% percent in the first two years of using digital agriculture. How does that work?

If the profit margin is low, achieving a 50-100% increase is not that hard. It’s about timely agronomic practices and doing the best possible things to protect your crops. For instance, on average, farmers lose 20-40% of yields because of late or inadequate crop protection. Our technology provides early risk warnings of pests and disease so farmers can take timely measures.

If many farmers in one geographical area apply these technologies and gain better yields, won’t that flood the market?

If you vastly increase the supply and there’s no extra demand the price would go down. The key is improving collaboration in the ecosystem so that farmers address actual demand – so they grow what’s needed, not what they think is needed.

Many voices say that industrialized, mechanized, modern farming is de facto harmful to communities and the environment. Can software and connected hardware overcome these concerns, or are we refining a system that fundamentally doesn’t work?

Digital technologies are crucial for achieving sustainability. They are the fastest way to provide tailor-made advice that serves all the food safety and sustainability standards.

In 5 years’ time, what will be the most used digital technologies in agriculture?

Digital software will have a faster penetration than a lot of hardware simply because it’s less cost intensive. We will also see more and more automated solutions, robotics, simply because of the lack of labour.

If you could give one policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

Making traceability obligatory. This would impact directly on applications of inputs that at the moment are disrupting our health and our planet. As consumers we could more easily choose the products that are sustainably grown.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 20-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

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