The agricultural industry is undergoing a profound digital transformation, with technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), drones and robotics playing pivotal roles.

However, the pace of this transition varies significantly across farms globally, as indicated by the recent “Agriculture in Transition” survey conducted by Continental and Innofact. According to the findings, 79% of respondents currently utilize digital solutions.

Regions including Germany, France and the U.S. are boasting higher adoption rates compared to Japan, where approximately 60% of farmers rely on traditional methods.

The survey of 503 farmers across five countries also found while digital technologies are increasingly integrated into farming practices, there are notable discrepancies based on farm size.

Japanese farmers express the least satisfaction with their digitalization levels, while their German counterparts appear the most content. These sentiments were mirrored in farm sizes, with smaller farms exhibiting lower digitalization rates.

Survey results also highlighted a prevalent use of GPS, sensor-based systems and data analytics for precision farming.

While applications such as GPS-controlled machinery and satellite imagery are widespread, robotics and AI adoption remains relatively low, though the use of drones is gaining traction.

Looking ahead, a substantial number of farmers anticipate embracing robotics and AI in the next five to ten years.

Expectations suggest a doubling in robotics adoption and a tripling in AI utilization, signifying a transformative shift towards automated and data-driven farming practices.

The survey results suggest the need for technology companies to tailor solutions to farmers’ evolving digital requirements, with farmers expressing a desire for user-friendly technologies, comprehensive training programs and simplified data presentation.

Mario Branco, head of off-highway at Continental, says in the coming years, many farmers will significantly increase their use of AI and robotics to make their operations more efficient and environmentally friendly, including the use of pesticides and herbicides.

“We are sure that the digital transformation of agriculture is a necessary precondition for a more sustainable and efficient farming,” he says. “It was also an interesting finding that farmers are willing to embrace the change that an increasing digitalization brings.”

The study indicated farmers are ready to play an active role in shaping the transformation of the industry through precision farming solutions or new business models.

“However, they are facing too many challenges to play a more active role in the transition towards a more digital and sustainable agriculture,” Branco says.

He explains that is why it is important to survey and analyze the progress of digital transformation – to identify roadblocks and facilitate progress.

“Our findings strongly support that assumption that the benefits of digital technology are clearly seen by a large majority of farmers,” he says. “A farm with a higher level of digitalization will make smarter decisions and those decisions will be more effective and more sustainable, too.”

The pharmaceutical giant Bayer recently piloted a generative AI tool for agriculture by leveraging proprietary agronomic data and insights from thousands of trials to train a large language model (LLM), which it developed in collaboration with Microsoft and Ernst & Young.

The company’s Climate FieldView digital farming platform, available in 23 countries across five continents, empowers enhanced decision making and helps farmers connect with their fields.

The platform draws from publicly available data, satellites, sensors, and farm equipment like tractors, planters and combines to collect more than 250 layers of high-definition data, generating billions of data points across subscribed fields.

Data shared with Bayer through the FieldView cloud platform is aggregated and combined with other data sets to build crop model algorithms that return insight sand advice for farmers to analyze and manage operations in real time via phone, tablet, or computer.

Alexander Hennig, spokesperson for Bayer’s crop science division, calls the digitalization of agriculture one of the world’s “most exciting” scientific and technological frontiers.

“It is the foundation of the next generation of research breakthroughs in areas like plant breeding and chemistry, a primary enabler of regenerative practices, and an essential factor in making sure we can continue feeding the world while restoring natural resources,” he explains.

He highlights AI as a core technology in powering the digital transformation of agriculture.

“AI enables farmers to make data-driven decisions, resulting in increased productivity, reduced costs, and more sustainable farming practices,” Hennig says.

Bayer is also advancing the “cloud-connected acre” through their partnership with Microsoft by providing greater connectivity options for farmers and supporting data interoperability across the value chain, including tracking of sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

“We are using our expansive collection of aggregated field data, together with public data sets like weather, and satellite imagery to build tools, data models, and solutions that can be utilized broadly to drive traceability across value chains,” Hennig says.