Modern farmers and tech startups bring their digital culture to bear on farming, creating online fruit and veg shops, apps and other tools for environmental sustainability.
Old meets new economy on fields. Young people who are involved in farming aim industry innovation and there are increasing numbers of digital farmers, online veg shops and tech startups that are making agriculture their business. In Italy that’s called agriculture 2.0. There is a lot of talk about it, in view of the food-themed Expo 2015. But the theme concerns the whole Europe, where belief that agriculture industry needs new blood and innovative workers to grow is emerging.
Beyond the enthusiasm of a happy return to the land, we need to acknowledge that the percentages of farmers under 35 are still low. While in Poland they reach 14,7%, the figures are more daunting in other countries, such as Italy (5,1%), Uk (4,1%) and Portugal (2,6%). For this reason, the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council has just approved a document to support young farmers, focused on access to credit, land and knowledge. It aims for generational change and innovation to combat the economic and employment crisis.
In anticipation of institutional incentives, a first push for innovation comes from the bottom, from young who decided to bring their digital culture to bear on agriculture, often combining ecommerce and organic farming. It’s the case of Contadini per passione, three guys who grow an orange grove in Sicily and use the web to promote themselves and sell their products. Through their website they do storytelling, by describing their activity on the fields. Social media and web marketing are used to acquire new customers, ecommerce shortens the supply chain and eliminates intermediation between producer and consumer. “Arms aren’t enough. It is finally understood that agriculture also needs brains. It needs to involve new people, smart, dynamic, brilliant, so as to improve the relationship between innovation and tradition”, 31-year-old founder Paolo Barbera said.
Oscar Green winner 2014, Straberry is a startup that grows and sells berries through sustainable technology and in two years has achieved a turnover of 1 million euros. The photovoltaic panels on the greenhouse roof enable the company to produce clean energy for itself and other 5000 people. Strawberries grow out of the soil, in hanging gutters suspended 1,50 metre above the ground. Fruit, along with jams, juices and salads, is delivered in the city by Ape cars and every consumer, by using a code, can verify when it was harvested, where and by whom, through a certified traceability system.
Ecommerce-based Cortilia is a digital agricultural marketplace that allows users to get fresh and seasonal products boxes at home from local farmers, in subscription or occasionally. Its purchase model responds to the increasingly consumers demand to eat healthily and sustainable, saving time. Here too, the farmers use the website to tell their stories and describe work behind their products. This business model has convinced investors and the company raised 2,5 million funds since its founding in 2011.
Innovative ideas are also coming from experienced entrepreneurs like Oscar Farinetti, founder of high-end Italian food chain Eataly. He plans to sell fresh products online from a big garden, which will equipped with cameras to show how vegetables will be farmed.
Then there are startups inventing apps and high-tech products to optimize agricultural practices such as Smart Ground, which simplifies activities and reduces the waste of water resources through environmental detection devices and a user-friendly software. The main aim is to promote sustainable use of water – more and more limited and subject to waste – by monitoring the amount in the soil and allowing irrigation only when and where there is a genuine need, according to the different crops.
This and other innovative tools from all around the world will be showcased during the next universal exposition in Milan.