Almost every second agricultural company has to deal with AI

Whether it’s intelligent irrigation of the field, behavioral analysis of animals in the barn or data-based decision support during sowing: agriculture is facing an AI revolution. This is the conclusion of a study by Bitkom and DLG.

Prof. Dr. Tot Meinel
DLG Vice President Prof. Dr. Till Meinel, Institute for Construction and Agricultural Machinery Technology, Cologne (IBL), emphasizes: “The use of AI is not a trend, but rather an increasingly urgent necessity due to the varying burdens on agricultural managers.”

Almost half of farms in Germany (47 percent) are currently exploring the potential applications of AI. One in ten farms (9 percent) is already using artificial intelligence, and another 38 percent are planning or discussing it. The larger the farm, the more intensive the use of and involvement in AI: While only 27 percent of farms with 20 to 49 hectares are using, planning or discussing AI, this figure is 38 percent for farms with 50 to 99 hectares and even 52 percent for large farms. These are the results of one representative survey among 500 agricultural companies1presented by Bitkom and the German Agricultural Society (DLG).

“Agriculture is one of the pioneers of AI and is ahead of most other sectors. AI can greatly reduce the burden on agricultural businesses, freeing up farmers for other tasks. Smaller businesses in particular should make greater use of the opportunities offered by AI,” says Bitkom Managing Director Dr. Bernhard Röhleder.

The greatest potential for AI lies in climate and weather forecasting

Graphic: Agriculture is becoming increasingly digital
Agriculture is becoming increasingly digital

The greatest potential for AI use in agriculture is seen in forecasting and crop protection, but also in office work: 54 percent of companies that are already using, planning or discussing AI do so for climate and weather forecasting, 36 percent for market analysis or price forecasting, 28 percent each for harvest and production planning or yield forecasting. 46 percent of companies that are using, planning or discussing AI want to improve crop protection, for example through disease diagnosis, and 20 percent want to improve health monitoring in livestock farming.

But AI is also being planned, discussed or already in use outside the barn and the field, in 4 in 10 companies (39 percent) for everyday office tasks such as administrative tasks. Meinel: “By looking carefully at an early stage, many problems are solved at the beginning, so in practice it helps enormously if a digital tool only indicates that a problem may arise. These functions already exist.”

The vast majority see digitalization as an opportunity for their own company

Bitkom Managing Director Bernhard Rohleder
“It doesn’t have to be a fully digitalized farm. Individual digital solutions such as task planning apps offer a low-threshold entry into smart farming and can be a basis for making agriculture gradually more intelligent,” says Bitkom CEO Bernhard Rohleder.

Overall, a large majority (79 percent) of farmers see digitalization as an opportunity for their business. Only 15 percent see it as a risk; for 6 percent, digitalization has no impact on their business operations. The biggest benefits that farmers personally experience on their farm through digital applications are time savings (69 percent), greater efficiency in production (61 percent), followed by physical relief (57 percent).

But companies also have great hopes for digital solutions for the future of the entire sector to make agricultural production more sustainable and efficient at the same time: 80 percent are convinced that digital technologies will enable them to produce more environmentally friendly agricultural production. “They must be of high quality, produced in an environmentally friendly way and at the same time be affordable – agriculture is under pressure when it comes to food production. This can be counteracted with AI and digital solutions,” says Rohleder.

In concrete terms, 91 percent of farmers believe that digital technologies can help save fertilizers, pesticides and other resources. 69 percent say they can contribute to improving animal welfare. 67 percent say that digital technologies can help farmers reduce costs in the long term and 60 percent see this as an improvement in the quality of agricultural products. At the same time, digitalization itself is a challenge for about half (54 percent) of farms. Meinel: “We will have to make great efforts to integrate the use of digital tools into the education and training of farmers, without neglecting the technical foundations of these tools.”

