Future Harvest: Data-driven technology is the next frontier of agriculture

The time to invest and plan for the future of farming is upon us. Banner image: Shutterstock/Fit Ztudio
Future Harvest: Data-driven technology is the next frontier of agriculture
The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.






As the world grapples with the seismic challenges of food production, energy supply and climate change, data-driven digital technologies and solutions can readily support societies and industries at this critical juncture.

Feeding an ever-growing global population, while safeguarding valuable natural resources, requires accelerated and sustainable innovation.

While digitally innovative approaches to agriculture have transformed the sector in certain regions, more long-standing and conventional practices are still dominant in many parts of the world. In these areas, educational and infrastructure issues create obstacles for the adoption of advanced agricultural technologies. If we can address these challenges through advanced machine-learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, the power of data, and a deeper understanding of the small landholder, inefficiencies and future challenges can easily be identified and addressed.

Resistance to progress within the agri-food sector is an issue holding back digital transformation, but not the core challenge. Rather, rurally-based production still suffers from lacking ICT infrastructure across the globe. Communities can no longer wait for incremental change: the world must enable holistic access to IT resources through high-speed internet connection. 

Governments around the globe are responsible for supporting the production of quality food at the volumes needed by growing world populations, while managing energy consumption and rebuilding farmland ecology. Therefore, increasing rural ICT coverage areas while maintaining affordable access pricing has never been more essential.

Only through reliable connectivity are key data insights unearthed

Innovative technology has already been proven to effectively address labour needs, supply management and logistical challenges in a variety of industries; the same could be applied to agriculture at every scale. By embracing a digital transformation, short-term challenges could be mitigated, and independent, stable and sustainable food generation nearly guaranteed for the long term.

It’s time to think about data collection, and how to leverage that data for critical insights and actionable guidance.

Crop, soil and resources monitoring are key approaches to help make farming more efficient and easier on the environment. They enable more targeted usage of pest management inputs, water and other field supplements. Crop and soil sensors also enable farmers to “see” soil composition and fertility, and help determine the best crops to grow in a given location.

Policy Action in Agriculture: Providing solutions from plate to planet by Marion Jansen, Director, Trade and Agriculture Directorate, OECD

Unique innovations are also being developed for livestock agriculture. Animal husbandry researchers use FitBit-like devices to monitor cows’ daily lives, including where they go (and for how long), how much they eat as well as other metrics that continuously track animal health, while identifying anomalies to make informed animal health decisions. The information gathered from this technology is not used to flag sick or injured animals, but it can also support rotational grazing strategies to maintain healthy pastures.

The agriculture industry can benefit from learning from other public sector practices and their digital innovation. For example, the European Health Data Space initiative marks a new era for data co-operation across the continent. The new platform will play a revolutionary and critical role in ensuring health data remains uniform across countries and manufacturers to address broader issues like disease, industry trends and supply intelligence, while providing a significant boost for research and development.

Yet, in critical regions and for critical sectors, insufficient network infrastructure and an absence of data storage systems keep digital transformation out of reach.

It’s time to think about data collection, and how to leverage that data for critical insights and actionable guidance.

The power of digital and data

As the global climate changes, the agricultural sector is feeling its effects. Crucial operational changes to produce smarter solutions and reduce environmental impact have never been more important. Data collection and effective analysis are essential to maintain stable food stores for future generations.

While other, more internet-connected industries have long been successful at reducing carbon footprints by utilising Internet of Things sensors to monitor energy consumption, waste and emissions, global food production still has much to achieve.

By the end of the decade, enhanced connectivity in agriculture could add more than USD 500 billion to global GDP, a critical productivity improvement of 7–9% for the industry. Connectivity is a simple, crucial factor to unlocking this potential growth, but an upfront cost of roughly USD 10,000 per mile of rural fibre optic cable makes many government and industry actors apprehensive to absorb the staggering short-term expense. And, while conventional agriculture operations stand to gain access to advanced tools, connectivity also empowers entirely new, increasingly efficient approaches to farming. 

Once novel techniques, like vertical, drone or autonomous farming, can track and measure mundane details like grain silo volumes closer still. These technologies will offer cutting-edge opportunities, such as automating machinery upkeep through monitoring the status of individual parts, reordering damaged components and scheduling repair technicians. These upgrades will reduce down-time while minimising crop waste due to equipment failure.

With 76% of farmers in the United Kingdom now exploring high-tech equipment use on their farms, industrial intention to evolve is apparent. Yet, until their operations are sufficiently connected and supported, forward progress will be slow. 

A future secured by energy, food and technology

As societies gain access to increasingly technical tools, governments’ roles in maintaining stability also becomes more complex. In parallel, forward-thinking leaders around the world are finding abundant opportunities to affect meaningful improvements in agriculture.

In addition to providing infrastructure and capital to elevate the agricultural industry, government decision and policy makers must also ensure data gathered from ever-increasing sensor output remains standardised, open, and easily accessible.

Long forming the backbone of societies, farms are being steadily surrounded from all sides by hazard. Pushed to the brink, the industry must soon evolve or face dire circumstances.

A country with energy, food and technology secured is more than primed not only to exist in the future, but also to thrive. By leveraging the mass potential of data and digital technologies, the agriculture sector can meet some of the greatest challenges facing industry, and future-proof its processes and services for the long term. The time to invest and plan for the future of farming is upon us.





Read the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031 for data, country reviews and further OECD work on trade and agriculture!

Find out more about the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031

Read the OECD report Digital Opportunities for Better Agricultural Policies for an examination on how to overcome information gaps and asymmetries, lower policy-related transaction costs, and enable people with different preferences and incentives to work better together.

Read the OECD report Digital Opportunities for Better Agricultural Policies for an examination on how to overcome information gaps and asymmetries, lower policy-related transaction costs, and enable people with different preferences and incentives to work better together.