Labour and food shortages driven by the Covid-19 pandemic have escalated the move to high-tech farm equipment with the market expected to double over the next five years.
Dutch bank ABN Amro estimated the global revenue for agritech products such as robot harvesters, crop monitoring drones and software to analyse on farm data at €6.2 billion.
ABN forecast the market would double in the next five years, driven by labour shortages and requirements to comply with tightening environmental rules alongside feeding a growing population.
Covid-19 has highlighted the agricultural sector’s challenge to find labour all around the world, as migrant workers returned to their home countries affecting many crops.
Challenges from Covid-19 and Brexit mean the UK was facing challenges to find labour but this trend was seen across the world, as migrant workers returned to their own countries due to the pandemic and younger workers in some countries left the countryside for the cities.
In Malaysia, some palm oil plantation groups turned to prison populations to find workers, after many of their Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers returned home. Japan also faces an ageing farmer population.
In the Netherlands, the proportion of agricultural firms reporting a worker shortage has risen to 14 per cent from 3 per cent four years ago, driving up labour costs.
And the issue was likely to ‘become even more pressing’ the bank said.
The pandemic has also raised the number of people facing acute food shortages underlining the need to feed the growing population at the same time as Governments look to tackle agricultural pollution.
A move to robotics was ‘essential to guarantee food security’, the bank said.
But regulatory restrictions did bring challenges with the bank giving the example of the Netherlands use of field robots.
“When active in open cultivation settings, they are usually required to be kept under continuous supervision,” it said.
This eliminated the big advantage of robotics on labour and put them at a competitive disadvantage as Australian, US and Japanese farmers could use autonomous tractors without supervision.