Agriculture and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Building a Smarter, More Sustainable Food System

Agriculture and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Building a Smarter, More Sustainable Food System

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Agriculture and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Building a Smarter, More Sustainable Food System

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James C. Collins, Jr. is executive vice president of DuPont. He has responsibility for the DuPont Agriculture segment: DuPont Pioneer and Crop Protection.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 10:15am

CAMPAIGN: DuPont Sustainable Innovations

CONTENT: Article

Last week, more than 2,000 global leaders convened in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting to answer one question: how can we master the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, described “a Fourth Industrial Revolution [that] is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”  In this new revolution, change will come at a breakneck pace as systems become exponentially more intelligent, interconnected, adaptable and resilient.  While there are challenges – both human and technological – to the velocity and scale of such change, the opportunity to radically transform the productivity and efficiency of our production systems is immense. 

This opportunity is nowhere more apparent than in the world’s agricultural value chains where solutions must be developed to sustainably feed the estimated 9 billion people who will inhabit our planet by 2050. Much of this population growth will occur in developing countries, many of which are already struggling to meet their current food needs. Overall food consumption will be accompanied by a demand for more diverse and nutritious dietary options as a new global middle class continues to grow.  Environmental factors also add to the food challenge. A changing climate, leading to more extreme weather events – variable precipitation, floods and droughts – and higher average temperatures are all expected to impact crop yields in many parts of the world.

So, how then, do we take advantage of the unprecedented innovation accompanying the Fourth Industrial Revolution to rethink and transform our food systems?

DuPont believes that to address a challenge of this scale — and urgency — all stakeholders need to work together to create a more sustainable food system that achieves solutions that are:

  1. Integrated and holistic: land use, water and energy efficiency, and ecosystems and biodiversity are all interrelated and need to be considered holistically in developing solutions.
  1. Focused on local impact: solutions must support local communities, enhance livelihoods and assure social and economic value to those connected to the food system.
  1. Collaborative: food and agriculture is a system, so we need to take a value network approach. Collaboration among all stakeholders, big and small, is essential if we are to bring sustainable, scalable solutions to the market.
  1. Innovative: product, technical, process and business model innovations will all be required to realize a more sustainable food and agriculture system.

Together, these solutions will help us create a more sustainable and smarter approach to food production. Such “smart farming” can leverage a growing array of new tools that can assist in enhancing productivity and yields while reducing inputs, emissions and resource use. Data is used to drive precision farming and the results can be dramatic. These tools not only help boost productivity but can also extend to help reduce food loss and waste elsewhere in the food supply network.

For example, pests can significantly reduce agricultural yields and quality.  Most farmers rely on inefficient calendar-spraying and other increasingly outdated programs that produce mixed results.  But breakthroughs such as DuPont’s Evalio® AgroSystems provide a better way. Utilizing a network that monitors pest populations and their movements, it offers real-time warnings to farmers, resulting in crop protection measures that are targeted for maximum benefit. Against conventional growing techniques, Evalio® AgroSystems can help improve yield and crop quality, increase economic returns for farmers, and reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

EncircaSM services is another offering that combines the latest technology for weather, soils, agronomy and analytics into a single, optimized platform to help farmers improve their productivity.  DuPont agronomists, researchers and data scientists collaborated to create powerful analytics models that provide growers with a real-time window into crop development and the utilization of key nutrients like nitrogen.  These models integrate decades of agronomy research with new technologies like wireless data transfer and cloud computing to allow for the seamless transfer of data from the field to the farmer’s fingertips.  EncircaSM services can even provide farmers with advanced 3-D views into the composition of the soils on their farms, including valuable information on soil depth, texture, organic matter content, and water holding capacity, to help inform decisions on input management.

Food security and sustainable food systems are closely intertwined. The actions we take to enhance the sustainability of the food supply must also assure better food security and access to nutritious food for all. Collaboration and creativity are imperative in this regard, but so is transparency. People want to understand how their food is grown and how it gets to them.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds great promise and opportunity. Our collective goal will be to harness the elements of the revolution to build an even stronger foundation for sustainably meeting one of humankind’s most basic needs.


James C. Collins, Jr. is executive vice president. He has responsibility for the DuPont Agriculture segment: DuPont Pioneer and Crop Protection.  To learn more about sustainability at DuPont, visit our website.