Is “connected” agriculture the next agricultural revolution, or the next technology bubble? Is it really in the farmers’ interest? This is the question posed by the book “Connected Agriculture: Scam or Remedy? “by journalist Vincent Tardieu.
The provocative title should not put off potential readers: the author fully understands the stakes in this field, and relies on solid documentation, supported by numerous meetings with farmers and most of the major players in this field in France. However, even though he says he wants to be as balanced as possible, it soon becomes clear that his point of view is clearly “innovatiosceptic”. His criticisms of connected agriculture essentially revolve around 3 themes:
- The size of the investments required, and their uncertain profitability.
- The dependence into which these new techniques could lead their users.
- The risk that these innovations could lead agriculture into a “productivist” spiral (the swear word that is enough to discredit any agricultural technique without any other form of process).
These objections are not unfounded, but they are common to all innovations, whether connected or not. Moreover, many of the recent techniques of precision agriculture are inexpensive, and potentially beneficial for all forms of agriculture. As is all too often the case in France, V. Tardieu wonders a lot about the risks taken when adopting an innovation, but much less about the risks taken when neglecting these new opportunities.
Similarly, concerns about the appropriation of agricultural data by large globalized companies seem to be overplayed. The development of agricultural Big Data is progressing much more slowly, and in a much more collaborative way, than the exploitation of consumers’ personal data. The risk of oligopoly formations such as the famous GAFA (Google Amazon Facebook Apple) seems therefore more limited than for data from the general public.
Moreover, the author sometimes gets lost in false debates, such as the opacity of decision-support tools produced by private companies. Rather than calling for the publication of algorithms, which would effectively exclude private companies from this market, it would be more constructive to recommend the certification of these tools by a public body, which would thus guarantee the level of quality of services offered to farmers.
At the end of the day, at the end of the reading, we would like to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “If you find that innovation is expensive, then try doing nothing! ». But these few reservations should not obscure all the qualities of the book, which is sufficiently documented (while citing its sources) to allow the reader to form his or her own opinion. It has the great merit of taking this subject out of the technophile bliss to focus on the essential question: what benefit for the farmer? Its reading is a stimulating challenge for companies in the sector, and deserves to fuel a debate on the future of connected agriculture, and how it can serve all agricultural models.
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