Sensors, drones, management systems: agriculture is becoming increasingly digital

Image: Greatest AI potential for predictions and crop protection
Greatest AI potential for predictions and crop protection

The opportunities offered by digitalization are increasingly being exploited. Whether sensors, robotics or digital field recordings, the use of digital technologies has increased fundamentally over the past two years: The most common are GPS-controlled agricultural machines, which 69 percent already use. Two years ago, this was only 58 percent. This is followed by digital field recordings or cow or sow planners with 68 percent (2022: 63 percent). This is used, among other things, to monitor breeding cycles in livestock farming. Farm or herd management systems are now used by 46 percent of companies, compared to only 32 percent in 2022. “This proves once again: Agriculture is an industry of the future that has always recognized the optimization potential of new technology very early on and uses it consistently,” says Meinel.

Fertilize or spray only as much as strictly necessary: ​​36 percent of companies already use applications for area-specific fertilization (2022: 30 percent) and 30 percent for the application of pesticides (2022: 23 percent). Sensor technology in livestock farming and arable farming is used by 28 percent (2022: 22 percent). Predictive maintenance, for example for agricultural machinery, is used by a quarter (25 percent) (2022: 19 percent). 24 percent use automatic feeding machines or intelligent feeding systems (2022: 24 percent). Just under a quarter (23 percent) also use drones, compared to 19 percent in 2022. 12 percent already rely on robotics (2022: 10 percent). In total, 90 percent of companies use at least one of these digital solutions. “The increasing use shows that the potential is being recognized,” says Rohleder. “It doesn’t have to be a fully digitized farm. Individual digital solutions such as task planning apps offer a low-threshold entry into smart farming and can be a basis for gradually making agriculture more intelligent.”

A fifth is investing this year, but high investment costs are hampering expansion

19 percent of companies want to invest in digital technologies and applications this year. In 2023, 46 percent of companies had already invested. In addition, 19 percent are also planning digital investments in the coming year and a third (33 percent) want to invest after 2025. Rohleder: “One-off investments are often not enough; technology must be maintained and software updated to get the maximum benefit from the purchases. At the same time, investments in digital technologies pay off quickly and also mean greater competitiveness in the long term.”

Financing is also an issue for agricultural businesses given the economic challenges: When asked about the biggest obstacles to digitalizing agriculture, most (75 percent) cited high investment costs. This is followed by concerns about increased bureaucracy (61 percent) and insufficiently standardized interfaces and networking of systems (59 percent). “To successfully shape the digital transformation in agriculture, you not only need the courage to innovate, but also the necessary political support. Digital administrative processes in companies can help to meet reporting obligations more easily and quickly,” says Rohleder.

However, farmers are on average quite dissatisfied with politics; they only give the current political work on the digitalization of agriculture a 4.7. Accordingly, half (52 percent) of the companies complain about a lack of involvement in the planning of political measures. 51 percent see insufficient internet access as one of the biggest obstacles. This is followed by concerns about a loss of data sovereignty and the high complexity of digital systems, each with 49 percent. 47 percent are concerned about IT security and 41 percent see a lack of digital skills as an obstacle. Meinel: “What the practitioners tell us is that they lack a clear framework that is reliable over a long period of time. Without reliable framework conditions, investments and therefore innovations are hampered.”

Digital know-how: Three quarters are interested in further training

Farmers are certainly interested in strengthening these digital skills. A third (34 percent) of respondents have already participated in further training in the field of digitalization of agriculture, and another 43 percent are interested in it. Only a quarter (24 percent) are not interested in such further training. “Digital technologies are developing rapidly. Only with the right knowledge can the benefits of digital technologies for agriculture be fully exploited,” says Rohleder. Meinel: “It is also clear: the job profile of employees in agriculture is becoming increasingly demanding.”

Methodology explanation: The information is based on a survey conducted by Bitkom Research on behalf of the digital association Bitkom. 500 agricultural holdings of 20 hectares or more in western Germany and 100 hectares in eastern Germany were interviewed by telephone and online. The survey took place between week 7 and week 13 of 2024. The survey is representative.


Bitkom’s Digital Farming Conference on June 11 in Berlin

The question of how digitalization is changing agriculture and food is also central to the research Bitkom Digital Farming Conference2 on June 11 in Berlin. Speakers include Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir. The conference brings together farmers, companies and start-ups from the digital, agricultural and food industries, as well as from politics and science. The topics range from AI in the pigsty to data exchange platforms to research results from space travel.

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