Tech yields farm gains

Economy February 08, 2018 01:00


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TECHNOLOGY will help the younger generation of farmers to become more productive and manage their risks better, experts from Israel and Thailand told a forum.

The agricultural sector in every country is facing the same challenges, which include water scarcity, a shrinking workforce, limited farmland, food loss, the high demand for protein, and chemicals use, said Gilad Peled, director of Agro Technology at the Water and Cleantech Department of the Israel Export Institute.

Thailand, Japan and Israel have to contend with the problem of an ageing demographic in the farm sector, with an increasing number of those working on the land being aged over 60, he told the seminar, entitled The Israel-Thai Agriculture Technologies 2018. However, in recent years, young people worldwide have started to enter this traditional sector, he said.

The increasing penetration of technology – information technology, in particular - has encouraged the younger generations to enter the farm sector,” said Peled.

As evidence of this trend, he points to the substantial increase in the number of companies engaging in the agricultural technology (agritech) sector in Israel. The ranks of such companies jumped from 250 in 2013 to 480 in 2017, he said.

Among these companies, those engaged in smart farming saw the highest growth rate, at close to 30 per cent. In Israel, precision agriculture smart farming equates to efficient and economic agriculture, Peled said.

Asked about the cost of investment, he replied that new computer software for doing smart farming is cheaper than buying hardware for doing regular farming, and farmers could recoup their investment capital within a short time.

Nicholas Bunthongkun, regional sales coordinator of Allflex Europe, which exports agri-technologies including a sensor monitoring system for cows, said that Thai farmers have been slow to adopt new technology, compared with their peers in Vietnam and Indonesia.

“They are still comfortable with 20-year old technology,” he said. He claims that the use of a collar sensor monitoring system can make cows yield more milk and save costs in the long run.

Another issue is that farms tend to be small. But this constraint to larger-scale production can be overcome by farmers grouping their holdings, as is the practice in Israel under the kibbutz system.

 Sudchol Wongprasert, an academic at Suranaree University of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima, said that imported technology could be tweaked to meet local conditions.

“For example, if we import a dripping irrigation system from abroad, the cost is very high. But we can make it cheaper by producing some parts of the system by ourselves in Thailand,” Sudchol said.

Meanwhile, Mitdanai Sathavonmanee, one of the new breed of young entrepreneurs in the farm sector, said that the biggest challenge is to find a market for farm products.

Mitdanai, owner of the Coro Field farm, grows melons in Ratchaburi province. “Thai consumers prefer to consume foreign fruits, so types of melon that used to be imported can now be grown locally and sold to Thai consumers,” said Mitdanai, who entered the farming business three years ago and has since found many other farmers have followed his lead.

“Now there are many such melon farms nationwide,” he said. 

“But I wish that each of us could specialise in one fruit or one type of farm product.”