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What is agri-tech?

Agri-tech, sometimes ag-tech, agtech or digital agriculture, is the application of technology and digital tools to farming. It encompasses a wide range of technologies, including automation, biotechnology, information monitoring and data analysis.

Agri-tech can be used to improve efficiency, increase yields, reduce costs and boost sustainability. It has become increasingly important in recent years as demand for food increases and climate change becomes an ever-present threat to food security.

Although most used in horticulture and agriculture, agri-tech is also used in forestry, aquaculture and by winemakers for viticulture.

Impact of agri-tech on agricultural production

Agri-tech is transforming the agriculture and farming industries, which support roughly 20% of U.S. economic activity, according to the 2023 "Feeding the Economy" report.

Agri-tech is used to explore new ways of working in agriculture and to improve existing practices. It can automate the physical labor involved in farming and agriculture, and use the information gained during farming to improve forecasting. Data analytics and machine learning are used to improve decision-making in the agricultural industry by analyzing large amounts of crop production data. The resulting insights are implemented in the field to create automated processes and refine them.

Efficient agricultural production has a positive impact on the environment, allowing farmers to implement sustainable practices that reduce their carbon footprints while increasing profits. Agri-tech can also help meet the food needs of a growing global population, which is projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, according to the UN's 2022 World Population Prospects.

What are examples of agricultural technology?

  • Precision monitoring. Satellite and drone imagery is used alongside other internet of things (IoT) sensors to monitor crop health and soil conditions. The data collected by these devices can be used to optimize irrigation schedules, predict weather patterns and digitize pest control.
  • Automated equipment. Modern tractors are highly automated and come with a range of features, such as GPS navigation, automated steering systems and hydraulic attachments. Autonomous tractors reduce the need for human labor and increase efficiency. Robotic equipment is also used for picking, monitoring and planting crops. For example, IronOx's crop-assisting mobile robots can be used to move over 1,000 pounds of product, navigate a grow space using on-board laser scanning and check the health of individual plants.
  • Smart greenhouses. Smart greenhouses help create the tightly controlled environment necessary for vertical farming, which conserves space, expands the grow season and produces higher crop yield in places that would otherwise not be suitable for growing plants. The containment of crops also helps eliminate the conflict between farmers and native species.
  • Livestock management. Livestock management systems use sensors and other technology to track the health of animals on farms. Automated milking systems allow cows to set their own milking schedules, which gives farmers more flexibility and allows cows to follow their own natural rhythms.
  • Supply chain management. Agricultural supply chain management focuses on the efficient integration of producers, suppliers, distributors and customers in the food production and distribution chain. Supply chain technologies such as blockchain, big data analysis and machine learning can help farmers, growers and manufacturers track their produce from farm to table. Better supply chain management leads to greater efficiency in resource use, reduced waste, more accurate forecasting and improved customer satisfaction.
  • Biotechnology. Biotechnology has been used to increase crop yields by giving plants traits that are beneficial for their growth and development. Genetic engineering can be used to create crops that are more resistant to pests, drought and other environmental stressors. New methods of breeding, such as marker-assisted selection, can help farmers select plants with desired characteristics. For example, plants can be genetically modified to produce higher yields or have improved nutrition values. Fertilizer can also be engineered. For example, agri-tech company Azotic replaces nitrogen fertilizers with nitrogen-fixing bacteria as a more environmentally friendly solution.

What are the benefits of agri-tech?

Agri-tech is revolutionizing the way food is produced, providing farmers with a range of benefits and advantages, including the following:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity of farming operations. Automated tools decrease resource usage. For instance, automated irrigation systems reduce water wastage by monitoring soil moisture levels using smart sensors, allowing for more precise water conservation and management.
  • Improved data acquisition and analysis. These capabilities allow for better decision-making and help farmers identify areas where they can improve their operations. This also helps them become more resilient in the face of climate change because they can accurately predict yield outcomes in advance or detect early signs of stress in crops before it becomes too late to take action.
  • Reduced labor costs and improved working conditions. Automated farm equipment decreases the amount of physical labor needed for a farm's operation, while increasing operational efficiency for farmers.
  • Lower environmental impact through precision farming practices. Precision farming methods produce higher yields while reducing environmental effects like emissions from agricultural machinery or pesticide runoff into rivers or groundwater sources. By using technology such as satellite imagery and remote sensor data to accurately map fields down to individual plants, farmers can apply fertilizer only where needed instead of blanket spraying whole fields. This leads to less fertilizer loss due to runoff and leaching into waterways throughout the growing season.
  • Greater awareness and transparency in the supply chain. Agri-tech provides greater transparency in the food system by providing real-time visibility into production processes from the farm until delivery at retail stores or restaurants. Transparency helps producers meet customer demands more efficiently while also providing better food traceability should any issues arise during transit or storage. It also helps ensure that consumers get accurate information about where their food comes from so that they can make informed buying decisions regarding sustainability concerns such as pesticides used during production.

What are the challenges of agri-tech?

Agri-tech may be a powerful tool for improving farming operations, but it is important to consider the potential drawbacks before investing in any agri-tech system. The challenges of agri-tech are as follows:

  • High startup and maintenance costs. The high costs of setting up and maintaining agri-tech systems can be prohibitive for some small farms. Even when farmers can initially afford the investment, maintaining agri-tech systems can be costly.
  • Potential for cyber attacks. Traditionally low-tech devices are connected to the internet through agri-tech, creating opportunities for hacking farm machinery like tractors, combines and cotton harvesters.
  • Lack of standardization. There is currently a lack of standardization, specifically standard data architecture, across agri-tech systems, making it difficult to compare products or transfer data between them. This also increases cybersecurity risk.
  • Overdependence on technological systems. For example, if an automated irrigation system fails without proper redundancy or recovery mechanisms, crops might suffer without anyone noticing until it's too late. Similarly, the need for regular maintenance and updates can add extra costs to running an agri-tech system.

Future of agri-tech

Farmers are willing to buy into agri-tech, but there are some barriers to adoption. According to a 2022 McKinsey survey, 43% of farmers were focused on trying new products to increase yield. If farmers can surmount the cost, security and standardization challenges of ag-tech, they can use it to mitigate climate change and food insecurity.

Precision agriculture, powered by artificial intelligence, smart sensors and data analytics, offers opportunities to transition to more efficient and sustainable food systems. A 2018 report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) named several technologies that could significantly improve food systems by 2030. Five years later, many of the technologies the WEF listed are already in use and changing agriculture, farming and food systems. The technologies include food sensing technologies for food safety, quality and traceability; IoT for supply chain transparency and traceability; blockchain-enabled traceability; and big data analytics.

Learn how AI makes agriculture more efficient by increasing visibility and minimizing risk.

Editor's note: The publisher has used AI technology in the creation of part of this content. The final text has been reviewed, fact-checked, edited and approved by TechTarget editors.

This was last updated in June 2023

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