Besides limited arable farmland area, in recent years Taiwan’s agriculture is facing challenges brought by structural and environmental changes of the industry, namely aging agricultural population, labor shortages, global competition, and climate change. Taiwan’s agriculture, which is composed mainly by small-scale farmers, must confront challenges in sustainable development. From 2017 to 2022, the Council of Agriculture (COA) implements the Smart Agriculture Program with two main strategies: Smart Production and Digital Service, which seek to systematically link up agricultural production, marketing, and consumer market. Furthermore, by introducing sensors, smart devices, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analysis, it is possible to achieve digital knowledge, smart production, optimized products, convenient operation, and cloud tracing, which facilitate the establishment of smart agricultural production and marketing, as well as digital service system. The goal is to provide much needed assistance to small-scale farmers in their struggle while elevating overall production efficiency and productivity through smart production and smart management.
II. Current Progress
The promotion of the Smart Agriculture Program focuses on integrating ICT components with the following characteristics: technologically mature, world-class, domestically applied or is already exported to overseas market, e.g., combining IoT, smart equipment, big data analysis, and smart sensing technologies with agricultural technologies that are results of world-class research which possess great R&D potential. The program will also select 10 primary industries as main targets based on the following criteria: high demand for industrial upgrade, high adoptability, high level of acceptance, highly competitive industry (species, technology and system), package-plant export potential, and market scale expansion. The 10 leading industries targeted for promotion are: orchid, seedling, mushroom, rice, agricultural facility, major export crops, marine fishery, aquaculture, poultry and livestock industries. The program aims to draw up R&D course according to each industry’s needs through the two principal frameworks of smart production and digital service. It also seeks to meet the requirements of different production processes through different stages of equipment and technology R&D. Farmers will be able to select suitable tools that can help them manage with smart tech according to their particular needs. Furthermore, an interdisciplinary IoT common information platform will also be established to store, analyze, and apply big data of pilot industries.
To summarize, the COA implements the Smart Agriculture Program in response to the problems facing agriculture today. The principal objective is to integrate interdisciplinary professional talents, as well as to apply sensing technology, smart machinery, IoT, and big data analysis among other advanced technologies to agriculture. E.g.:
a) Demographic Structural Changes: In 2016, Taiwan’s population over the age of 65 constituted 12.5% of the total population. In 2060, the older population is expected to reach 39.3%, which means that Taiwan’s future labor force will experience drastic attenuation. The situation will become worse as Taiwan’s current main agricultural manpower is already aging. The objective is to greatly reduce old-age farmers physical burden when harvesting and moving loads by developing strength-saving assistive equipment such as the wearable assistive device, which offers up to 9 kg assistance force to one arm and saves up to 30% muscle strength. The device can effectively reduce fatigue and upper limb soreness, decrease energy depletion while alleviating back pain.
b) Professional talent shortage: Another problem that emerges from agricultural population aging is the gap of passing down of experience and knowledge. Traditional agriculture usually rely on the experiences passed down by seasoned farmers, along with relentless trial-and-error to successfully cultivate and produce superior products, which result in a significantly high entry threshold. Therefore, the smart agriculture program will establish the Greenhouse Master Digital Twin Model by first setting up sensors in fields to collect field information, then proceed to analyze data through AI technology, combined with rich experiences from seasoned farmers and professional knowledge from experts. The result will be the creation of two digital services: Greenhouse Doctor that can help diagnose greenhouse staffs’ operating habits, and Greenhouse Coach that can provide decision-making management suggestions. Not only it can lower the entry threshold for agricultural newcomers but can also allow managerial staff to focus on crop production management and farmland area expansion. Thus, relieve greenhouse administrative pressure and time while lowering farm management personnel workload and relevant expenses.
c) Extensive working hours in agriculture: Traditional agriculture is often at the mercy of the elements, and usually requires considerable amount of time and labor force on management training. Therefore, it is expected that through the application of remote process control combined with sensors, internet, and IoT, farmers can remotely monitor their farms via mobile devices. This will greatly improve agricultural work environment by removing farmers out of field operations under scorching sun and high temperature environment.
d) Small-scale farmers and global trade: Due to its unique geography and cultural environment, farmlands in Taiwan are commonly fragmented and scattered, owned majorly by small-scale farmers. However, under the trend of global trade, overseas large-scale productions tend to lower the cost, threatening the competitiveness of Taiwan’s agricultural products. Thus, the Smart Agriculture Program intends to form an union of smart agriculture small-scale farmers and establish a new partnership relationship between small-scale farmers and agri-businesses, and then proceed to bring in smart technology through Agricultural Research and Extension Stations or via technological support and assistance jointly developed with the private sector. The goal is to achieve environmental monitoring, quality control, risk early-warning, as well as control and production decision-making among other supports. Other objectives include to elevate the regulating effect on production-marketing disequilibrium and risk reduction while improving product competitiveness. A good example is the case of Edamame Smart Farmers' Union, which places processing factory at the core, integrating production, processing and export into a one-stop production model. It is estimated that the utilization of smart GPS tractors and multi-purpose cultivators can increase operational efficiency by 20%, while saving 25% in manpower. With the help of smart scheduling record system, the edamame is sent to the factories for processing within 3 to 6 hours after harvesting, guaranteeing its quality. The edamame is then carefully selected and classified by smart selection system in order to meet export requirement of 8% defective rate. Thanks to the application of various measures, Taiwan’s edamame enjoys an impressive 44.8% share of the Japanese market and a record of 11 consecutive top annual sales to Japan, greatly raising international competitiveness and advantage.
The Smart Agriculture Program has accumulated substantial research results; however, in order to apply them at the farmers end or continuing industrial development, it is necessary to create smart agriculture technical service to assist in agriculture production application, comprehensive agriculture industrial chain application, new technology collaboration for promoting innovative development, data integration and smart agriculture service industry. The purpose is to establish smart agriculture industrial ecosystem. Currently the Smart Agriculture achievement demonstration program encourages technical service providers to participate and commercialize those research results and accelerate the process to reach the consumer market. On the other hand, optimize the research result of interdisciplinary application to meet the need of enterprises and create diverse application value. Subsequently, capability evaluation on smart technology service providers will be carried out in order to draft relevant mechanism for smart agriculture technology service providers and facilitate the wholesome development of smart agriculture industrial ecosystem. Hopefully, Taiwan’s agriculture would no longer be at the mercy of the elements. The government aims to create a safer and more convenient farming environment that would attract more young talents to join the cause, making Taiwan’s agriculture moving towards an efficient, safe, and low-risk new era.
Smart agriculture web portal: https://www.intelligentagri.com.tw/
Smart agriculture English website: https://www.intelligentagri.com.tw/en