Farm-bots, Gamification, Drones, GPS and Big Data: The technologies revolutionizing agriculture

19th July 2017

Agriculture is the biggest industry in the world, employing over 1.3 billion people, close to 40% of the global working population.

In around 50 countries, agriculture employs around half of its population and in some poorer countries, up to 75%. Agriculture is the also largest provider of jobs in the world.

When we think of agriculture, images of chickens, cows and corn come to mind. And, whilst they are indeed the major production industries within agriculture, there are many other sectors that aren’t so obvious, such as tobacco and cotton.

Where industrialised agriculture is concerned, large crops and livestock are produced using industrialised techniques for the purpose of selling goods. The primary goal for industrialised agriculture is to increase the size of crop yields. Also known as intensive agriculture (or farming), using higher input levels, such as capital and labour increases the levels of output per unit of land area.

It’s roughly estimated that the packaged food industry is worth around $1.6 trillion (Euromonitor International), whilst the agriculture and food sector itself is worth around 10% of global gross domestic product, according to the World Bank (approximately $4.8 trillion).

According to McKinsey & Company, the global food industry is hit every year with losses of around $940 billion due to about a third of the world’s food produce being lost or wasted. Ineffective planting and harvesting, unpredictability about the types of weather, incorrect water use and pests are just some of the contributing factors to waste, whereas on the consumer end, food-borne pathogens can cause life-threatening illnesses, such as calobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, and salmonella, which can also be transmitted via inadequate packaging and labelling.

It’s almost impossible to quantify the size of the global food industry. “I could give you a number, but it would be pretty misleading”, Business Insights Director at Nielsen tells Forbes Magazine.

The agriculture industry doesn’t just cover the foods on your plate. It also covers medicinal plants and biofuels.

We couldn’t survive without it. And it is growing.

New technologies are needed to cope with the loss of revenue due to wastage and the growing demand for food around the world because of growing populations.

Over the coming years, the agriculture industry will be seeing more of the following innovations:

The Farm-bot (or Agro-bot)

The farm-bot is an automated robot, which can be accessed by a simple interface from any device. The Farm-bot can be manipulated in real-time via its hardware controls by the user, so scaring birds from the sofa is possible. The farm-bot plants and waters seeds, grows crops in a straight line and us fully optimized and automated.

If the farm-bot isn’t impressive enough on its own merit, the user can easily drag and drop plants onto the map using game-like features on a slick interface, almost like playing a video game!

Drones

Drones are probably one of the most exciting technologies for the agriculture industry due to their plethora of opportunities. At the start of a crop cycle, drones can produce 3D maps for field and soil analysis, which helps with seed patterns, they can also actually plant seeds and nutrients by ‘shooting’ them into the ground.

Crop spraying is done to perfection with drones, with additional technologies such as ground-spraying with the exact amount of liquid, with the distance being sprayed evenly and in real-time via the operator, resulting in increased efficiency with less chemicals penetrating the groundwater. Spray rates are five times faster using drones.

Where planting is concerned, some start-up companies have produced drones which have increased uptake by 75% and reduced the overall cost of planting by 85%.

Ariel imagery is instantly possible with the drones to monitor the land. Previously, satellite imagery was used, which had its limitations. They could only be used daily, had to be pre-ordered, were often imprecise and expensive. Drones offer precise imagery instantly, enabling better management of crops.

GPS

Another term in the industry known as ‘precision agriculture’ uses GPS (Global Positioning System) technologies for coordinates. Farmers using GPS combined with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) are now able to monitor the fields in real-time using specific data collection sets.

Field mapping, crop scouting, vehicle guidance and yield mapping are all being used. Field conditions which used to be an issue; such as darkness, fog and rain, are now a thing of the past as farmers can work in low-visibility.

Big Data

Big Data is expected to have a large impact on Smart Farming. Smart sensors across fields produce large amounts of data, which provide increased precision and therefore capabilities for decision-making. For example, one Big Data technology, Nitrogen Advisor, tracks the available levels of nitrogen in fields with automatic alerts, enabling recommendations for the farmer. The ROI of such technology is around 80%.

Krishna Kumar of CropIn, a Big Data technology provider, believes using Big Data and other technologies is the answer to the current agriculture challenges. His company is currently working on collecting data from the 500 million farmers spread across India, which adds up to approximately a billion acres of land,

“Imagine if we can collect every micro bit of data from each farm and run analytics — imagine if we can process these data in real time. It will be electrifying.”

“By 2050 the world population will hit 9.2 billion”, says Kumar, “If we produce food at the current rate, we will not be able to feed the world.”

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