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Imagining Trend 28 February Feb 2018 0830 28 February 2018

The food industry is hungry for new professions

Digital technology is turning the sector on its head. And while Fico Eataly World - the greatest food park in the world - opens in Bologna, small start-ups are turning more and more to new technologies. Which need completely new skill sets.

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Two hectares of fields and stables with more than 200 animals and 2000 cultivars, 40 farmsteads and 40 restaurants. These, in short, are the figures behind Fico Eataly World, the greatest food park in the world, inaugurated in Bologna. Founded by Oscar Farinetti, it is a living definition of Italy’s food industry: “Basically an Italian-style farmstead, Eataly World is first and foremost a science park”, explains Simona Milvo, Head of Communications. “The associated Foundation acts as a major educational farm, with its eight hectares approximately equating the average size of a farm in Italy. The new park offers a blend of science and play, with a focus on food education from which many schools could learn. Here at Fico, there are 120 companies that organise educational activities devoted to promoting Italy’s tradition and innovation in the agri-food sector”.

In addition to the companies’ exhibition and demonstration spaces, there are six classrooms, six educational “carousels” with interactive media, a theatre, a cinema, and a conference centre that can hold from 200 to 1000 people.

But what is Fico, exactly? “A science park, but also a role model for the world of work”, says Ms Milvo, “as it employs about 700, mostly young people, a number that rises to almost 3,000 if we consider the satellite industries. It is a business platform that unites the north and south of Italy, as well as small and large businesses, in an effort to promote Italian products”.

And it is in this that the real success of Fico lies - it is not merely the fact of creating new jobs and riding the wave of an industry in significant expansion, but of intercepting a major change driven by innovation that is resulting in the emergence of new professions. This innovation is affecting the entire supply chain, that is, the journey food makes from field to fork. A journey that is changing radically, and that requires completely new skill sets.

Over 300 smart agri-food applications are already commonly used in Italy, in the fields of production, processing, distribution and consumption, and range from sensors used in fields and on tractors, through to drones for use in agriculture, and from controlled logistics, through to smart packaging and smart labels.

Fico is also a role model for the world of work, as it employs about 700, mostly young people, a number that rises to almost 3,000 if we consider the satellite industries.

Simona Milvo, Head of Communications for Eataly

To monitor this trend, the Politecnico di Milano School of Management has set up a Smart AgriFood Observatory. Its aim is to study all the new solutions developed to improve the competitiveness of the Italian agri-food industry, ensuring higher quality products and greater supply chain optimisation. Through the use of digital technology, these solutions can help Italy take a leading role in the world’s expanding food industry.

In Italy, Agriculture 4.0 - meaning the use of different technologies to improve the yield and sustainability of crops, the quality of produce and processing techniques, and working conditions - has a market share worth approximately EUR 100 million, 2.5% of the total market: despite the benefits in terms of reduced costs and increased quality and yield of crops, these solutions are not particularly widespread, with less than 1% of all cultivated areas being managed with these systems to date. Many Italian SMEs are moving towards the digital transformation of the agri-food sector, but the real thrust towards innovation comes from new enterprises, with 60 of the 481 Smart AgriFood start-ups founded since 2011 worldwide being based in Italy.

For Chiara Corbo, researcher at the Observatory, “new companies in this sector are introducing interesting innovation and management models, whereas long-standing enterprises still need to bridge a considerable technology gap. What’s certain is that digital technology is turning the sector on its head. On the one hand, it creates new jobs at every stage of the supply chain, from field to fork. On the other, it helps to integrate the farmers’ skills.

Agriculture, breeding and product handling will centre on the processing, analysing and understanding of data. Data analysis is the real work of the future, with ramifications in every field.

Chiara Corbo, researcher at the Smart AgriFood Observatory

While sensors and drones make it possible to improve crop quality, productivity and transparency in the fields, innovation also drives the handling and processing of raw materials. “Just think of the amount of information concerning certain products that arises out of e-commerce and food deliveries”, says Ms Corbo. In the field of breeding, there are now vets that use telemedicine to monitor animals from afar and administer therapies and medicines through web portals. Being conducted online, the entire procedure is tracked and transparent.

What do all these innovations have in common? “Data", says Ms Corbo. "Agriculture, breeding and product handling will increasingly centre on the processing, analysing and understanding of data. Data analysis is the real work of the future, with ramifications in every field”.

The decision to turn to technology is not merely motivated by the food operators’ desire to innovate. The real driver is business. Today’s consumers - those ordinary people who go shopping and eat out - are better informed than ever before. “The food market is moving in this direction because buyers know what they want and where to find information. Once again, it is a question of data. Consumers’ choices are encouraging the supply chain to adopt methods and levels of transparency that go beyond the obligations of law”.

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