Emerging Technology for Application in the Agri-Food Sector

Written by Alvin Khoo, ADLSM

by Alvin Khoo, ADLSM

Emerging Technology for Application in the Agri-Food Sector

Written by Alvin Khoo, ADLSM

by Alvin Khoo, ADLSM

by Alvin Khoo, ADLSM

With a growing population, urbanization, climate change, consumers’ demands, and limited resources, it is crucial for us to make use of science and technology to change the way we grow, process, preserve and transport our food in a safe and sustainable method.

Agri-food is a complex industry, which is challenging to initiate changes as it includes a wide range of processes, operations, and roles as food travels from the farm to the fork. However, on the other hand, this also creates lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs and technologists to disrupt the industry and create new efficiencies with agri-food tech at various points of the value chain.

In this article, we will examine 4 key emerging technologies that are revolutionizing the Agri-Food sector:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) in the Agri-Food Sector
  • Robotics in the Agri-Food Sector
  • Biotechnology in the Agri-Food Sector
  • Vertical Farming in the Agri-Food Sector

Internet of Things (IoT) in the Agri-Food Sector

The Internet of Things is a network of physical devices that are inter-linked to communicate with each other via the internet, which are capable of reporting status or information of surroundings to increase food traceability, safety, and quality along each stage of the entire food supply chain processes.

Internet of Things (IoT) in the Agri-Food Sector

Picturetaken from CNet (2018)

Specific use of IoT applications in agriculture allows farmers to have better control or information through devices such as sensors, autonomous vehicles, automated hardware, control systems and drones.

Applications Purposes / Usages
Precision Farming • Sensing for soil moisture and nutrients.
• Controlling water usage for optimal plant growth.
• Determining custom fertilizer profiles based on soil chemistry
• Determining the optimal time to plant and harvest.
• Reporting weather conditions
Agricultural Drones • Crop health assessment
• Irrigation
• Crop monitoring & spraying
• Planting
• Soil and field analysis
Livestock Monitoring • Health data
• Location and movement data
Smart Greenhouses • Intelligent climate monitoring
• Climate controlling

Food companies also adopt IoT Technology to improve their factory operations to eliminate waste and unnecessary work through real-time monitoring, as well as analyzing and identify areas that might have potential problems.

Data Flair

Picture taken from Data Flair (2018)

Robotics in the Agri-Food Sector

An electro-mechanical device capable of performing tasks automatically without much human intervention, which is paramount importance for the survival of mankind to improve efficiency and food security in Agri-Food sector. The use of Robotics automation in the Agri-Food sector is essential to address competitive challenges by safeguarding future of the business and reducing the impact on environmental degradation.

The 3 Key Features of robotics in Agri-Food:

1. Hygiene

Food safety is importantly required so that our food and beverage products are untouched by humans to eliminate contamination under sterile, human-and-bacteria-free environment. Combining with sanitary design of robotic manipulators, vision systems and end-effectors or grippers to meet stringent requirements in food industry. Industrial detergents and pressurized hot water are used to thoroughly clean the robots’ grippers which are used for food handling application.

Hygiene

Picture extracted from Scielo (2017)

2. Productivity

Highly agile robotic structures and the incorporated control schemes with fast operational pick and place speeds help food companies to meet the demand to boost productivity in food preparation, handling and production. The use of robots has surpassed the operator-based manual production rate including warehouse activity of packing and palletizing process through programming standard payload specifications.

3. Workers’ safety

A stringent requirement for standardizing risk hazards in a whole new hybrid Human Robot Interaction (HRI) environment. Example, accessing hazard situations by robots using smart sensor integration and isolate the robot system from the human worker access completely with prevailing concept.

Applications Features
Pick and Place • Flexible gripper to handle very delicate foods, even individual lettuce leaves
• Delicate handling to avoid damage regardless of variable sizes and shapes, and place products onto trays, cartons or feeding of other machinery
Cutting and Slicing • Detecting and removing defect parts
• Uniform cutting shapes and sizes
Packing & Palletizing • Placing of the primary packed product into the secondary packaging which can be cases, trays, crates or shelf ready packaging
• Quick and efficient palletizing solutions and offer seamless integration into existing end of line production

Biotechnology in the Agri-Food Sector

Biotechnology is technology that utilizes biological systems, living organisms or parts of this to develop or create different products.

Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.

Purpose of biotech in agri-food industry is to increase the speed and precision with which scientists can improve food traits and production practices.

