At this point in time, it is clear that the world is undergoing a digital transformation. This transformation is showing up in just about every area of life- including the sources of the food we eat. Does running a farm sound simple to you? Think again. Although some may have stereotypes in their heads about farmers and doubt their role in the digital transformation, farming operations having been using complex technological solutions and data analytics for tasks like food safety and labor management for years. In fact, the AgTech market was valued at $9,096.4 million worldwide in 2020, and is projected to grow to $22,573.9 million by 2025 (Statista).
Historically, farmers have used paper to keep track of employees, and although the FDA has realized the importance of food safety since the passing of the “Meat Inspection Act” in 1906, the more recent “Food Safety and Modernization Act” passed in 2011 placed much more emphasis on this issue (FDA). Additionally, multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks have been highly publicized in recent years, and can result in a huge loss of revenue as well as a damaged reputation for growers. In addition to the guidelines set by the FDA, farming operations also have to beware of guidelines from Global G.A.P., FSMA, USDA, HACCP… you get the picture. AgTech companies have been able to tap into the need for increased food safety standards and ditching the use of paper for labor-management through their dynamic software programs.
“How exactly is software being used?”, you might ask. Great question. All of these food safety regulations that farmers have to keep track of are done by way of compliance documentation. Before selling their products, farmers must show that this documentation has been completed and that their food is up to safety standards. For example, crops are checked to ensure that no pests have reached them. AgTech companies have not only been able to digitize this documentation, but many have made use of dashboards, real-time data, and data analytics to keep farmers informed about the happenings of their operations. These tools allow for automatic alerts to resolve issues and allow them to be dealt with immediately. One of the biggest advantages of these software options is audit readiness. Audits are a stressful time for farmers, and software programs help to centralize all the data that the auditor needs and take a lot of the pressure off of the farmer.
On the topic of regulations, there are certain labor laws in place about worker training and pay. AgTech companies have tools such as flagging suspected payroll errors, which can prevent issues related to over/under-paying employees and labor violations (assuming, of course, that no actual violation was committed, simply time clock errors). In some situations, farm employees are paid by productivity rate, and AgTech companies help to ensure that they are fully compensated for their hard work. Although it may seem counterintuitive, many of these field workers are not incredibly tech-savvy. While many AgTech companies have created mobile apps to ensure that employees are able to record and report food safety/time clock information in the field, many have also made sure that the UI is simple enough for almost anyone to understand.
AgTech is a very interesting and unexpected place for technological advancements to exist, but it is further proof of the digital revolution that we are experiencing. In a period of just a few years, we can anticipate that many more farming operations will make the digital switch and the AgTech market will not only grow in relevance, but in value as well.
Author: Olyvia Dibsie