Humans have tilled the land and raised livestock for millennia, yet the technology behind agriculture is improving and evolving. More innovative solutions to age-old problems are being developed and deployed, so what can we expect from the future of farming?
The world population just crossed the 8 billion mark and is forecast to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and with concerns about food security on the rise, experts are asking how we will feed everyone. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that we will need to produce 60% more food by 2050 to keep up with demand.
However, climate change, natural resource depletion, and soil erosion make the task more challenging. To meet the needs of a growing population, we must rethink food production while protecting our natural resources.
How can we do that? Here are some of the smart technologies shaping agriculture and the future of food production.
Efficiency through vertical farming
Farming uses lots of land and water and consumes all sorts of other resources, such as fertilizer, to create the products we all rely on to live.
But there are more efficient approaches than this. The vertical farming movement seeks to address this by growing upwards, not outwards.
Taking farming indoors, stacking crops high, and bringing the source of food closer to urban areas means less waste and fewer harmful chemicals are needed to grow what the world’s vast population requires.
Vertical farms are also less labor-intensive since smart technologies like the internet of things (IoT) allow the modern farmer to centrally monitor and control everything, with automation reducing the need for manual input from humans.
Autonomous farming machines
Another aspect revolutionizing farming is the heavy autonomous machinery side of the equation.
There have been electric tractors and efficient, agriculture trucks for some time now, and the plan is for fully autonomous equipment to eventually replace traditional vehicles in the years to come.
All sorts of advantages come with automating the process of controlling large equipment, particularly during planting and harvesting. Self-driving tractors don’t need to take breaks, so people won’t be required to stay at the controls morning, noon and night when the most important seasons roll around.
In addition, there’s the question of efficiency and precision. An automated, GPS-controlled vehicle can move with near-millimeter accuracy, making better use of the available land and inputs and using less energy in the process.
Even safety is bolstered through the autonomy of movement for heavy machinery. Taking humans out of hazardous situations is appealing in agriculture and across every other industry.
It’s also worth touching on drones’ role in farming and how this will likely increase as time passes.
Unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras and either controlled by human operators or piloted through automated software can survey vast swathes of farmland in a matter of minutes and transmit their findings in real-time so that farmers can act upon them as necessary. If crop infections are spotted, farmers can deal with them immediately. If animals go missing, they can be found.
Big data and analytics
Big data and analytics is playing an increasingly important role in agriculture. By collecting and analyzing large data sets, farmers can make more informed decisions about everything from seed selection and planting to irrigation and crop marketing.
Agricultural production has long been tied to the weather. Prolonged drought can ruin crops, while too much rain can lead to flooding and landslides. As a result, farmers have always been keenly interested in understanding and predicting the effects of changing weather patterns on their crops.
In recent years, big data and analytics have emerged as powerful tools for agricultural production. Using data gathered from satellites, weather stations, and even individual sensors placed in fields, farmers can now get a real-time picture of conditions across their entire farm.
Farmers can use this information to make irrigation and planting decisions optimized for the current conditions.
In addition, by analyzing historical data, farmers can make more informed decisions about what crops to plant and when to plant them.
The Internet of Things
The internet of things (IoT) refers to a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity tools to enable these objects to collect and exchange data.
The IoT is being used in a variety of industries, including agriculture. For example, in agriculture, IoT-enabled devices are being used to track livestock, monitor crops, and manage irrigation systems. Farmers can use the data collected by these devices to improve yields, reduce costs, and manage resources more efficiently.
By connecting sensors and devices on the farm, the internet of things can provide real-time information on conditions in the field. Farmers can then use this information to optimize irrigation schedules, predict crop yields, and make other decisions that can help improve efficiency and boost profits.
In addition, the internet of things is also helping to improve food safety by providing traceability throughout the food supply chain.
As the climate crisis intensifies, smart farming and other climate-smart farming technologies will play an increasing role as sustainable and ecologically sound ways to feed the world.
Electric tractors reduce carbon by much, much more than autonomous ones. I’d dare say that to claim that autonomy is a decarbonization technology is a bit of greenwashing.