When you think of farming, it’s easy to conjure up traditional scenes of freshly ploughed fields, harvesting, and hay bales. But it’s the 21st century and, with the help of tech, farming is being transformed. With the digitisation of processes, smarter farming is changing the way farmers work and how our food is produced in a rapidly changing world.
Farmers and agriculture have always faced challenges, from droughts and deluges to infertile soil or crop disease. But 21st century agriculture is faced with an onrushing set of extreme difficulties that have never been seen before. In fact, farmers are having to adjust to major, global challenges that look set to change the agriculture sector forever.
A growing global population is expected to expand steadily by over 30%, reaching figures of around 10 billion by 2050. And with massive population growth comes a higher demand for more food. But with increased urbanisation, together with an already degraded quality of soil, land and natural resources are at a premium.
But perhaps the biggest challenge of our time comes in climate change. Historically - with the odd blip - the seasons could be fairly well relied upon to deliver the right amount of sun and/or rain for crop production. But increases in greenhouse gases and global emissions - leading to a rise in the frequency of both droughts and heavy rains or floods - mean crop yields are being reduced globally.
So what can farmers do? To produce the levels of food the world needs, their natural resources-based methods need to move towards more tech-based innovations. And data-driven farming is signalling the way forward to produce more in an environmentally, economically, and socially acceptable way.
Tech to the rescue
Data-driven farming might not be a phrase you’d ever expect to read, let alone know much about, but the self-styled, global ‘agritech’ sector is here and already gathering pace. It’s been reported that as many as 80% of farmers in the US currently use some kind of smart farming technology. And though the numbers in Europe are around a third lower with just 24%, it's a sector that’s seeing continual growth.
As digital and tech continue to advance, farmers will be able to grow more environmentally friendly crops without the aid of specialist fertilisers and pesticides, or even water in some cases. By using new cross-industry tech and smart equipment, data can be crunched to increase crop productivity for truly green and sustainable agriculture.
Or put simply, farmers can achieve more with less by using the Internet of Things (IoT) to help them streamline processes and innovate new solutions. That’s the idea anyway, but we’re already seeing digital and tech in action and taking big strides towards reshaping - and redefining - the industry.
The Internet of Things
Agritech is now a sector which has the biggest growth potential in the IoT industry at the moment. And, with a new breed of IoT tech behind them, the traditional role of the farmer has already changed with precision farming taking over.
By using high-tech sensory devices, farmers can now measure factors that could affect their crops with more accuracy than ever before. Positioned across fields, smart weather stations can observe climate conditions for a particular crop and provide data to improve their yield. While crop management devices, strategically placed in soil, can monitor temperature and crop health. Drones are also being used to capture aerial and close up images that can show how crops are developing and identifying potential issues.
Even free apps for Android and iPhones are now mainstream in app stores to help UK-based farmers. From a hybrid barley calculator to work out a potential ROI, to a nutrient management guide for best practice on fertilisers, manure, and slurry, and a drone assist app to help optimise safety, security, and privacy when using drones to collect crop data.
With the data collected from all apps and IoT tech, farmers get real-time information so they’re able to see detailed statistics on their crops. Such valuable data can predict when and where precise watering or fertilisation might be needed, as well as monitoring crop growth and any possible diseases that could prove potentially harmful or devastating.
New tech always makes its way into sectors that are being left behind eventually, and agriculture and farming is a good example of this. Now, agritech, with IoT devices, apps, and smart data, is keeping farms more connected and more informed for intelligent planning, crop growth, and land use.
And, with the agritech floodgates now well and truly open, new tech will continue to evolve and develop to become the new reality of agriculture in the 21st century.