• Insect resistance
• Disease resistance
• Herbicide tolerance
• Altered nutritional profile
• Enhanced storage life

The first biotech application is Genetically Modified Food, which is a creation of entirely new strains of food animals and plants in order to better address biological and physiological needs. An example is genetically modified and inject antifreeze genes from a cold-water fish, the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectesamericanus) into tomatoes to resist frost and freezing temperatures.

Such genetically engineered technology has been widely used in large-scale agricultural crops with at least 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold in the United States.

Another biotech application is In-Vitro Meat, also known as Cultured Meat, which is the manufacturing of meat products through “tissue-engineering” technology. Such application aims to have financial, health, animal welfare and environmental advantages over traditional meat.

Vertical Farming in the Agri-Food Sector

Vertical farming is the practice of growing produce in vertically stacked layers. The practice use soil, hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods via modern concept controlling humidity, temperature, irrigation, nutrients delivery, artificial lighting, etc.

Vertical farming is a revolutionary and more sustainable method of agriculture as it reduces the requirement of water through water recycling solution concept and also saves considerable space and soil as well as producing food in challenging environments, like where arable land is rare or unavailable.

Comparison Table for Vertical Farming

Advantages Challenges
1. Year-round crop production.
2. Higher yield per area.
3. No pesticides, no herbicides and no insects.
4. Reduced or eliminated spoilage of food.
5. May reduce the use of fossil fuels.
6. Eliminates the need to transform the natural land into farmland.
7. Eliminates agricultural runoff
8. Makes use of abandoned or unused properties.
9. Increases cities’ resilience – Creates new urban employment opportunities.
10. 95% less water usage than regular farming with solutions for water recycling
1. High Cost – Land in urban areas ishigher than in rural areas.
2. High Energy Consumption – need for lighting, heating, ventilation and electrical systems.
3. Limited Varieties – Only able to grow a small variety of vegetables and fruits.
4. Pollination – Requires labour in an insect-free environment.
5. Need of Qualified Workers – Require a diversity team of human capital.
6. Need for Urban Farming Regulations – No appropriate regulations in place

Conclusion

Emerging Technologies are driving profound changes across different aspects in Agri-Food industry, especially in developed countries, to achieve a “More with Less” approach. In order to realize a more sustainable, transparent, agile and fast-respond to ever-changing demands, we will need to integrate and implement the 4 key emerging technologies along entire value chains to rest of the world.


References

Alex Owen-Hill. (2017). “Top 6 Robotic Applications in Food Manufacturing”. Retrieved from https://blog.robotiq.com/top-6-robotic-applications-in-food-manufacturing, accessed 26/08/2018.

Daniel Lin, GDLM. (2018). “New and Emerging Technology in the Port-Logistics Sector”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/new-emerging-technology-port-logistics-sector, accessed 26/08/2018.

CNet. (2018). “Smart Agriculture and Food Production”. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.se/agriculture-food, accessed 25/08/2018.

Data-Flair. (2018). “4 Best Benefits of IoT in Agriculture”. Retrieved from https://data-flair.training/blogs/iot-applications-in-agriculture, accessed 25/08/2018.

Evergreen Farm Oy. (2018) “VERTICAL FARMING”. Retrieved from https://www.evergreenfarm.eu/copy-of-vertical-farming, accessed 31/08/2018.

Food Insight. (2018). “Fact Sheet: Benefits of Food Biotechnology”. Retrieved from https://www.foodinsight.org/articles/fact-sheet-benefits-food-biotechnology, accessed 25/08/2018.

Jamshed IQBAL. (2017). “Prospects of robotics in food industry”. Retrieved from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-20612017000200159, accessed 26/08/2018.

Louisa. (2017). “What is AgriFood Tech?”. Retrieved from https://agfundernews.com/what-is-agrifood-tech.html, accessed 25/08/2018.

Marc Lallanilla. (2016). “GMOs: Facts About Genetically Modified Food”. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/40895-gmo-facts.html, accessed 25/08/2018.

Neha Patil. (2017). “Cultured meat”. Retrieved from https://alchetron.com/Cultured-meat#-, accessed 26/08/2018.

About the Author: Alvin Khoo has substantive years of experience in supply chain analysis and operations, and specifically in the food industry. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Alvin completed the Advanced Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (ADLSM) course on October 2018 at SIPMM.

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