11 Jul, 2024 / BY Neil Sharp

4 megatrends driving agtech innovation in 2024

4 megatrends driving agtech innovation in 2024

Agtech is in prime position to help overcome some of the major agricultural problems we face today. The world’s population is growing rapidly, while climate change is already starting to impact agricultural yields. As a result, meeting the escalating demand for food in a sustainable way is only likely to become an even greater challenge.

Fortunately, agtech might hold the answer. From robots and drones, to AI analytics and indoor vertical farming, agtech is transforming how we cultivate crops and manage livestock. In this blog, we explore the immense potential of the booming agtech market to tackle the major threats to farming. 

What is agtech?

Agtech, or agricultural technology, refers to the use of cutting-edge technology and techniques in farming. The aim is to increase productivity by applying precision farming principles in an environmentally sustainable way. It can take various forms and capitalise on technological advancements in mechatronics and software integration, including:

  • Robots: for planting, weeding, harvesting, livestock management etc
  • Drones: for aerial imaging, surveying, monitoring etc
  • Indoor farming: for year-round production in controlled conditions 
  • AI and data analytics: for data-driven decision-making to optimise irrigation, the time of harvesting, the application of fertilisers and pesticides etc

As the world’s population continues to grow towards 9.7 billion by 2050, along with climate change already affecting farming yields, it’s vital for agtech to increase the productivity of farms across the globe.

How large is the agtech market?

Put simply, the answer is ‘huge’. Estimates suggest that global agtech was worth around US$23.5 billion in 2022 and is predicted to grow to around US$79.7 billion by 2030. Other estimates suggest slightly more modest growth to around US$43 billion by 2030. But either way, it represents a phenomenal compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 10–16% in just 8 years. 

In general, the biggest adopters of agtech solutions so far have been multinational agribusinesses, with their deep pockets. But there are vast markets around the world that offer untapped potential for smaller agtech innovators, as the technology gradually develops. Millions of smallholders and tenant farmers are now more aware of the benefits of agtech and can see how it could be applied on their farm. This is driving a growing need for small-scale, usable and affordable agtech to allow these smaller farmers  to become more sustainable and productive - meeting local and international market needs more successfully.


Key to realising this potential is showcasing more clearly the return on investment (ROI) of using agtech, as this has been a barrier to adoption in the past. But the large number of other factors that contribute towards productivity – such as drought and pest infestations – can make this complex to calculate.

There’s also potential for a shift in agtech businesses to disrupt traditional agricultural models, such as by using vertical farming techniques to substantially increase yield per land area. This could massively change where, when and by whom food is produced.  Technological innovation from sectors that have never before been inspiration for farming , could reshape the way the world is fed (just think about all that meat being grown in labs!)

But what’s clear is that the farming of tomorrow is likely to look very different indeed - and agtech funding is coming from a range of sources with different interests driving their attention.

What is the potential of agtech to address key challenges facing the world?

The global backdrop against which agtech is currently developing is stark. There are urgent and huge problems facing the global food supply and so it isn’t simply a case of the agricultural industry evolving slowly (or ‘organically’ if you’ll pardon the pun) over time. The challenges are right here and now, which means that major agtech innovations are needed today.


1. Labour market challenges

Labour shortages have often been a problem in the agriculture sector, due to migration away from rural areas, an ageing workforce and hostility towards immigrant labour in some countries. Agtech offers a potential solution to this shortage by automating many traditionally labour-intensive farm tasks. Robots can now handle operations like sowing seeds, weeding, harvesting and even livestock management, with increasing sophistication.

For example, FarmDroid is a seeding robot that can also remove weeds. It uses GPS to accurately record where seeds are placed, which makes it easier to remove any weeds between and within rows later on. Fieldwork Robotics is developing horizontal and vertical harvesting robots for selective harvesting, using advanced sensor technology and grippers to minimise slippage without damaging fruits.

