Agriculture is a pillar industry in many countries, providing livelihoods for more than 500 million small-scale farmers around the world. However, limited agronomic knowledge, difficult access to financing and weak risk management ability are seriously restricting agricultural productivity. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the disrupted transportation of agrochemical inputs while extreme weather resulted in risks to crop harvesting. In the next few decades, farmers will still face the adverse effects of rising global temperature on crop production. To secure food production and agricultural product supply and promote the adoption of information technology on crops and agricultural production, the development of digital agriculture, which is a new agricultural model, has become a focus of attention among many governments and major companies.
How can a more resilient, productive and sustainable agriculture and food supply system be shaped to better meet the needs of consumers? And how can the development of digital agriculture through joint efforts to draft a future blueprint of digital agriculture be achieved? Let us again look at the three multinationals - Bayer, BASF and Syngenta.
A tech giant adding higher value to digital platforms
Global warming is not a sudden and transient event, it is an urgent issue that will constantly affect our future lives. Agriculture and its related sectors account for 8.4% of carbon emission, which is the second largest emitting industry, next to the energy industry. How can the agricultural carbon footprint be reduced? It is an issue that all prime agricultural enterprises are thinking about, including Bayer.
Bayer launched a farmer-centric soil carbon sequestration program in Brazil and the United States (US) in 2020. In 2021, Bayer announced the European launch of its Global Carbon Initiative, which brings farmers and food value chain players together, to encourage farmers to adopt digital smart farming practices. For this practice, monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of activity logging would depend on backup digital tools. To support these operations, Bayer will develop a digital tool that allows farmers to claim rewards based on accurate and verified data. The MRV solution builds on Bayer’s industry-leading digital farming platform, Climate FieldView™.
Bayer has began implementing its global Carbon Initiative in the US. In December 2021, Bayer, Bushel and Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled Project Carbonview, which is a first-of-its-kind technology solution to help farmers track their carbon emissions across the entire supply chain, from planting through production, as well as to mitigate the impact of agriculture on the environment by aggregating the carbon footprint of end products. For farmers who opt into the program, Project Carbonview streamlines on-farm data collection with Bayer’s Climate FieldView™ application and connects it with delivery and transportation data captured from the 54,000 active US users of Bushel’s platform. Through the Climate FieldView™ platform, farmers can own their data and choose with whom to share it with. This will enable more informed purchasing decisions via the evaluation of impacts of various farming practices. US corn producers are the first pilot users of the program.
In addition, to further speed up the digitalization of agricultural production and food processing, in November 2011, Bayer entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft to build a new cloud-based digital tool and data science solution, which combines data-driven capacities, Bayer’s agronomic knowledge and Microsoft’s Azure function. This will offer a new infrastructure and basic capacity for agriculture and food processing, which will accelerate innovation, improve efficiency and support the sustainable development of the entire value chain.
Expanding to South Africa and Australia to support more farmers
In 2021, Bayer launched its industry-leading digital farming platform, Climate FieldView™ in Australia. In March, Climate FieldView was launched in South Africa for commercial application, marking a new milestone for the company as its expansion into the African continent. Until November 2021, Bayer’s digital platform was adopted on more than 180 million acres of cropland in more than 20 countries.
Although FieldView can improve farming decision-making and data collection as an independent tool, it is the most closely connected digital agricultural platform worldwide, connected currently to more than 60 platforms. In 2021, Bayer continued to attract partners for the platform. In February, Bayer cooperated with leading agrotechnical manufacturer Horsch in soliciting farmers worldwide to connect their Horsch seeding machine and farm tools to FieldView.
Introducing new ideas, enhancing the strength of digital tools
The products, xarvio™ SCOUTING, xarvio™ FIELD MANAGER and xarvio™ HEALTHY FIELDS, are BASF’s three core products under the digital platform, xarvio™. In 2021, Scouting introduced a new user interface, with a fresh design centered on improved user guidance and more intuitive picture taking. Its disease recognition ability has increased crop scope from 40 to 50 crops and from 200 to 400 disease and pests. Many important fruits and vegetables, including grapes, cucurbits and pomefruits, have also been added. Major improvements to weed detection and classification have also been delivered, increasing from 110 to more than 250 weed classes. In addition, crops, such as soybean, cotton and oilseed rape, will be added to the emergence analysis, and late last year, a comprehensive pest monitoring component was introduced.
In 2021, Field Manager was launched in five new markets, Italy, Russia, Lithuania, Japan and India, and was customized to suit local agronomic conditions. Furthermore, Field Manager has been extended to cater for all crops and calibrated for crop health monitoring. To achieve fast, safe and seamless data exchange between xarvio FIELD MANAGER and mechanical terminals, BASF launched a novel portable hardware device, xarvio™ CONNECT. This innovative new solution is being tested by delegated farmers in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine and the UK.
Moreover, BASF launched a free-of-charge xarvio® SCOUTING chatting robot, which focuses on the precise recognition of unknown weeds and diseases affecting 15 crops, including rice and potato, allowing farmers to receive agronomic advice quickly to support decision making.
To advance all the way, offering promotions to more users
BASF’s aims to provide farmers with better data and more thoughtful services that will optimize their crop production activities, which is why it has cooperated with various innovation-driven technology companies. Last year, BASF cooperated with Bosch and other technology-driven innovation companies in introducing more service providers and suppliers to support intelligent spraying, disease identification, pest monitoring and weather forecasting services, which are offered on a digital platform. This is a full reflection of BASF’s determined development and promotion of digital agricultural services. The following are BASF’s international collaborations in digital agriculture over the past year:
In March 2021, BASF cooperated with VanderSat in providing farmers with high quality, consistent, cloud-free biomass images, to enable the consistent monitoring of crop growth.
