From smart devices to robots to electric cars, technology is changing the way we do just about everything. One area that has seen a comparatively slow adoption of technology is farming and agriculture — but it’s not because of a lack of need.
The FAO estimates that by 2050, the world will have over 3 billion more mouths to feed and see a 50% increase in demand for food. Much of that demand will be in cities, far away from where most of the food production takes place. It means that the food system needs an overhaul, and surely technology can help.
While technology alone won’t ‘fix’ the impending food shortage, it can help the food system become more efficient, productive, sustainable, and resilient, according to Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Haim Mendelson. Venture capitalists have realized this, and in 2017 poured $735 million into deals, up from just $57 million in 2013. What kind of technologies are we talking about? Here are some of the top technological trends shaping changes in the farming industry.
Automation is one key way that technology is changing agriculture. Automated tractors, for example, will allow farmers to work several fields at the same time, day and night — and with far less effort. Further automation includes GPS steering, automatic balers, and intelligent power management of tractor operations. There are also automated irrigation systems, which collect soil and water level data so that farmers can use their water resources more efficiently. And in addition to improving efficiency, automation improves accuracy by removing the margin for human error, and may even allow farmers to hire fewer helping hands.
In India, the government and drone companies are working together to use drones for mapping purposes. Many farmers in India are suffering due to drought, and using drones for this purpose can help improve both irrigation systems and agricultural yields. When combined with ever-developing technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, the data and images from the drones can allow farmers to gain insight into soil conditions and plant health, and even help them predict yields.
Online marketplaces have the ability to support farmers in just about every aspect of their operations. Some marketplaces, for example, bring farmers together to lease equipment or enable them to pool together for better insurance. Others connect farmers to potential customers or allow them to sell produce that isn’t ‘perfect’ enough for the local market but is still edible. Still other digital marketplaces help farmers in rural areas find and secure loans.
IoT for Agriculture
Nearly everyone is familiar with the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), which refers to devices connected over a network. In an agricultural context, IoT devices and sensors are being used to help farmers track things like soil moisture and humidity, which can support better planting choices to maximize yields. There are seemingly endless possibilities for what IoT technology can do to make farmers’ lives easier and their businesses more efficient — and time will tell what comes next.