The Connected Farm: IoT in Smart Farming, an interview with Alexander Berlin

The Connected Farm: IoT in Smart Farming, an interview with Alexander Berlin

KATANA recently spoke with Alexander Berlin, a professional startup developer, currently in charge of the business support at the large scale IoT project IoF2020. We discussed the IoT landscape, and rising priorities as IoT evolves.

What is the most promising contribution of IoT to agriculture / agrifood sector?

Better food – sounds simple, but this requires more complex production techniques to use less pesticides, less antibiotics, less nitrogen, less carbon dioxide, less water etc. and to produce a higher variety of food, with better taste, less residues, more individual products.

Transparency & communication – Direct information channel from farmer to end consumer, faster information about food safety issues, food scanners for end-consumer to check food themselves in the supermarket and a more platform like supermarket model.

Will IoT change the rules of the game for all stakeholders – are there differences between large enterprises and SMEs?

Yes, in my opinion IoT will balance the powers in the food value chain a bit better. Farmers and consumers will gain more, while the food producing industry and whole sellers might lose a little. We will see classical hardware companies becoming data providers and digital security guards, who enable by interoperability and data consistency the great software innovations that are right now in the pipelines everywhere. Infrastructure is key.

Is IoT in agriculture only a win for the developed countries? Who will benefit most?

No, not at all. IoT technologies get more and more affordable by pure economy of scale. Therefore, these technologies make especially smaller farms with only few workers a lot more productive. It also gives an opportunity to smaller organic farmers to better prove to their consumers that their food has a higher quality, win their trust and realize a higher price in the market.

In what ways could IoT in the agrifood chain empower consumers?

Consumers of future will have more choice in their supermarkets in terms of production processes behind their food and also see a higher variety of food. Not only one sort of potatoes anymore.

Through direct product information to the end-consumer in the supermarket and tools like food scanners, the consumer makes more informed purchase decisions and rejects food of poor quality. IoT will also guide the consumer to products that meet individual needs and preferences. By choice and information, the consumer will steer the food production of the future.

Do you think there is a difference in attitudes using IoT solutions between Europe, US and Asia?

Yes and no. We have first of all very much structural and climatic differences in these regions. The US has way larger farms and therefore a larger investment ability. While Europe is quite different with a way more fragmented farm structure. Therefore, technology applications was a bit lacking in Europe due to the high price and the minimal impact on smaller farms. Additionally, the typical farmer in Europe is rather old and tends to avoid risks.

Now we are facing a generation shift in farming in Europe and we develop way more integrated and interoperable systems that benefit smaller farm in multiple areas not one production. Therefore, I think if we build rather quickly an open and vivid innovation infrastructure for agrifood applications, European companies will have an interesting competitive advantage especially in BRIC countries and the developing world.

How do you envision such an Innovation Ecosystems for agriculture to look like?

In IoF2020 we are currently equipping about 50 farms all over Europe with sensors, we are developing interoperability standards for machine communication, installing IoT networks and build a network of industry leaders in fields of farm machine manufacturing, farming, processing and retailers. My vision is to open this infrastructure step-by-step to innovative startups and companies to test farm application faster on a large scale, validate their impact and select potential killer applications. One first step in this process will be the open call of IoF2020, where about €6m will be invested in innovative ideas from 2019 on. If this proves to be successful, I am very optimistic that we can build a network of corporates and investors behind the IoF2020 infrastructure to sustain the ecosystem after the EU funding ends in 2020.

Alexander Berlin is a professional startup developer, investment adviser and data business model expert on the European level. As CEO and Founder of Berlin Thinking Consulting, he provides acceleration service for tech startups in all IoT and ICT sectors growing internationally and scouts startups for synergetic funds of business and super angels.

Alexander is currently in charge of the business support at the large scale IoT project IoF2020 and develops the next generation data business models for the agricultural sector. He is an experienced EU project manager and worked already on the development of a competitive European entrepreneurial infrastructure at projects like FIWARE and @diversity. He is part of advisory groups on the EU level and translates the needs of the IoT ecosystem, startups and investors in Europe into economically reasonable actions.

With Berlin Thinking Social, Alexander is also actively supporting technological innovations for humanitarian aid organizations like UNHCR, WFP and UNOCHA. He organizes together with Techfugees, HackingAid (by HumanityX and PwC), FIWARE and other partners, hackathons for the development of concrete technical solutions to manage the refugee crisis or to coordinate humanitarian aid.

Website: www.berlin-thinking.com

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