When many non-agriculture people think of the agricultural industry, their first thoughts often fall on an incredibly idyllic setting where farmers are working diligently in a field. In these thoughts, farmers might be using tractors, but they are rarely associated with high tech. Rather, these farms and farmers seem to be perennially stuck in the mid-1950s.
Little do many of these people realize that the agricultural industry has changed and changed drastically since that time. Today, technology nearly dominates the business and without its use, many would be edged out of the marketplace altogether. As in many sectors of our economy, technology is king.
Though the adoption of technology has brought about an untold number of benefits in our lives. It also has some profound risks. Perhaps one of the largest of these risks is related to cyber-security. With all of the pushes towards technology and interconnectedness, many industry leaders fear that the entire sector is at risk of coming to a standstill because of one bad actor.
If you haven’t been keeping up on the advances that are currently becoming the standard in agriculture, there is a lot to catch up on. In essence, the entire industry is becoming technologically connected and automated in many ways. For instance, many agribusinesses are adopting CRM software tools to keep track of data such as the number of livestock in a given area, equipment, or customer leads.
Tools that directly improve the speed and accuracy of harvesting with limited human interaction are also coming online at an unprecedented rate. For instance, today nearly all farmers are running highly technical harvest equipment that is more or less automated to manage itself. Some industry leaders are even beginning to introduce robots that are designed to harvest sensitive or difficult crops such as strawberries or grapes.
Still others are incorporating tools that help them manage their resources more effectively. For instance, some are using drones to check on livestock or crops in far corners of fields. Others are incorporating satellite imagery analyses and soil composition readings to determine if there are sections of fields that are drying out faster than others or that could benefit from more or less fertilizer.
Critical Infrastructure Protection
All of these automated services are playing a significant role in increasing production in a given field and enabling farmers to spend more time on other tasks. However, automation opens up several security doors that could lead to risks without proper measures in place. Though it is an unexpected industry to hack, it could be a punishing one for the economy.
In theory, a cybersecurity breach in agriculture could prevent multiple facets of the industry from working at critical times in the harvest season. In a worst-case scenario, this could put the agricultural industry and global food production at a near standstill. Certain staple foods may spoil, supplies could drop substantially, or prices could skyrocket.
This is something that some in the agricultural industry are already experiencing. Small farm corporations have had GPS-automated tractors hacked. One recent large-scale attack took place in the spring of 2021 when the multinational meatpacking company, JBS, was hit with a ransomware attack that forced the shut down of facilities responsible for nearly 20% of the beef processing and a large portion of chicken processing in the United States.
The rise of technology in the agricultural industry has brought numerous benefits. However, cybersecurity risks are very real within the industry as well. Taking steps to secure facets of the agritech is an important means of securing our economy and making sure we can continue to provide food for all.