Agroforestry / September 28, 2016

21st Century Precision Agriculture

World population is expected to increase 35% by the year 2050. Within the same timeframe, arable land under cultivation is projected to grow by approximately 5%. Therefore, new technologies within the agriculture industry must be developed in order to achieve adequate food supply during the coming decades. A promising sector in this regard is precision farming, which represents a vital industry that is bound to grow and innovate over the coming decades. Investment banks estimate the precision farming market to be worth more than US$220 billion between today and 2050.

21st Century Precision Agriculture

The practice of incorporating scientific and mechanical technology throughout the farming process was first formalized in the Midwestern United States during the 1980’s. Since then it has spread to countries like France, Germany, and Argentina, amongst others. Nevertheless, during the 21st century, as these techniques become increasingly widespread and accessible, precision agriculture will reach all agricultural operations worldwide. Another important element that will determine the future of precision agriculture is the speed at which research and development progresses. Finally, as these technologies become easier to use and more affordable they will represent a world of opportunity for farmers.

The aim of precision agriculture is growing more food using the same or fewer resources, which is particularly important given the increasing urbanization of societies and the decreasing amount of rural labor supply. Within precision farming, there are several sectors to keep in mind when it comes to increasing agricultural yields. Firstly, mechanization and the use of autonomous vehicles, such as crop collection trucks and tractors, are a promising advance. As public transportation systems start to offer clients the option of autonomous taxis in urban environments, this same technology can also be employed in wide-open crop fields. One or more autonomous tractors can be deployed quickly and efficiently throughout vast agricultural properties with minimal human supervision. Furthermore, these vehicles can perform a variety of functions from crop planting to harvest collection and soil fertilizing.

Another aspect of precision agriculture is the incorporation of drones as a faster and more effective way of monitoring crop growth and performance. Advanced data gathering through drones provides farmers with information that would otherwise be extremely costly to gather, such as soil temperatures, climate conditions throughout the property, watering needs, and moisture levels, amongst other elements. Drones can be used to survey and customize each hectare of farmland efficiently allowing farmers to diversify their production while optimizing land use. In this regard, precision agriculture facilitates practices such as agroforestry and provides an alternative to monoculture.

Large-scale precision agriculture technology involves the use of satellites and GPS in order to track weather systems over the long term and structure agricultural operations through mapping. Similarly, precision farming allows managers to optimize the timing of farming rotations and maximize the nutrients within the soil, such as nitrogen and organic matter, to correspond with the crop being cultivated. Furthermore, after identifying the specific needs and characteristics of the farm, instruments such as drones and autonomous vehicles allow for a more efficient delivery of boosters such as fertilizers and pesticides.

(Read more about Biotechnology in 21st Century Farming)