A new wave of smart farmers yielding Thai crops
An in-depth look of how Thailand nurtures the 4.0 agricultural practices.
Since the young smart farmer programme was first implemented in Thailand as part of the country’s agricultural development plan almost a decade ago, the sector has continued to grow to new heights as the smart farming approach is continuously influenced by technological disruption.
Based on the government’s “Thailand 4.0” economic model, Agriculture 4.0 prioritises technological developments and their commercialisation, particularly precision agriculture (PA), agricultural robotics and biotechnology, to raise the average annual income of farmers sevenfold, from the current 56,450 baht to 390,000 baht within the next 20 years.
The agricultural sector accounts for approximately 9 per cent of the country’s GDP. Some 43 per cent of the total land area is given over to agricultural activities and almost one-third of the country’s labour force works in this sector.
With the global population continuing to climb and growing urbanisation, demand for agricultural products is increasing. However, farmers today are facing numerous challenges including an ageing labour force, more frequent natural disasters and changes in the weather caused by climate change, as well as the need to protect biodiversity and natural resources.
A new wave of smart farming
The last decade has seen a growing number of young farmers working the land drawn by modern farming techniques, digital marketing platforms and greater public awareness of food safety. Today, such advanced technologies as biotechnology, drones, sensors, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, Internet of Things (IoTs) and machine learning are driving an emergence of new businesses and business models to strengthen small-scale farmers, who make up the majority of Thai agriculturalists, in sustainably improving productivity and efficiency.
The Agro Business Creative Center, or ABC Center, the National Innovation Agency (Public Organization) (NIA) recently introduced the seven upcoming innovative agriculture trends suited to Thailand.
These trends encompass the entire production chain from farms to consumers and aim to help farmers blend traditional wisdom with deep tech and innovation while also creating new business models and new careers related to agriculture. The seven trends are agricultural biotechnology; digital agriculture; modern farming practices; agricultural machinery and robots with automated systems; agricultural business services; postharvest handling and transportation; and biorefinery business and agriproduct processing using biotechnology.
The influx of smart farming knowledge
With the farming sector widely recognised as the backbone of the country, the leading telecom operators are also working to help farmers leverage advanced technologies to improve the way they grow and manage their produce.
Advanced Info Services (AIS), Thailand’s largest smartphone and digital service provider, is expanding the ‘Farmsuk’ learning centres through the intelligent farm (iFarm) application, a platform based on NB-IoT. The iFarm allows users to experience a digital ecosystem fully geared towards agricultural business, where digital technology is used to improve farming by systematically managing tasks, automatically controlling planting and assessing weather conditions.
Dtac and social enterprise the Samnuek Rak Ban Kerd Co., Ltd. (RBK) have been promoting smart farmers for more than a decade through various projects, including the development of the Farm Info application, the annual young smart farmer competition and the farm man yum (precision farm) model.
State-owned telecom operator CAT Telecom is expanding its IoT-based smart farmer model “CAT Digital Come Together” to schools and communities nationwide. The project is designed to combine conventional agricultural skills with cutting-edge IoT technology to help improve the efficiency of farming functions, including weather analysis and intelligent irrigation control.
Embracing modern technologies
Over the past few years, agritech startups have been playing a greater role in changing the landscape of the farming sector as it becomes evident that more and more Thai farmers are opening up to modern technology for better farming productivity and food safety for consumers. Social enterprise Ricult Co is one of the promising agritech startups that applies deep technology to develop precision farming practices.
Aukrit Unahalekhaka, CEO and co-founder of Ricult Co, explains that the Ricult application offers the most precise weather and rainfall forecast in Thailand over some time, ranging from 7 days to 6 weeks and 9 months ahead. The company uses AI, Big Data, machine learning and satellite imagery to develop a platform to help farmers in Thailand to maximise farmers’ profit margins.
Other Thai agritech startups receiving funding support from the Digital Economy Promotion Agency include Tevada Corp, Komomi, Ling – Triple I Geographic and Cropperz.
Drones are one of the most widely implemented new technologies in precision agriculture. Several farmers now see drones as labour-saving devices, deploying the equipment for seeding, precision fertigation and chemical spraying.
In addition to locally made drones by such firms as Kaset Gen-Y, Novy and Bug Away Thailand, Thai Advance Innovation Co., a subsidiary of satellite operator Thaicom, formed a joint venture with AI and Robotics Ventures Co, a subsidiary of PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) in July 2020 to develop drones and related services for smart farming. The joint venture company, ATI Technologies Co, will provide integrated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone solutions for farm use covering production, distribution and services.
Mitr Phol, Thailand’s and Asia’s biggest sugar producer, is at the forefront in the use of cutting-edge technologies such as a satellite remote sensing, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and advanced weather forecasting systems to help growers plan specific actions such as irrigation, fertiliser application and pesticide control proactively to fight against yield loss and increase productivity and quality.
In August, Siam Kubota Corporation officially launched KUBOTA Farm as a learning centre for comprehensive agricultural innovations based on the KUBOTA (Agri) Solution. Located on over 22 rai in Chonburi Province, KUBOTA Farm showcases new technologies and the latest models of farm machinery including soil sensor, weather station, farm IoT dashboard, rice crop calendar application and greenhouse technology.
In the middle of August 2020, the National 5G Committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved a plan to use 5G technology at the Doi Tung Development Project and Roi Jai Rak project in Chiang Rai as the government’s pilot projects to develop smart farming.