Some may give a dubious look at the convergence of agriculture and IT. Yet no other industry is more heavily employing IT than the agriculture and food industry. Agriculture and IT have formed an inseparable relationship.
Kim Jae-soo, Vice Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) explained, "Today's agriculture can be hardly explained without mentioning IT convergence. The agricultural sector is closely interwoven with IT in numerous areas, such as soil analyses, crop farming technologies, etc. In contrast to traditional agriculture that was solely focused on growing natural agricultural products, modern agriculture has been actively capitalizing on state-of-the-art IBT (e.g. bioengineering technology) in order to obtain remarkable results".
The agriculture and fisheries industry is no longer a primary industry that simply produces food, but it is a new growth engine industry that is swiftly transitioning into a high value-added bio-industry and will lead a bio-economic era. The agriculture and fishery industry is taking full advantage of various bio resources such as microorganisms, flora and fauna, giving rise to eco-friendly energy, food, medicine, environment and ecosystem industries. By adopting cutting-edge technologies like IT, BT, ET and NT, the agriculture and fishery industry is moving forward on a preemptive and creative strategy.
However, the agricultural sector's adoption of IT did not come out of nowhere. The agricultural sector has thus far taken pains to embrace IBT convergence. In the past five years, KRW 33.2 billion was poured into R&D on the food-IT convergence. The MIFAFF has been investing a whopping KRW 22.2 billion in developing and commercializing IT convergence technologies so as to realize high-tech, precision farming in the private sector. On top of that, KRW 3.3 billion and KRW 2.6 billion will be ploughed into fisheries and animal quarantine sectors respectively to develop practical technologies.
Vice Minister Kim said, "Of a total of KRW 775.2 billion in government R&D investment in the agriculture, fisheries and food sectors, the budget allotted to IT convergence has continued to rise: starting from 2012, the budget for IT convergence is likely to zoom up by over 35% annually."
Such investments will be made by several institutions: the Korea Institute of Planning & Evaluation for Technology in Food, Agriculture, and Forestry & Fisheries (IPET) will heavily invest in the cutting-edge production technology sector (e.g. low-input, eco-friendly controlled horticulture equipment and facilities), development of animal u-health care systems and building an IT-based agriculture information system. And the National Fisheries Research & Development Institute and the National Veterinary Research & Quarantine Service plan to invest in a marine information system, aimed to brace for climate change, and R&D on early detection of animal disease such as a highly contagious zoonosis. In addition, the Korea Rural Development Administration (RDA) will sink investments into developing high-precision, agricultural technologies; networks for using farming equipment; and animal welfare-oriented automated management systems. On the other hand, the Korea Forest Service is poised to invest in an integrated information system for predicting natural disasters and offering real-time, GIS-based information on forest geography.
What kind of change will the agriculture -IT convergence bring to us
There is no doubt that the agriculture-IT convergence will transform the agriculture, fisheries and food industries in varied aspects. If so, how will modern agriculture change in the years to come "For a start, the agriculture - IT convergence will speed up the automation of today's agriculture. The emergence of IT-based, next-generation intelligent farming machines and intelligent robots will make agriculture one of state-of-the-art industries. In the foreseeable future, a multiplicity of high value-added crops will be grown in "plant factories" that shield crops from natural disasters. In addition, through building a crop-specific harvest monitoring system, predictions of monthly produce prices will be made more accurate. Diagnosis of animal health, automated management of growth environments, building an integrated system for monitoring forestry disasters and issuing red tide alerts will make the relevant sectors more scientific" said Kim Jae-soo, Vice MIFAFF.
Throwing a samgypsal party at -40 degrees in the Antarctic
Vice Minister Kim mentioned, "The plant factory technology that has been developed over the past decade has been utilized in the King Sejong Station, located in the South Pole. The Sejong Station researchers were unable to eat vegetables because plants cannot survive at - 40 degrees. Now, they throw a samguysal party once a week thanks to Korea's advanced technology. Foreign researchers from neighboring stations pay a visit to the King Sejong Station to get bowled over by Korea's outstanding agricultural technologies. Our plant factory technology can be applied even at the center of any desert."
Attention-grabbing plant factories are a futuristic way of farming that is independent from the environment and can grow vegetables in a confined space with the help of artificial sun rays and other controlling devices. The indispensable elements needed to grow vegetables are controlled artificially to produce same-quality vegetables. Recent spikes in the prices of cabbages and other vegetables can be addressed by plant factories. Vice Minister Kim said, "Once IT is grafted onto the basic production of agriculture and application areas, the whole process will be proceeded with by robots and machines, thereby slashing production costs. What's more, countries of origin and the degree of freshness can be instantly ticked off, which will boost consumer confidence in produce products. It will ultimately lead to quality upgrades and creation of high value." Vice Minister Kim emphasized, "We are living in an era of open markets. Improving quality is a lifeline for the agriculture sector. With the introduction of bioengineering and IT- namely, convergence with informatization technology- to agriculture, Korea's food industry will be able to produce safer and cleaner products."
KOPIA stands at the forefront of exporting Korea's advanced agricultural technology to 10 nations around the world.
Meanwhile, exports of Korean agricultural technologies are worthy of attention. As of now, Korea armed with its first-rate rice, is making consistent efforts to introduce other crop improvement and production technologies to the world.
At the center of such efforts are KOPIA centers, which are located in six nations (Kenya, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Brazil and Paraguay). This year, Korea Plant Industries Association (KOPIA) centers will be opened in Congo, the Philippines and Ethiopia, bringing the total number to 10. KOPIA centers are in charge of spreading Korea's advanced agricultural technologies around the world, conducting joint R&D projects, education, training farmers and information exchanges. Vice Minister Kim stressed, "Korea's convergence of agricultural technologies and IT has already reached a certain level. Other nations are also developing their agricultural sector by embracing IT. Therefore, Korea needs to create an independent model that is well-suited to Korea. To lead the global agricultural industry, we have to develop originative technologies by harnessing local resources." Korea's high-level agricultural technology has leapfrogged into making artificial eardrums from cocoon silk. In the future, R&D on artificial bones will be briskly conducted. Cocoon silk eardrums that completed the R&D stage have entered the clinical test stage. Patents on cocoon silk eardrums have been applied for in five nations. With growing demand for artificial bones, such as dental implants, cocoon silk eardrums are deemed as the optimum replacements in terms of physical traits and biosynthesis. Furthermore, R&D on "mini pigs", designed for human organ transplants, is underway. In September of this year, a cloned piglet named "Belief" was born which was genetically altered to prevent immunorejection, a major hurdle in human organ transplants. In view of plant factories, artificial eardrums and cloned piglets, Korea's agriculture will continue to advance through the convergence with high-tech engineering, bioengineering and nano technology. Vice Minister Kim said, "Last but not least, the prospects and future of Korea's agriculture is brighter than ever before. As the convergence of agriculture, bioengineering and nano technology has a greater growth potential than any other sector, Korea's agriculture is on the right track to surprise us with astonishing achievements."