Agriculture and technology have always gone hand in hand. Never more so than in 2020 when the Covid emergency sent people racing to supermarket shelves and the shortage of farm labourers became acute. With the introduction of automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, drones and the IoT, this prime sector in Italy’s economy is preparing to harvest trends and drive forward projects triggered by the lockdown.
According to the ASD Report on smart agriculture, the sector is today worth 13.8 billion dollars and by 2025 it could reach 22 billion, setting in motion a virtuous process aiming for growth and sustainability. To achieve these goals a number problems have to be solved, for instance a more efficient use of water resources (70% of the global freshwater supply is drained off farmland), soil fertility (by reducing intensely farmed areas) and improving yield (using sensors to monitor the soil). Not to mention administrative and business related matters. This would be a boost for the whole agriculture and food market which is worth 538 billion and employs over 3.6 million people.
Smart agriculture is today worth 13.8 billion dollars and by 2025 it could reach 22 billion.
“In Italy, our commitment to research and development has always been a sore point,” claims Donato Rotundo, Director of the Sustainable Development and Innovation Area at Confagricoltura (Italy’s main confederation of farmers). However, in agriculture some progress has been made in the past few years. The government seems to have learnt from past experience and has introduced its Agriculture 4.0 plan. Its first goal: over the next two years, ensure that 10% of Italy’s agricultural land benefits from a series of developments ranging from yield and quality optimisation to cost reduction, minimising the environmental impact of crops, fertilisers and pesticides, as well as reducing water and fuel consumption.
These challenges are very clear for people like Rotundo, who continues: “We need to work on yield to improve the productivity of farming businesses but without forgetting the environmental impact. The adoption of digital technology is another option, though for smaller farmers this is often both a cultural and financial obstacle. But as we saw during lockdown, this pandemic has triggered the development of eCommerce and brought farmers closer to consumers, which has also helped them mitigate the impact of the closure of the catering and hospitality sector.”
New job opportunities are appearing, such as drone pilots for crop monitoring and energy engineers for more efficient consumption and the use of Biomethane.
These new developments in and around agriculture bring with them new job opportunities. From drone pilots for crop monitoring and energy engineers for more efficient consumption and the use of Biomethane, to data analysts to keep track of sensor and probe reports, eCommerce specialists to open up direct sales channels. The list goes on: irrigation and genetic experts, and packaging designers. These developments sometimes need a generation change: “We know that there are many elderly people in agriculture, but these innovations could make the sector more attractive to a new workforce to change the way we farm and find new sources of revenue,” Rotundo concludes.
The labour market is seeking increasingly specialised talents for the sector, talents with a combination of agricultural and engineering skills. The first of its kind in Italy, the Master’s in Agriculture 4.0 established by the University of Molise for the 2020-2021 academic year in partnership with Adecco Training, Mylia, and Modis Consulting, aims to develop these new profiles for Italian farming businesses. The Master’s, led by Professor Pasquale Catalano, lecturer in Agricultural Mechanics, aims to fill the gap in post-graduate qualifications by developing the experts needed by Agriculture 4.0 and promoting the adoption of technology and digital solutions. The course will provide students with opportunities for work placement and internships on the most advanced farms.
The professional opportunities are varied, ranging from jobs on smart farms and in consulting firms providing support to help farmers innovate. “Several companies have already expressed interest in the professional profiles who complete this course of study,” explains Sara Toticchi, EU Funding Manager at Adecco Training. “We decided to introduce this Master’s in Molise because of the impact this kind of course could have on areas of Southern Italy and its farms, and to increase opportunities for young graduates in the South,” she concludes.
In addition to classroom learning, the course includes practical tutorials and workshops with a final work placement to gain first-hand experience. Modis, the Adecco Group’s engineering business, will act as intermediary between the demand from the job market and the Master’s course.
Admission to the course, which is limited to 20 places, requires a degree in computer science, electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, agricultural science and technology, or food science. The application deadline is September 14 with more information and application forms to be found on the University website.