Advances in technology have traditionally had a notable influence on agriculture as far back as when man first began to till the land. In this modern era, things are no different. Technology now touches every area of modern day production and its significant impact on agriculture can’t go undetected. From producing crops to rearing animals and post-production processes, data and technological inventions are radically changing the face of agriculture as we know it. Here are a few ways innovation is improving agriculture.
The use of drones has seen an increase in versatility of application in the recent past. Drones are by nature unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and it is this feature that provides unique advantages in various use cases. One of these has been in farm management.
Large tracts of land are typically difficult to manage even with adequate personnel. Drones enable the farmer to be able to capture high-resolution images of their big farms regularly. These pictures are pushed onto a cloud service that runs specific algorithms which analyze the images and provide data and insights in several areas. These can include:
- Plant count.
- Crop density and height.
- Vegetation indices.
- Compromised plots.
- Plot statistics.
- Leaf area.
- Anomaly detection.
Drones can provide a closer look at the effectiveness of various irrigation techniques, i.e., mid-elevation and low- elevation irrigation. Using thermal irrigation, data sourced from the drone can be used to detect and track any issues with canopy stress or crop vigor.
A PwC report forecasts the use of drones in agriculture to grow by approximately $32.4 billion over the coming few years alone. As the costs of technology used in manufacturing drones become cheaper over time, this indicates the potential of UAVs to influence agriculture in the future significantly.
The rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence has given birth to industrial applications of autonomous robots in various phases of production. Agriculture has also not been left behind in this wave of industrial adoption.
Weeds are a big headache for large scale growers. Their resistance to herbicides can slow down a plantation’s operating efficiency.Using robotic farm machines to target specific weeds with herbicides increases the production efficiency of extensive plantations. Equipping autonomous tractors with technology that assists in weed detection helps attackup to 90 percent of weeds present on the farm and save approximately 75 percent on the herbicide used to spray them.
Robots are also beginning to participate in cost-effectively performing certain routine farm activities. Harvesting, cultivating, shearing, fruit picking, etc. are just some of the tasks that robots are increasingly taking on from human farm workers.
Robots equipped with sensors are deployed on the farm to assist in weeding and seed breeding. When they are passing through the plant rows, their sensors pick up on the plants present and gather relevant information. This information is sent to a central server for analysis to provide insights on seed breeding. Robots equipped with weeding equipment punch weeds they detect while moving around the plant rows.
Weather is one of the most formidable variables in agricultural production. In decades, past producers have relied heavily on manual means to assess weather patterns in making decisions integral to the overall crop. Real-time information collection on the weather is the cornerstone of weather analytics.
Information that can be collected over a period is stored centrally and regularly updated and parsed to deliver insights on rainfall patterns. If a producer can tell with fair certainty that it is going to rain in the coming days, they can choose not to apply fertilizer, for example, to avoid it being washed off.
An intensive investment in IT infrastructure is currently necessary to collect and collate weather data. However, the proliferation of mobile devices alongside an increase in crowd sourced agricultural information is enabling smaller producers also to predict weather better.
Smart Water Systems
70 percent of the world’s fresh water goes to agricultural operations. Much of this water, however, is not used efficiently leading to a lot of waste. With the increase in water scarcity, agricultural organizations face the task of finding new ways to use the precious resource with as little wastage as possible.
Producers are installing sensors along their farm production lines to more closely monitor leaks in their irrigation systems. The sensors continually collect data and send it for analysis to generate insights on where along the production line can irrigation be tweaked to minimize wastage.
Automation in irrigation is also another way that producers have adopted technology to irrigate crops. Algorithms are created to control the exact amount of water a plant will need and when it will need it. The result is more precise irrigation timing that only dispenses the required quantities of water dispensed. This saves on costs and reduces wastage while minimizing instances of over or under irrigation.
The rise of the internet of things (IoT) in agriculture has led to a lot of data being generated from various parts of the farm and also from post-harvest processes. All this information is meaningless unless it is categorized and analyzed to provide actionable insights. Cloud technology plays an integral role in performing several data processes in real-time and from several locations. It also provides more granular control in dealing with data.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Research into the genetic makeup of crops and even animals have led to the ability to alter their DNA make up in desirable ways. Drought resistant plants that take shorter times to mature can be created to alleviate hunger and increase productivity. With the world’s population expected to grow by as much as 34 percent by 2050, the ability to modify agricultural produce to feed the rising population will be a key factor.
Global positioning system technology has significantly impacted how agricultural operations happen. It has enabled producers to gain greater control over how they manage their land. This has led to increased yields and profitability. Better field navigation reduces redundancy in fertilizer application. Precision soil and ground mapping help localize the use of chemicals as required per area.
Scanning technology is increasingly playing a more direct role in determining the efficiency of fertilizer use. Smart scanners analyze the farm to locate and isolate areas animals have urinated. Since the urine of some animals is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, identifying these areas can lead to less fertilizer use. The cost savings in consistent scanner use can run as high as 35 percent.
Technology has been inseparable from agriculture in every age that man has lived through. The current boom in various technological fields has seen the rise of trends that significantly impact the way many now approach agriculture. New inventions are generating a lot of data that is providing precise control over various processes. With a predicted rise in population, the role of technology in agriculture is only going to increase.