Can agtech solve labor shortage in agriculture?

The agri-food industry is currently facing a severe shortage of labor resources. This is a significant challenge as manual labor is crucial for crop protection and harvesting. In the past 15 years, there has been a 30% decrease in the agricultural workforce which is expected to continue to decline at a rate of 2% per year until 2030. This trend can be attributed to the need to find labor from abroad, an aging workforce, and poor working conditions in the industry. 

More specifically, agricultural labor from abroad has become increasingly important for the agri-food industry. The domestic labor shortage has turned many farmers into foreign workers to fill the gap. These workers often came from low-income countries and were willing to work for lower wages and under less favorable working conditions than domestic workers. However, concerns about the exploitation of these workers, the potential for abuse of their rights, and the rise of the quality of life in their respective countries have made it more and more challenging to convince them about it. Additionally, the logistics of importing labor from abroad have become increasingly complex and costly.

Moreover, the average age of farmers is increasing in many countries, with a significant proportion of farmers being over the age of 55. This trend is particularly pronounced in developed countries, where the average age of farmers is often over 60. This aging workforce results from a lack of new young farmers entering the industry due to other sectors being more attractive and a lack of succession planning among older farmers. However, the aging agricultural workforce has several implications for the industry besides labor shortage. Firstly, it poses a challenge to the continuation of the farms, as older farmers may find it difficult to maintain their farms physically and may not have a plan for passing on the farm to the next generation. Additionally, older farmers may have less knowledge and experience in using new technologies, which could limit the productivity and efficiency of the agricultural sector.

Finally, many tasks in agri-food are repetitive, tedious, and potentially hazardous, with the agriculture sector in the EU attributing to an annual average of over 500 registered deaths and more than 150,000 non-fatal accidents, mostly linked to agricultural machinery. Additionally, the working conditions are not expected to improve; on the contrary, they are deteriorating, with workers forced to work in increasingly hotter and more humid conditions due to climate change. While at the same time, additional work-related stress is being introduced to agriculture as income becomes more and more dependent on worker performance.

All the above leads to increased food prices for the consumers and food loss as, on many occasions, produce is left unharvested in the field. However, agtech promises to help ease these by automating certain farm tasks, such as planting, harvesting, and monitoring crop growth. For example, precision agriculture technologies like drones, sensors, and robots can perform tasks traditionally requiring human labor. Additionally, it can improve the efficiency of farming operations, allowing farmers to produce more with less labor by exploiting machine learning algorithms and data analytics to optimize crop yields, reduce waste, and improve decision-making.

EdenCore, with its Viewer solution and keeping up with the latest developments and trends in agtech and AI, aims to reduce time spent in the field for scouting and monitoring through its anomaly and disease detection algorithms, which can now happen automatically, in a more objective way. Moreover, through its yield prediction capabilities, the Viewer can help the farmer plan ahead for harvesting labor needs, thus providing additional time to gather the necessary resources and optimize the number of workers needed.