Agri Megatrends: Tech remains the biggest disruptor in 2019

by | Jan 9, 2019 | Lifestyle, Blog, Wineland

Several factors influence the overall sustainability of food and agricultural around the world. We identify the megatrends that are predicted to shape the global (and local) agricultural landscape in 2019 and beyond.

The United Kingdom Food and Agriculture Association estimates the world population will have increased by 47% to 9.8 billion by 2050. To sustain this population growth the production in agriculture must double in the next 30 years.

“Global population growth is expected to continue on an upward trend, while arable land is progressively diminishing and weather patterns are becoming less predictable,” Absa senior agricultural economist Wessel Lemmer says.

The World Government Summit, in collaboration with global consultation firm Oliver Wyman, recently published a report titled Agriculture 4.0 – The Future of Farming Technology that addresses the four main factors that are putting pressure on agriculture to meet the demands of the future.

These are demographics, scarcity of natural resources, climate change and food waste. The report states that although demand is continuously growing, by 2050 we’ll need to produce 70% more food than at present. Meanwhile agriculture’s share of global GDP has shrunk to just under 3%. About 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and 8% of the global population (650 million) will be undernourished by 2030.

There’s nothing to indicate that food scarcity and hunger won’t be an issue in the coming decades. To meet these challenges requires a concerted effort by governments, investors, innovative agricultural technologies and future generations.

The key answer to the food security threat that future generations face lies in harnessing the latest technologies and inputs to create an environment that supports optimal food production, Wessel says. “This, coupled with the use of advanced agricultural skills and innovative ways of using information or data, should help our children remain productive.”

The future of farming

The great technology boom is impacting various industries as we speak, and agriculture is no exception. Farming in the future will no longer depend on applying water, fertilisers and pesticides uniformly across entire fields, Matthieu De Clercq, a partner at Oliver Wyman, says. “Instead, producers will use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas. Farms and agricultural operations will have to be run very differently, primarily due to advancements in technology such as sensors, devices, machines and information technology.”

Future agriculture will use sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images and GPS technology. These advanced devices, precision agriculture and robotic systems will allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.

New techniques needed

The Oliver Wyman report identifies various ways producers can grow crops differently using new techniques such as hydroponics, algae feedstock, desert agriculture and seawater farming.

Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, is the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Sundrop, a company based in Australia, has developed hydroponics seawater technology that combines solar power, desalination and agriculture to grow vegetables in any region. This system is sustainable, doesn’t rely on fossil fuels, drawing energy from the sun instead, and doesn’t require land.

Algae farmed in aquaculture sites can become a substitute for feedstock and fishmeal. The cost of farming algae in most locations is R5 700 to R8 600/metric ton, which is 60% to 70% less than fishmeal, which can cost up to R25 000 per ton.

“To tackle the food crisis we must turn the world’s deserts and oceans into food production facilities,” Matthieu says. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of desert agriculture research. Researchers are working on both biotic and abiotic technology to manipulate biological systems, plant growth and development as well as growth regulators that improve plants’ response to adverse conditions. “Given that harvest losses by drought, salt and heat amount to about 60% of total productivity, improving abiotic stress tolerance is key to crop improvement,” Matthieu says.

Agriculture megatrends

Daniel Monchuk, an agricultural economist at the World Bank, has identified four emerging megatrends in global agriculture to watch. They are:

Agriculture it
Big data is already embedded in agriculture, but we’re seeing the need for apps to support the decision-making process. “Lots of applications are emerging to help producers be more efficient by providing personalised information on watering, use of chemicals, seed placement, weather and even soil type,” Daniel says. “Apps such as CropX and Hortau optimise production, controlling water utilisation and yield for example.”

Low-cost aquaponics
Aquaponics is a new way of producing vegetables by growing them in nutrient-rich water rather than soil and where the naturally produced waste from fish and vegetables work in a circular balance. “It also means pollution is drastically reduced as there is no soil erosion and no need for harsh insecticides,” Daniel says. “It’s a mutually balanced ecosystem that provides great yields of fast-growing organic produce.”

Biotech in seeds and biocontrols 
Research on plant genomics, plant pests and agronomy has led to an increase in biotechnology applications and alternatives. The quality of heat-resistant seeds for tomatoes, rice and cucumbers is improving and the seeds are more readily available from commercial growers. “Biocontrol is improving at an incredible rate,” Daniel says. “It already makes up 60% of our pest-control market and if the sector progresses rapidly, we could make it 100% within the next two to three years.” With more legislation on chemicals (neonicotinoids were banned in some European countries last year) the research is focusing on biological organisms to tackle weeds and insects.

Small Mechanisation
Small mechanisation is another megatrend waiting to happen. “Labour is often a constraint in developing countries and reducing labour needs for smallholder producers has a major effect on their income as they can manage more land,” Daniel says. The availability of adapted technology to smallholder producers is increasing annually. Drip irrigation was adapted a few years ago, small pumps make a huge difference and in Cambodia for instance, weeders may become widespread this year as labour tends to be concentrated around weeding and land preparation.

After the drought

In South Africa, and the Western Cape in particular, the drought and a weakened rand had a significant impact on the gross production value of agriculture last year. WineLand spoke to Cleide Tinga, research analyst at BMi Research, and Gerrit Badenhorst, director of sales and marketing at Rolfes Agri, about what’s in store for agriculture in 2019.

Cleide Tinga, Research analyst at BMi Research

WL: Despite the economy’s poor performance, the wine industry has yielded positive volume growth. What are the reasons behind this?

CT: Wine exports saw a surge in volume and the international demand for wine has grown tremendously over the past few years. The weak rand exchange rate against other currencies made export more attractive for local producers. Europe also experienced a poor harvest which led to an increase in imported wine from South Africa.

WL: What other external factors can impact agriculture in 2019?

CT: Politically the uncertainty around legislation for land redistribution may impact agriculture in 2019. Producers are uncertain whether their farms will be expropriated and therefore may limit their investments.

WL: At a time when consumers are looking for products that will stretch their budget, how important is this for the wine industry?

CT: Consumers are looking for products that will offer them value for money and pricing has become a very important deciding factor. In the wine industry pricing has a limited effect. Higher LSM consumers will continue to buy expensive wine, whereas some middle LSM consumers will shift to buying cheaper wine. We can expect an increase in bulk and bag-in-box wine purchasing.


Gerrit Badenhorst, director of sales and marketing at Rolfes Agri,

WL: What notable trends do you foresee for the global and local agriculture landscapes in 2019?

GB: Globally, the agriculture market is in a big change cycle when it comes to technology and practices for growing crops. Technology is making a big difference in the approach to farming and will influence the markets and specifically crops. Locally, technology is also having a significant impact. More data is being gathered on each crop and practices are being adapted to increase yield from smaller planting areas.

WL: Has the recent drought in the Western Cape made producers think smarter about water management and farming practices?

GB: Yes, it’s definitely had a big impact. Producers have learnt to make their limited water resources go further. This has led to more accurate usage measurement and better optimal application of resources. Planting enhanced crops and developing new solutions for optimising the usage of resources such as water will continue into the future.

WL: What other trends specifically related to winemaking and grape production will have an impact in 2019?

GB: One of the major changes in the wine industry is the fact that so many producers are trying to add to the value chain. Instead of selling their produce to a co-op, they’ll bottle and market the wine themselves.

The future in numbers

9.8-10 billion: Predicted world population by 2050.
70%: Increase in food production based on the spike in population growth.
25%: Global farmland already rated as highly degraded.
$1 trillion (R14.2 trillion)
Investment necessary until 2050 for irrigation water management in developing countries alone.

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