The sector of innovation in agriculture is growing: 12% of world start-ups are Italian
Agriculture 4.0 consists in the harmonious and interconnected use in agriculture of different digital technologies, aimed at improving the output and sustainability of plantations, quality of products and working conditions. It is the result of the combination of two separate strategies: precision agriculture, i.e. the approach to agriculture which, through the use of satellite technologies, GPS and software on machinery, allows to carry out targeted agronomic interventions, which take into account the farming requirements and the physical and biochemical features of the land; and Internet of Farming, i.e. the digital connection between field activities and all the other related processes and among the technical and human resources of companies, of logistic and commercial networks. Through the cross analysis of environmental, climatic and agricultural factors, one can establish the irrigation and nutritional requirements of plantations and prevent pathologies, by identifying pests before they proliferate, with the result of a considerable improvement in the quality of products. In the next stage, by connecting to the network, one can establish the most suitable moment for harvesting, depending on the production chain, thus being able to trace the product in each stage, from the field to processing, with a more efficient exchange of goods and information. On a global level, the strongest boost for technology innovation in the agricultural sector comes from newly-set up companies, which are named as AgriFood start-ups.
According to a research carried out by the monitoring body Osservatorio Smart AgriFood of the School of Management of Milan’s Polytechnics and by the lab Laboratorio RISE of the University of Brescia, a total of 481 AgriFood start-ups have been set up since 2011, of which 60, i.e. nearly 12%, are Italian. If the application of Agriculture 4.0 is still not very widespread as far as established farms are concerned, the application of AgriFood start-ups appears to be a growing phenomenon, which must be closely monitored. The fact of being “digital natives” renders new agricultural companies more incline towards the application of technology innovation. The sector of Agriculture 4.0, in which AgriFood start-ups are more active, is that of precision agriculture, with the use of drones and other innovative systems to trace plantations, which receives the highest amount of financing, in terms of value. Start-ups which deal with food quality rank second. In this segment, Italy can rely on a competitive advantage, gained through centuries of wine and food tradition. As regards qualifying technologies, Internet of Things and Big Data are mostly used. Companies use data and information from the network to launch innovative production, distribution and marketing strategies, with an advanced technology content. Another aspect, not to be underestimated, is linked to the role played by young people in innovating the agriculture sector: AgriFood start-ups, in this context, become a means for generational turnover, encouraging young people to devote themselves to agriculture by using technologies which they often already master and which can integrate the heritage of agriculture traditions, a prerogative of the previous generations. As far as agrifood companies in Liguria are concerned, the application of the principles of Agriculture 4.0 is still not very widespread, even if there are a few tangible examples of high digital technology applied to the sector. One of these is the Il Monticello farm, set up over 35 years ago in the lands inherited by Pier Luigi Neri in the hills above Sarzana. Neri is an electronic engineer with the passion for wine growing; not by chance, he is a person who is familiar with technology.
The brothers Alessandro and Davide Neri, sons of the founder and current owners, have drones for the analysis of grape ripening, as well as monitoring control units for vine diseases in cooperation with companies and universities, and other advanced tools in the wine growing sector. All these elements make of this farm a model of digital innovation, in the full respect of nature and of farmers traditions, passed on through the centuries