The food industry is usually considered to be an industry with low research intensity (Charis M. Galanakis, 2016). Farmers and food companies are slower in adopting digital technologies in comparison with other sectors and are just starting adopting and standardising digitisation at proper scale. Innovation and investments in technologies and ICT are differently interpreted according to the company size, but also according to the propensity of the owners.
Nevertheless, the Agri-food sector as a whole (from the fields to the shelves of shops and supermarkets, and catering) remains one of the most important sectors of the current economy and fundamental to face the challenge of food security in the upcoming years. For this reason, the Agri-food sector cannot allow itself to lose the opportunities offered by digitisation.
Agriculture contributed 1.1% to the EU’s GDP in 2018 (Eurostat) and, according to Data & Trends 2019 (FoodDrinkEurope, 2019), the EU food and drink industry employs 4.72 million people, generates a turnover of €1.2 trillion and €236 billion in value added, making it the largest manufacturing industry in the EU and the biggest manufacturing employer in half of the EU’s 27 Member States plus the UK. Just as an example, the agri-food sector value in Italy corresponds to 25% of the Italian GDP (a quarter of the wealth generated in Italy, therefore, is linked to the production and sale of food and drinks).
In general terms, it is necessary to make farms and food industries in Europe aware of digitalisation advantages and benefits, in particular by providing them with success stories and/or testing with them how a technology can concretely be useful. The relationship “technology provider – Agri-food company” is fundamental, to analyse the single case and to realise solutions customised to the specific needs and requirements of the firm.
But some solutions are needed also for those companies which already embraced the Digital Transformation and intend to continue on this path, since some pending issues have not been faced and solved yet. Just as an example, some Agri-food companies (mainly the multinational ones, less the small ones) already embraced digitalization in the last years for different purposes (e.g. to optimise internal operations, for traceability, to manage the warehouse, for logistics and transportation, etc.) and a lot of data are there (generated by the technologies applied inside the company or along the supply chain at the different levels of the food system). However, very often big data remain useless if the company is not able to manage/interpret them (transforming such data into useful information); analytics instruments and skills are needed for managing such a mass of data and to structure the companies in order to get the maximum advantage. In addition, interoperability among different systems and devices cannot still be guaranteed, limiting the success of Digital Transformation from potential users’ point of view.
is a desideratum, but not a reality yet in this sector. It is necessary to show farmers the opportunities offered by digitisation in their specific context, informing and training them on which applications, already available, are the most effective to meet their production needs (including also decision support systems) and to put farmers in the conditions to have access to such innovations, in the full respect of cyber security in terms of data sharing and re-use of data.