According to reports from the AgriFood Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano and the RISE (Research & Innovation for Smart Enterprises) laboratory of the University of Brescia, which are developing new strategies through the use of “data” within the agricultural production chain, companies in the agri-food sector that have adopted measures related to Agricoltura 4.0 increased production in 2019 by 270% compared to the previous year.
Agriculture 4.0 is the evolution of precision agriculture and in fact, it is the set of tools and strategies that allow the strategic and interconnected use of advanced technologies that aim to make production more efficient and sustainable. Adopting 4.0 solutions ensures the ability to accurately calculate the physical and biochemical characteristics of crop soils in order to know the water requirements of specific cultivation to avoid waste in the processes of sowing, growing, and harvesting. It can also prevent the onset of diseases in plants, allowing field operators to identify in advance the parasites that could attack the crops, increasing production capacity and further reducing waste. It is also possible to have a capillary control of the entire production chain with safe, smart, and effective traceability. This is because in every step, from sowing to packaging, you can collect useful data to keep under control every step of the production process.
The need to invest in high-tech solutions is confirmed by data from the AgriFood Observatory. A 270% increase in the value of agriculture 4.0 on the market currently earns the entire sector between 370 and 430 million euros (about 18% of the sector at the European level). There are still more than 300 proposals available to agricultural entrepreneurs, 113 specific to the processes of traceability and product quality.
Entering the world of Agriculture 4.0 is not only advantageous at an economic-productive level but also represents an opportunity to receive valuable tax incentives for investment, research, and training. In this regard, the Budget Law of 2020 introduces new measures to support the high-tech agricultural sector, whose companies operating there will be able to enjoy ad hoc economic contributions.
There is an allocation of 5 million euros within the Fund for Innovative Investments of Agricultural Enterprises to encourage investment in goods and software 4.0, as well as the establishment of a new Fund for the competitiveness of supply chains with a capital of 39.5 million euros. To these two funds, there is to add the financing of initiatives aimed at the development of innovative production processes, precision smart agriculture, and product traceability with blockchain technologies. All through the granting of a non-repayable contribution up to 35% of expenditure and subsidized loans up to 60%.
4.0 solutions also offer greater and more effective protection of the Made in Italy status allowing to defend Italian products from foreign competition. In the case of agricultural products that require specific certifications, for example, those registered with the Bio brand. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will offer concrete support to improve agricultural productivity through the use of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and drones. Sensors placed in the soil will be able to send data on moisture, mineral content, and other parameters of agricultural soil. While drones will be able to take high-resolution images of the plots. These photographs can be enriched and cross-referenced with weather and soil health data, indicating exactly what the problems are (e.g. low humidity, low mineral content, and possible outbreaks of harmful insects) and the solutions to be adopted (e.g. the right dose of natural pesticides and plant protection products for the biological defense of organic crops).
In Italy, there is an increasing need for agricultural entrepreneurs to equip themselves with production systems in line with the specificities of Agriculture 4.0. Data from a survey by the AgriFood Observatory of the Milan Polytechnic confirm this. As reported by the statisticians of the Observatory among the main data that emerged from the research published in 2019, on a sample of 900 questionnaires, it turned out the main objectives of farmers investing in solutions 4.0: in the first place is the containment of production costs, the second is the increase in production, the third is the reduction in the consumption of pesticides, and the fourth is the simplification (or reduction of work) thanks to the benefits introduced by automation. In addition, 55% of respondents specified that they were now oriented towards adopting 4.0 solutions, although the majority of this sample, 54%, said they had started this digitalization journey less than five years ago.