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Digital farming: Could Farmville become real world?

A screenshot from the game Farmville (image from Wikipedia)

Are you a farmer? An engineer? A scientist? An agronomist?

Chances are that if you are reading this then you could be one of those, but the next decade will see a new cohort of job opportunities, with different descriptions, requirements and probably requiring no experience of the industry.

While the existing skills and experience around crop and livestock management will always be vital, agriculture and horticulture are needing completely new roles beyond the traditional, leading to the urgent need for insourcing of new skills into the industry.

It is a widely held view that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

Some of the biggest companies in the world – Apple, Google, Uber, Microsoft, AirBnB – are relative newcomers and their disruptive impact is also spilling over into agriculture.

Already we are seeing start-ups describing themselves as “Amazon for agriculture” or “Uber for Farming” – demonstrating the familiarity with which we can rapidly understand a business model or approach, by comparisons with business success from other sectors. As large agri-businesses are starting to reflect on their traditional business models, entirely new roles are being created to maintain market share.

For example, Bayer has a Head of Digital Farming. Quantitative agronomists are in high demand. Drone pilots are a commonplace part of the decision-support ecosystem on farms. And if you are an expert in Distributed Ledger Technology, many businesses in the agri-food supply chain may well be interested in a conversation.

Hackathon attracted newcomers with new solutions

The teams at the sudo grow hackathon get startedOur recent hackathon was a shining example of how people with different skills are poised for recruitment into the industry.

Around 50% of participants were new to agriculture, having deep technical backgrounds in coding, data analysis, software management or electronics. These people are likely to see their future working in a technology company, but the ability to attract these people into agriculture is arguably a deal-breaker to ensure “agri-tech” delivers on its anticipated potential.

The narrative almost sells itself. We gave hackathon participants “48 hours to feed the world” – an admittedly over-ambitious mission, designed for dramatic effect. But the interest and intensity in working out how to automate weed identification, model the weather or remotely manage crop production was overwhelming.

In addition, the passion of the teams to help make the lives of farmers easier and more cost -effective, while protecting the environment, was clear to see. The hackathon outputs showed what is achievable in even a short time when excellent people from disparate backgrounds focus their considerable skills on a new challenge.

So it’s time for a change

For years the industry has bemoaned that “unattractiveness” of agriculture to young people – using words like “cold, wet, muddy, low-skilled, boring” to describe the perception of the industry, especially among young people. But agriculture is now competing with other global industries to recruit smart people with the skills to do the jobs we haven’t even thought of yet, to disrupt and drive the industry into the 21st Century.

Agriculture can be muddy and cold in some parts of the world. But low-skilled and boring? Not any more.