Drones, sensors and other connected objects have started to appear in fields and farms, offering many new tools to improve understanding and meet the needs of crops and livestock. Digital technologies are playing a key role in developing precision agriculture. And, faced with agriculture’s triple performance challenge - economic, environmental and social - public authorities are eager to initiate and support innovations. Digital technology is a cornerstone of their current recommendations, as demonstrated in the Agriculture - Innovation 2025 report. However, this also raises certain questions:
- What role will we all play in digital agriculture in the future?
- What position should companies choose, and what new services should they develop to meet needs?
- What should farmers expect in terms of added value, and how reliable is this? How can we benefit from these new opportunities and integrate them into farm operations?
In order to deal with these new challenges collectively, Montpellier SupAgro, Bordeaux Sciences Agro and Irstea have created the AgroTIC industry chair, supported by the SupAgro Fondation and launched on Wednesday, November 16 during the Agri Connect exhibition.
Acting as a bridge between research and economics, industry chairs are partnerships between teaching institutions and their socioeconomic counterparts. They take the lead in working on areas of common interest and creating research, training and knowledge transfers.
Thus, the primary aim of the new AgroTIC chair is to encourage the distribution of digital technologies for agriculture, particularly by strengthening training-research-industry links. Based on industry needs, 3 lines of research and a relevant action plan have been drawn up in order to develop the sector.
- Monitor digital transitions (research, usage, other sectors)
- Create and facilitate an observatory of usage for precision agriculture to produce a yearly qualitative and quantitative assessment of the adoption and distribution of digital technologies within all sectors of the French agricultural industry, expanding over time to the whole of Europe.
- Draft an assessment of training needs for digital agricultural professionals, covering all sectors and trades (farmers, technicians, advisers, etc.).
Organize seminars to review applications and usage for specific technologies in agriculture: latest developments, overviews of products and existing services, reviews.
- Explore the possibilities offered by emerging technologies
- Organize and host the Challenge Innov’Agro to encourage students towards innovation and creativity by asking them to invent new services for agriculture and/or the environment. During this teaching exercise, teaching students from AgroTIC will work together in multidisciplinary teams with engineering students from digital and business schools. The students and companies involved will benefit from discussions and exchanges while exploring new technologies.
- Study opportunities for emerging technologies, in relation to new uses or services. These studies will be led by team engineers using technical resources provided by the lead institutes and their technical partners.
- Leverage the Fond d’émergence de projets (Project Development Fund) to allocate resources quickly to new projects and react responsively to opportunities and current events.
- Identify skills to create new partnerships
- Allocate the "Entrepreneur en agriculture numÃ©rique" (Digital Farming Entrepreneur) grant to support innovative entrepreneurial project leaders in digital agriculture.
- Establish a map of digital agriculture research stakeholders to have an inventory and understanding of the skills of French and European digital agriculture research stakeholders and encourage the creation of partnerships.
- Organize group visits to research laboratories to bring together companies and research labs whose skills may be of interest to each other. The chair team will identify the laboratories and organize visits for professionals and students.
23 companies and technical partners, committed for 3 years
From start-ups to established groups, from farmers to digital product and service suppliers, the companies partnering the chair are representative of the whole digital agriculture sector today.
The 23 company members support the chair with financial sponsorship and governance: Agriscope, AgroSud, AgroTis, Airbus Defense and Space, Arterris, Asape, BASF, Ekylire, Exotic Systems, Fuition Sciences, ICV, Isagri, ITK, la France Agricole, Maïs Adour Groupe Coopéreatif, Mes parcelles, Naïo Technologies, Pera Pellenc, SMAG, SIKA, Terranis, les Vignerons de Tutiac, Vitirover.
The chair also has the support of 3 technical partners: GS1 France, Cea Tech, Acta. These public organizations, technical and interdisciplinary institutes or organizations have clear and recognized skills in areas that are relevant to the chair. They will provide skills according to requirements.
The chair is led and hosted by 2 public higher education and farming research institutions, Montpellier SupAgro, Bordeaux Sciences Agro and Irstea, and will rely on operational support from a public university foundation: Montpellier SupAgro Fondation.
In this way, the chair is a continuation of the 20-year partnership between Montpellier SupAgro and Bordeaux Agro to deliver the third year AgroTIC engineering specialization.
Irstea and Montpellier SupAgro have worked together through mixed research teams and are currently partners together at the Institut Convergences Agriculture Numerique #DigitAg (Institute for the Convergence of Digital Agriculture), led by Irstea and supported by the city of Montpellier. #DigitAg is an interdisciplinary research project focused on promotion and higher education. Some of the chair’s activities will also be directly linked to it.
Based across 2 regions, Occitanie and Nouvelle Aquitaine, the chair already has European ambitions and expects to benefit from international scientific networks to participate in developing technologies and uses for digital agriculture across Europe. Stay tuned for more on the chair.
The challenge of creating compatible solutions
The multiplication of data sources and their diversity along with the arrival of new operator types make technology appropriation difficult. For the moment, solutions are offered in a piecemeal manner. The concept of interoperability, the ability of products or information systems to operate with other products or systems, is a key issue in current considerations. Operators need to have access to interconnected products and services whose overall added-value is greater than the sum of the added-value provided by each individual solution.
In practice, however, things are never that simple… More work is required to integrate and adapt the technology.
For further information:
- Special feature: Irstea's work on digital agriculture
- Assignment: The agricultural machinery report. The sector's strengths and weaknesses
- Assignment: Agriculture-Innovation. 30 projects for competitive, environmentally friendly agriculture