A new revolution is sprouting at the intersection of technologies

Sep 21, 2018

A new revolution is sprouting at the intersection of technologies

 

In the new age of agriculture, technologies such as sensors, mobile, telematics, data analytics etc. are converging to make production more efficient.  

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It’s not news that the world is facing a resource crunch – especially when it comes to basic human needs. According to WHO, hunger is on the rise again, and 11% of the global population is chronically undernourished [1].This problem will get worse as global population increases - food production will need to increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the demands of a rising population [2]. As the arable acreage and other agricultural resources remain the same, if there was ever a time to do more from less, it is now.

 

The productivity gains from farm mechanization are reaching a plateau. We need a new approach – a smarter approach that uses advanced technology to improve agricultural productivity and significantly improve yields, produce healthier crops, and feed more people efficiently. Enter Smart Farming. Due to its potential positive impact on society, and the impact it has on the industry in terms of reduced wastage, improved bottom line, and lower carbon footprint; smart farming topped the list in in the 2016 Global Opportunity Report [3].

 

Precision farming – the new paradigm for agriculture

 

A component of smart farming is precision agriculture. Agriculture by design is an uncertain process – with multiple variables affecting crop yields. Precision farming uses technology - sensors, robots, drones, GPS, mapping tools, wireless, telematics, and data-analytics - to eliminate this uncertainty and customize care at individual plant level without increasing manual effort. German farms using advanced digital technology have reported higher yields per hectare while reducing nitrogen levels, and reducing herbicide and diesel use by 10% and 20% respectively [4].

 

Farmers using this approach can take intelligent, informed decisions at every stage of the produce – from soil preparation, to seeding, to crop management, and harvesting. For instance, a precision farmer can look at crop data in real time, and decide which plants need more water (and how much), where another dose of fertilizer should be added, and which patch could do with another round of weeding.

 

Precision agriculture can help farmers:

  • Take intelligent, data based decisions
  • Control the production process, minimizing risks and wastage
  • Reduce costs and improve operational efficiency
  • Enhance quality AND yield
  • Improve revenues and profitability

 

In the last decade, precision farming has seen wide spread acceptance – especially in Europe 70 to 80% of new farm equipment sold today has some form of precision farming component inside [5]. Though it is still in the early stages in APAC, this market is estimated to reach USD 2.06 billion by 2023 [6].

 

The precision farming landscape

 

There are many components that make up the precision farming landscape – from the technology, availability of hardware, software, and services, and the potential applications they can used for (figure 1). In each of these areas, rapid innovation is creating new solutions at unprecedented pace as interest from AgTech startups, governments, and key industry players rises.

 

However, three key drivers lie at the crux of this revolution – connectivity, access, and data: the essence of IoT. Without the intersection of these components - connectivity (IoT) to share real time updates, ability to access and store this information (Cloud), and to analyze this data (Analytics) - precision farming would not be possible.

 

Figure 1: Precision Agriculture Landscape

Data is the hero on connected farms

 

The key to every decision that could drive quality and yield on a connected farm is data. At any point in time, connected devices and systems are streaming in data about factors that impact the farm such as weather, soil, seeds, fertilizers, plant health, pest infestation, water requirement, market trends, etc. This data is heterogeneous and could be structured or unstructured – and every data set adds to building a comprehensive picture of the farm. Being able to use this data to build detailed crop models and early warning systems for predictive and preventive measures in response to events such as weather changes, disease etc. is indispensable for the modern farmer. 

 

As the data volume and complexity grows - the average farm will generate 1.4 million data points daily in 2050 [7] - machine learning and artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role in making sense of it and generating actionable insights – which then in turn will be acted upon by robots and other smart machines.

 

 

Access to data and insights gives farmers more control over their land and more information about its optimal use. Companies such as The Climate Corporation, Trimble, and Gamaya already offer data-driven agricultural insights. There are also comprehensive farm productivity management systems available in the market such as FarmLogs and Cropio. These end-to-end systems install IoT devices and sensors on premise and integrate data on powerful dashboards with analytical capabilities and in-built accounting/reporting features. Then there are integrated systems such as John Deere FarmSight that connect equipment, owners, operators and dealers to provide new levels of productivity in farm management.

 

The road ahead

 

While the promise of precision farming is a win-win situation for all, there are still many challenges to overcome. How do we provide high speed, uninterrupted Internet access in rural areas? How do we build economical solutions for remote farmers to access and process real time insights? How do we build more farmer friendly solutions independent of size and scale of farms? What are the data privacy and security concerns? How do we standardize equipment output and ensure compatibility across systems? At Interchange Network we are looking at solving these challenges with all of you.

 

Let us know your views on technology advancements and data shaping the future of how we grow food? What emerging technology do you see playing the most prominent role in this future?

 

Participate in the precision agriculture challenge here: https://interchange.network/topics/3407/home

 

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