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Smart Agriffod: the ingredients for innovation

PoliMi Observatory: "In 2020 the 4.0 agriculture market in Italy is worth 540 million Euros, + 20%"

The Covid19 emergency has severely stressed the Italian agri-food sector, decreasing the availability of labor, increasing the pressure on distribution logistics, reducing sales in the Horeca channel and consumer confidence. These difficulties, especially during the first lockdown, also slowed down the Agriculture 4.0 market, which however picked up again in the second half of the year, reaching a value of 540 million euros in 2020 (approximately 4% of the global market ) and registering a growth of 20% compared to the previous year, in line with the pre-pandemic trend. Spending is driven by precision agriculture solutions, tools to support field activities, such as monitoring and control systems for vehicles and equipment (36% of the market), and connected machinery (30%).

There are 538 4.0 agriculture solutions available for the agricultural sector in Italy (over 100 more than in 2019), which mainly use Data Analytics systems, processing platforms or software and the Internet of Things, and are applied in the cultivation phases, sowing and harvesting of products in various sectors, among which fruit and vegetables, wine and cereals emerge. As many as 60% of farms use at least one digital solution, and 38% use two or more, but only 3-4% of the agricultural area is cultivated with 4.0 tools, a sign that the market has yet to express a large part of its potential.

Digital is increasingly present also in the field of food traceability, with 157 solutions. Technologies for the collection, enhancement and sharing of data along the supply chain are advancing, such as Mobile solutions (+ 65% compared to 2019), advanced data analysis (+ 57%) and processing platforms (+60 %). The growth of the Blockchain continues, present in 18% of traceability solutions (+ 59%), albeit at a slower pace than in 2019. These are the results of the research carried out by the Smart Agrifood observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano and the Rise laboratory (Research & Innovation for Smart Enterprises) of the University of Brescia, presented during the online conference “Smart Agrifood: sharing and information, the ingredients for innovation”. The Italian Agriculture 4.0 market is driven by manufacturers of agricultural and auxiliary machinery, responsible for 73% of turnover, followed by suppliers of IT solutions and advanced technologies (especially Internet of Things) with a 17% share. The solutions that attract the most investments are those for monitoring and controlling agricultural vehicles and equipment (36% of the market) and related machinery (30%). 13% of expenditure is concentrated in management software, systems for remote monitoring of crops and land cover 8%, 5% is represented by decision support systems, 4% by solutions for crop mapping and land, 2% from robots for field activities.

There are 538 4.0 solutions dedicated to open field crops, of which 79% designed to help farms in the cultivation phase, 45% during sowing, 35% in harvesting and 16% in the planning phase. The most numerous are the solutions that can be used in different sectors (61%), while among the instruments applicable to specific sectors, those for fruit and vegetables (17%), wine (17%) and cereals (16%) prevail. The technologies on which the solutions focus are mainly Data & Analytics (73%), platforms and processing software (68%) and Internet of Things (54%, + 4%), followed by the latest generation devices (46%) , mobility and geolocation (38%), vehicles and connected equipment (25%), Cloud (19%, + 10%) and Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (12%). Most of these tools are used in remote land mapping and monitoring (41%), in the analysis of environmental and land factors (33%), in the monitoring of machinery and equipment (23%) and in water management ( 19%).

In addition to farms, food processing companies are also open to innovation and experimentation with 4.0 solutions, even if still often linked to basic technologies. 87% of the 135 companies analyzed by the observatory apply or experiment with at least one digital technology, mainly in distribution and production processes, among which supplier and warehouse management software (75%) and portable devices (57%) stand out. However, there is no shortage of realities that focus on more innovative technologies: above all Data Analytics (19% apply them, 9% experiment them), Cloud (18% and 10%), IoT (16% and 10%), Advanced Automation (13% and 3%) and Blockchain (2% and 6%). Companies use digital solutions mainly to make production processes more efficient (52%), reduce the distance with the consumer (47%) and improve logistics management and traceability (45%). 85% of the sample intends to invest in 4.0 tools within the next three years, especially in Mobile solutions (54%), management software for suppliers and warehouse (43%), Data Analytics (33%) and Blockchain (18%).

Food traceability is one of the areas in which companies are most using digital (89% of the sample), which generates the greatest benefits for the sector and at the top of investment preferences. There are 157 digital solutions for food traceability offered by 125 companies, equally divided between traditional tools (such as management systems or highly specific vertical software for batch traceability) and innovative ones. The importance of platforms (30% of solutions) for sharing supply chain data emerges, up by over 60% compared to the previous year. Among the innovative technologies, mobile technology leads (present in 25% of solutions), which is also the fastest growing (+ 65%), followed by Blockchain (+ 59%), Data Analytics (+ 57%) and IoT ( + 47%). The agri-food sector is confirmed as the third sector for the number of Blockchain projects at an international level, equal to 7% of the 1,242 mapped initiatives, even if only 31% are pilot projects and just 8% are truly operational initiatives, against 61 % of ads. Companies experiment with Blockchain for commercial and marketing reasons (in 61% of cases), to improve the efficiency of the supply chain (45%) and for greater environmental and social sustainability (24%). Raw material producers are involved in 81% of projects, but they are promoters only in 3% of cases, while 23% are initiated by distribution companies and 20% by processing companies.

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