In the livestock sector, DairyRobot R9500 is claimed to be the “next generation of intelligent automated milking” for farms. This milking robot is also able to provide an early warning of any health problems within the herd.

Beyond robotics, other agtech innovations also ease labour burdens. Vertical farms allow year-round cultivation near to highly populated cities by moving operations indoors with AI-controlled micro-climates. Also, there are many drones now available, such as the Agras T40, to help with traditionally labour-intensive tasks such as surveying, mapping and spraying.


Source: DJI Agras T40

2. Climate change

Agtech can play a vital role not only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (a sizeable 10% of the US’s total emissions in 2022, for example), but also by increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Precision agriculture – using sensors, drones and AI, for example – helps to optimise irrigation practices and the application of fertiliser/pesticide, minimising emissions and waste. Vertical farming allows crop production in optimal indoor environments using far less water and land than traditional methods. Additionally, agtech helps with adaptation by providing early warnings of adverse weather conditions and pinpointing areas in need of drought/heat-tolerant seed varieties.

While the use of agtech usually requires the consumption of electricity, this impact is minimised by using solar panels on robots, increasing the energy efficiency of vertical farms and continually improving the batteries in drones, for example.

The overall effect is that agtech helps farmers to adapt to the changing climate, while seeking to reduce their contribution towards it.


3. Pollution and erosion

Traditional intensive farming techniques, like monoculture crops and excessive tilling, have depleted soils and caused erosion on a massive scale. Meanwhile, pollution from fertilisers and pesticides has damaged waterways and ecosystems.


Agtech enables precision farming by using GPS mapping, sensors and AI to collect and interpret data relating to the land and weather. This allows farmers to make informed data-driven decisions, meaning that farms are optimally managed and only the minimum inputs are applied exactly when and where they are needed. This reduces fertiliser/pesticide runoff while preserving soil health, for example. Drones can also seed cover crops aerially, with minimal soil disturbance to prevent erosion. 

Overall, precision agtech promotes sustainable practices that revitalise land and reduce agriculture's environmental footprint.


4. Pressure on land and sea 

It’s generally thought that the planet has now passed the point of peak agricultural land, meaning that the amount of land being used for agriculture is now in decline. This is due to factors such as urban sprawl and environmental degradation, which is clearly a major problem when there’s a need for an ever-increasing food supply. 

One solution is to use agtech to boost productivity on limited acreage. This might be through precision farming techniques, like using variable rate technology (VRT) to deploy seeds and other inputs at different rates across an area, or remote sensing to identify areas of crop stress. 

Also, vertical farming allows year-round crop production indoors near to high-population areas without relying on vast expanses of arable land. One example is Eden Green in Texas, USA, which is able to grow four times as much as a traditional greenhouse in the same area while using 75% less energy than a typical indoor vertical farm. Similarly, indoor aquaculture relieves the pressure on stocks in the natural environment, while avoiding issues – such as pollution, interbreeding with wild populations and the spread of disease – that sometimes occur with outdoor fish farms. 

The net result is that farmers are now able to do more with less land (and sea).

Eden green vertical greehouse

Source: Eden Green

A team effort

Of course, agtech isn't a silver bullet as many agricultural tasks still require human workers. Also, there’s now a need for the farm workers of today to be skilled in using this new technology. But by automating difficult, repetitive and time-consuming tasks, as well as by using precision farming techniques based on real-time data, agtech can address the challenges facing the industry today in an environmentally sustainable way.

Developing and implementing agtech can be a complex task, though. It involves combining a wide range of knowledge across industries to produce and then apply new technologies. As such, agtech startups and innovators often need help to realise the full potential of their ideas at scale. Agtech is the opportunity but EMS providers offer essential skills and experience to accelerate and de-risk the path to market. By collaborating with EMS providers, agtech innovators can accelerate iterations of their technology, solve problems faster and continually deliver more value to their customer base.

As it has always been the case, the farming of the future will remain a team effort.

A step-by-step guide to outsourcing your agtech production

Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.