In June 2021, BASF cooperated with AGCO, Bosch and Raven in developing a targeted spraying technology. Coupled with AGCO’s application equipment expertise, Bosch offers capabilities in hardware, machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as in digital services, while Raven is committed to the improvement of sprayer efficacy and operational efficiencies.
In December 2021, BASF cooperated with John Deere, whose clients could use the xarvio platform to create a specific VRA map for sowing, fertilization, crop protection and plant growth regulation.
In June 2021, xarvio™ SCOUTING was integrated with AGvisorPRO, allowing Canadian farmers to make real-time contact to locally recognized agronomic advisors.
Pest disease monitoring and identification
In May 2021, BASF cooperated with Pessl in increasing fruit and vegetable yield through a combination of Pessl’s automatic pest trap, iSCOUT®, with the image identification and analytical functions of xarvio™.
In November 2021, data from METOS by Pessl Instruments and Sencrop were integrated, having expanded weather station device connectivity options for farmers.
In February 2021, BASF signed a global commercial agreement with Salient Predictions, Inc. (Salient) to provide customers with access to the world’s most accurate long-range, seasonal weather forecasting data.
In February 2021, BASF cooperated with Agrofy in the release of Xarvio Scouting to the Argentine market. When a crop problem is identified, the application will provide recommendations for herbicide, insecticide or fertilizer products, which can be purchased by farmers locally according to their brand preferences at the terms of payment they prefer.
Digital services being unified into the Cropwise platform
After the acquisition of the Eastern European digital platform, Cropio, in 2019, Syngenta could finally complete the consolidation of the platform in 2021, which is a key step in its global digitalization strategy. The Syngenta Group is taking the next step in its global digital strategy by unifying the company’s digital services under a single monolithic brand, the Cropwise platform. As part of this move, Cropio became Cropwise Operations, a best-in-class agricultural management system with enhanced functionality and easy and convenient integration with other Cropwise products, as well as offering considerable agronomic expertise.
Cropwise is a dynamic, flexible and extendable platform that integrates the mobile app Cropwise Spray Assist, Proximais, Cropwise Protector and Cropwise Seed Selector. Spray Assist helps in setting the field sprayer optimally and identifying the right application time. Last year, it was promoted for applications in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Proximais enables farmers to use photo recognition to identify weeds and choose the right herbicide. Cropwise Seed Selector allows users to tailor their seed portfolio based on geographic location, soil productivity, precipitation levels, historical crop stress and product performance by year and region. In October 2021, the tool was launched in the German market to help growers choose the right corn variety.
Cropwise Protector is Syngenta’s main and most complete technology, which was launched in June 2020. Brazil was the frontline of its application. The tool enables rapid operation and the end-to-end monitoring of crops. Based on monitoring data, it can create a map, graphics and analytical chart, which can offer advice on accurate and correct actions to reduce risks to crops and productivity.
Up to January 2022, Cropwise Protector has covered 4 million hectares of land in Brazil and other parts of the world. In Parana, the tool monitors 85,000 hectares of land, in cooperation with 20 stores of 10 local dealers, who provide technical support and services (by Control Certo) to farmers who do not have a technical team of their own. The dealers are mainly Coamo, Cocamar, Integrada and Intec.
Launch of MAP beSide™ farm gains trust from crop field through to meal table
The MAP digital agriculture has become a complete digital farming solution provider in the Chinese market. Last year, its land coverage and business volume increased significantly. Syngenta Group China’s MAP business income reached $900 million, three times the figure from the previous year. In the first half of 2021, the farmer-centric ecosystem grew rapidly in the Chinese market, with 87 new technical service centers being established. By the end of June, the technical service centers totaled 413 while collaborations were established with more than 200 business institutions.
To tackle the weakness of decentralized agricultural production and lack of technical guidance, MAP aims to shape a farmer-centric agrotechnical service platform to utilize digital farming in the crop field via services provided by offline services organizations, as said by Syngenta’s MAP brand officer Mao Feng, who said, “We used to sell pesticides, seeds and fertilizers. Today, as an agrotechnical service provider, what we sell are services and technology.”
Considering current consumption upgrading development and the existing gap in the supply of high-quality agricultural products, and backed by the superiorities of MAP and the leading digital agrotechnology and complete structure of MAP Zhinong, MAP Huinong and MAP Dashi, Syngenta Group China released its whole-course quality control and traceability brand, MAP beSide™ in the Chinese market, providing whole-course quality control and traceability services for planting and production covered by MAP applications. In July 2021, the first MAP beSide farm was launched in Hubei, which aims to further break through the upstream and downstream chain of the industrial chain using its standardized technology and digital program.
Last year, Syngenta Group China’s MAP beSide™ whole-course quality control and traceability system collaborated with prime agricultural companies, such as Goodfarmer, Yihaijiali and Chu’s Agriculture, to release farm products to the market, having explored the customization of the whole-course planting management program and whole-course traceability program. So far, the MAP beSide™ whole-course quality control and traceability system has served more than 37 product varieties, helping consumers to reach out directly to farms where their food originate, therefore, building trust in food production, from the crop field to the meal table, which can also increase the efficiency of the whole agricultural supply chain.
This article was initially published in AgroPages' 'Annual Review 2021' magazine.