With eight billion people currently existing on our planet and a population predicted to continue to grow into the future, we no longer have the luxury of unlimited, untapped natural resources.
Therefore sustainability, or the idea of maintaining the resources we do have so we have them in the future, has become integral to the future survival of human beings. When it comes to sustainable agriculture and growing successful future farming systems to support a resilient and plentiful food supply, sustainability is dependent on the adoption of precision farm management practices and techniques.
New technology enables agile farm management. It is how modern farmers worldwide can adapt to produce enough food to feed the world using the precious and limited natural resources available to them despite growing populations and challenging climate and economic conditions.
Modern technology is also creating more efficient management systems, generating more profitable agricultural production.
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Modern Technology in Agriculture
The precision farming and technological revolution in agriculture began in the late 20th century with advances in GPS-location tracking technology.
Row-crop farmers, for the first time, were able to collect data based on pinpoint locations in a field and use satellite control to auto-steer their tractors. This data was then automated and mechanized, culminating in variable rate seeding technology that allowed farmers to upload a “script” that then directed their seeder to vary seeding rates as precise field locations as per the script.
The same variable rate concept has since been adapted to fertilization and irrigation. Additional field management data is collected using other technologies like satellite imagery or images collected from drones or planes. Wireless field sensors collect data like field moisture, ambient temperature, humidity and, in orchards and vineyards, plant evapotranspiration rates.
With all this new information, modern-day farmers are able to precisely fine-tune their agronomic decisions, budgeting for just the amount of inputs they needed. Seeding, nutrient and irrigation management practice designs are overlaid with yield data and soil and nutrient maps.
On the animal production side, there have also been many precision agriculture and technological advances. For instance, RFID ear tags used on dairy farms collect vital statistics like feed consumption, milk production and health metrics like temperature and rumination. This gives farmers precise data to make herd improvement decisions and identify any red flags in their herd production. RFID tags are even connected with wireless grain feeding systems, so when a specific cow is being milked, it receives the exact mix of grain and minerals to optimize its milk production.
In addition, Wi-Fi and the IoT (internet of things) has revealed unlimited possibilities for more efficient farm management and better agricultural economics. Farmers use wireless devices like their mobile phones or a tablet to receive and transmit data and record-keeping between the office, the field, their equipment and the team, allowing real-time production decisions and creating one interconnected farm management unit.
5 Ways Tech is Changing the Way We Grow Crops
The tech revolution and modern farm management are rapidly creating a whole new agricultural ecosystem and changing the way we grow and manage crops, all the way from the field to the fork.
Farmers are no longer making decisions based on their ‘gut’ or ‘by feel’. Instead, they are relying on complex datasets and information that simply wasn’t available to farmers of previous generations. Modern-day farmers then merge this new insight with automation, mechanization and new agricultural science for a more profitable and sustainable farm business. Agribusinesses use this deep level of insight to streamline the efficiencies of their operations but also to identify and improve their sustainability metrics.
Automation of Tasks
Common farm tasks are increasingly being automated in real-time.
Tractors are no longer versions of simple trucks with engines powerful enough to pull heavy equipment through a field, but fully-equipped computers collecting data and giving instructions. Yield mapping sensors installed combine to collect data about the yield and other crop characteristics during the harvest.
Variable rate technology provides the application of the right amount of inputs, in the right location on the field, and at the right time.
When a tractor passes over the field, the sensor gathers the data which can be processed in two ways:
· The data is immediately delivered to the farm equipment responsible for the application (i.e. agricultural sprayer).
· The data is delivered in the form of a soil map that needs to be processed before its further delivery to the farm equipment responsible for the application.
In addition, automation, via machine learning and robotics, is helping farmers to reduce labor and increase their farm efficiencies, ultimately leading to more sustainable farming systems. For instance, robotic feeders and milking parlors are now becoming common on dairy farms. On the crop production side, robotic, driverless tractors perform tillage tasks and fleets of robotic weeding machines cultivate weeds while farmers attend to other tasks.
Reduced Chemical Applications
While farmers still use chemical pesticides, herbicides and pesticides in their farming systems, the modern-day level l of precision data and automation has given farmers the ability to fine-tune their agronomic decisions and greatly reduce the chemicals they use.
Rather than over-applying fertilizer to guarantee high yields, farmers now only apply fertilizer exactly where and when needed. The same thing goes for herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. Instead of spraying an entire field, farmers are only applying chemicals where outbreaks of weeds, pests or diseases are occurring or where agronomy advisors point out a problem.
The result is reduced use of chemicals improving farm sustainability and profitability.
Controlled Environment Agriculture
Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is the most extreme version of modern farm management. In CEA production, all elements of growing food, including lighting and temperature are controlled, typically in an entirely indoor building, although greenhouses incorporate many aspects of CEA technology along with capturing natural sunlight through glass or plastic-covered buildings.
CEA production systems are currently producing just a fraction of our food crops, but certain high-value specialty crops like fresh herbs, tomatoes, salad greens and strawberries are now being produced via CEA production systems or hybrid greenhouse and CEA systems. CEA also has an advantage in that farmland isn’t needed, so this type of farming can be sited close to their markets – like in warehouses in the middle of urban centers.
Block Chain Technology in Agriculture
Blockchain technology is being applied to agriculture products, allowing a crop to be tracked all the way from the farm field, through processing and to its final destination on dinner plates.
Blockchain technology unveils new valuable insights for large-scale agribusiness and food production systems with the ability to reduce information siloes, identify new areas for improvement and create whole-farm solutions for the supply chain. Blockchain technology also can be used to identify and head-off food safety risks plus capture and pass down sustainability metrics through the supply chain opening up new markets for sustainably-grown crops.
Farm Management Software
The agricultural technological revolution would not be possible without the use of data analytics to analyze the vast amount of information collected in modern-day farming equipment.
Modern farm management takes advantage of data to drive decision-making and reduces mistakes and guesswork. But, all that data is worthless if it can’t be effectively analyzed in a way that is useful, accurate and easily accessible to farm operators.
AGRIVI’s digital agricultural technology provides farmers and agribusinesses with everything they need to capture value from farm data, manage their risks, and automate their farm work and tasks while maximizing farm management efficiencies, crop production sustainability and operational profitability.
Advantages to Modern Tech and Farming
The advantages of modern tech in farming don’t just benefit farmers but our entire food supply chain.
With precision farming farmers and ranchers can grow more food using fewer resources. This means less pressure to burn down forests or till up native ecosystems to open up more farmland. It also results in less environmental pollution from agricultural chemicals, reduces the impact of agriculture on climate change and preserves precious natural resources, like water, for future generations.
Modern tech allows farmers to reduce the time they spend on repetitive farm tasks and creates safer environments for farmers and their field hands. Instead of spending hours in a tractor, a farmer can monitor a driverless tractor from their computer desk while they attend to other tasks or spend quality time with their family.
Revolutionary new technology like CEA means food can be produced locally in areas where farming wasn’t possible before, from urban centers to deserts. And farm management software, like AGRIVI, allows farmers and ranchers to more easily and accurately capture and store farm records so they can become more informed, efficient producers resulting in better crop management and higher farm income.