Thursday, August 4, 2016

Challenges in the digital transformation of Greek agriculture (and the role of Smart Farming)

I have to admit that despite my agronomic studies (PhD in Agricultural Biotechnology), I was not familiar with the concept of digital farming and I was only recently introduced to smart farming. On the other hand, I had a pretty long experience in agricultural data - referring to data produced in an agricultural context or used for improving agriculture. I recently found myself working for NEUROPUBLIC, a Greek SME that is designing and developing smart farming services - and smart farming makes use of various types of data for providing informed advice to farmers. Bingo!

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But what are some of the benefits of smart farming (in general)? Here’s an indicative list:
  1. Minimizing the production costs through the calculated and rationalized application of inputs (irrigation, fertilization and crop protection) as well as the necessary labour cost (through better management and reduction of specific agricultural activities).
  2. Improved quality and increased production yields through the optimization of the inputs.Improved competitiveness of the agricultural products in the global market through the reduced production cost, the improved quality and the standardization of the processes (which allow for traceability).
  3. The minimization of inputs’ application allow the produce to meet the strict criteria defined not only at EC level, but also from specific wholesale buyers, such as large retailers (who usually set even higher standards).
  4. Contribution to the improvement of the local ecosystem’s and environment’s quality through the rationalized application of inputs as well as water conservation (referring to the water needed for irrigation - which may amount up to 70% of total water consumption). 
Agriculture is probably the most important sector in Greece in terms of exports' value; at the same time, Greek farmers do not seem to be eager to adopt modern farming approaches - for various reasons:
  1. Low income: The high cost of the investment required for introducing technological advances in farming (e.g. for smart farming) is prohibitive for Greek farmers, most of which are smallholders.
  2. High fragmentation of agricultural land: Agricultural parcels in Greece are highly fragmented and farmers usually own remotely located fields, a fact that does not favor the application of traditional smart farming approaches which show their real potential in huge, homogeneous farms.
  3. Low adaptation rate: The majority of Greek farmers (as the rest of the European ones) are elderly and therefore tend to follow traditional approaches in farming, inherited from father to son. They are hard to follow technological advances and they trust their own, proven cultivation practices. (however, recent reports show that a new wave of educated people is engaged in farming, therefore this situations seems to be changing for the better).
  4. Lack of education: Greek farmers are not fully aware of the advantages of the adoption of smart farming and they directly make the connection between the smart farming concept and huge, hi-tech tractors and other agricultural machinery equipped with GPS sensors, screens and antennas, running up and down huge, monotonous fields (a view that is far from the typical Greek farm).
  5. Lack of motivation: Greek farmers do not feel the urge to adopt new approaches. For example, policies developed for the application of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Greece seem to be on the “safe side” and promote traditional farming approaches instead of “pushing” farmers to explore and adopt modern ones.
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NEUROPUBLIC is currently working on changing this situation and revolutionizing Greek farming, by introducing smart farming services that are adapted to the specific needs of Greek farmers and making them accessible to them in terms of cost.