There are about 43,000 agricultural and horticultural entrepreneurs in Finland. About 15,000 of them produce 95% of the food consumed by Finns. Some entrepreneurs need only a few tools and support to be successful in terms of using technology. At the other end of the spectrum, there are several high-tech producers who make effective use of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence.
“For example, we have dairy farms where most of the work is done by milking robots, feeding robots and cleaning robots. It is quite common. The use of technology is constantly increasing,” says Harri Mäkivuokko, CEO of ProAgria. ProAgria acts as an expert organisation for agricultural and rural businesses and supports the digitalisation of businesses in the sector through projects, innovation competitions and advice, among other things.
Artificial intelligence and robotics are revolutionising the working day of the farm worker, providing everyday assistance – not a moment too late and partly out of necessity.
“It is already difficult to find labour in agriculture and young people are not interested in working in the sector. It’s the eleventh hour to start using technology to ensure that food can continue to be produced safely and efficiently in Finland,” says Liisa Pesonen from Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). At the moment, it is not always easy to use technology, but the situation will change when people learn to use artificial intelligence in a rational way.
“New types of artificial intelligence and computational models bring about opportunities because it is possible to process and combine data even with modest IT knowledge,” says Mäkivuokko.
The need to evolve
In terms of digitalisation, the agricultural sector has taken giant leaps forward. Ten years ago, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing were hype, and over the years they have become mainstream.
“It’s been quite a change. For example, there is a lot more data available from sensors, and there has been a constant increase in computing power. Of course, developing rural telecommunications has helped tremendously,” says Liisa Pesonen. The potential of edge computing, i.e., processing data close to where it is collected, is one of the hot debates at the moment.
The Natural Resources Institute of Finland is researching ways to ensure that there is enough healthy and nutritious food for everyone, while at the same time ensuring the safety of production and the well-being of the environment. New methods are needed to achieve this goal.
“The aim is to use data to steer processes in a more sustainable direction and also to use data to demonstrate the quality of production. The key is to ensure the competitiveness and profitability of the sector,” says Pesonen.
“Technological innovations will find buyers if they offer ways to make farming more profitable and everyday life easier.”Harri Mäkivuokko, CEO of Proagria
Now is not the time to give up
According to Harri Mäkivuokko, the food sector is a growth sector, and food production in Finland can multiply in the future. One reason for this is climate change. It opens up new opportunities for Finland. According to Mäkivuokko, it is particularly important to give the sector’s professionals confidence in the future: now is not the time to give up.
“Farmers are motivated to develop their businesses. Mid-tech farmers can make a real leap to high-tech. Technological innovations will find buyers if they offer ways to make farming more profitable and everyday life easier,” predicts Mäkivuokko.
Although automation and robotics are already being used in food production, Liisa Pesonen believes that Finland cannot be considered a model country for digitalisation in primary production. There is still a lot of work to be done, although there is certainly experimentation going on.
“We are not particularly behind, but the Netherlands, for example, is ahead of us in the automation of dairy farms or gardens. The challenge for Finland is that technological solutions, digital market and the entire food chain are concentrated here,” says Pesonen.
“Finland is characterised by small and scattered fields, which are difficult to manage effectively with automation. Another acute challenge is that farmers are getting older and new farmers are not coming into the industry at the same rate. The current acreage will have to be managed by a smaller team in the future,” adds Mäkivuokko.
How could geospatial technology be used?
Geospatial data is a relatively unfamiliar term in the agri-food sector. However, geospatial technologies such as GPS are widely used. Positioning technology can be found, for example, in the form of a transmitter in the ear of a single reindeer.
“GPS technology is indeed widespread. In contrast, those who use precise positioning technology in agriculture, for example, are a smaller group. There is potential for growth,” says Harri Mäkivuokko. According to him, there is a need for applications that help to see the big picture. The problem at the moment is that there is a lot of data, but it is difficult to put it together in a way that farmers can use.
“Agriculture has enough rear-view mirror data to look back decades. The challenge is to look ahead. We need prediction models that work,” says Mäkivuokko. Forecasting based on historical data is not effective, as the last two summers of exceptional weather combined with a sharp increase in production costs have shown.
“AI could help monitor agricultural side streams and indicate when the market is in need of certain products for sale.”Liisa Pesonen, Natural Resources Institute Finland
Farmers could also make better use of the data they collect as a competitive advantage in a tightening market if they had easy ways to do so.
“For example, a farmer could use his own data to calculate a price with and without a carbon footprint and then use the data to support negotiations. Technology could also help the entrepreneur solve scarcity problems. For example, AI could help monitor agricultural side streams and indicate when the market is in need of certain products for sale,” says Liisa Pesonen.
Do you have an idea for how technology and data can improve the way farms do business? Do you want to learn about funding opportunities, test environments and find partners and networks to support your implementation? Contact the Location Innovation Hub – we coach businesses and public administrations to develop their business using location technologies.