Feeding the rapidly increasing global population amid the climate crisis requires the speed and accuracy that technology provides. New innovations in agriculture have shown us how technology can help us build more sustainable food systems and improve food security in every corner of the world.
What would have become of the vertical farming industry if not for technologies such as big data analytics, robotics, the internet of things IoT, and artificial intelligence? With Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we can get high-resolution and location-specific views of the farm field. Through smart farming techniques, we can now prevent crop losses on a large scale, speed up harvest time, and manage farm resources with precision (no pun intended).
Top 13 Innovations in Agriculture
From the invention of plows to milking machines, innovations have played a considerable role in agricultural development. Here are some of the latest trends in agriculture technology which are predicted to influence farming globally in 2023 and beyond.
Automation is already a major part of the farming process, but it will become even more important in the coming years. Farmers are already using drones to monitor their crops, and advanced sensors can tell them exactly when they need to water or fertilize their fields. These devices can also be used to monitor soil quality and ensure that crops aren’t affected by drought or other environmental factors.
The increased level of automation will allow farmers to focus more on other aspects of their business than traditional manual labor tasks like watering, seeding, and harvesting.
Blockchain technologies are used in agriculture to track plant information from the farms to the shelf. Powered by a decentralized database, this technology helps regulate the quality of food and its shelf life. The auditable database allows growers and marketers to monitor farm produce throughout the supply chain.
In recent times, Hyperledger, an open-source blockchain framework, has been adopted by Walmart to help the retail giant detect unwholesome food in real time before it gets to the consumer. In addition, to encourage chemical-free farm products and improve transparency in its agric supply chain, India, the world’s largest fruits and vegetables producer, is planning to adopt blockchain technologies in all its Agri exports.
IOT IN AGRICULTURE
IoT is used as a smart farming solution for monitoring the crop field from anywhere. It involves using sensors to track soil moisture, crop health, livestock conditions, temperature, etc.
IoT technologies make it possible to create automated irrigation structures where water resources can be managed efficiently. By collecting crop data such as moisture and temperature, IoT technologies can help determine the right amount of water for crops every season.
GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS (GIS) IN AGRICULTURE
GIS in agriculture relies on technology such as drones and satellites to understand crop position and types, fertilization level, soil status, and related information. With data generated from GIS remote sensing devices and software, farmers can determine the best location for crop planting in the field and make informed decisions on how to improve soil nutrition.
In livestock rearing, GIS software monitors the movement of animals. This, in turn, will help farmers track animals’ health, fertility, or nutrition.
AI/ML & DATA SCIENCE IN AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGY
Agricultural forecasting is made easy when farmers deploy AI/ML & data science technology. The use of 3D laser scanning and spectral imaging/spectral analysis, for example, can help farmers predict weather scenarios and optimize the use of resources required for irrigation, fertilization, and pest control.
Through AI/ML & data science technology, farmers can analyze their fields for the best locations for planting seeds. They can use computer vision to recognize plants’ optimal height, width, and spacing. This data can then be used to optimize their growing methods.
The World Economic Forum describes regenerative agriculture as the way forward to decarbonize the food system and make farming resilient to climate shocks. This unconventional farming practice work based on five fundamental principles.
- Promote biodiversity through the integration of animals and plants
- Improve soil health by adopting all options that will reduce soil disturbance
- Practice soil conservation by keeping the soil surface covered as much as possible
- Practice crop diversity by growing varieties of crops on the same field
- Maintain living roots by planting perennial crops or cover crops
CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT AGRICULTURE (CEA)
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is a method of cultivating plants in a fully regulated environment. It is also known as ‘vertical farming or indoor farming.’ In this type of cultivation, all the plant’s needs are met by artificially providing them with water, nutrients, and light using hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic techniques.
CEA has proven to reduce some of the challenges faced in conventional farming. For example, it greatly reduces water consumption depending on the farm setup. In fact, some vertical farms use 70% to 95% less water than what’s typically required in traditional outdoor farms.
In addition to optimal water usage, CEA protects plants from adverse weather conditions and helps maximize the use of space for cultivation.
In 2022, the global market size of agricultural robotics was nearly $5 billion. The need to meet the increasing global food demand is one of the major driving forces for the wide application and adoption of agriculture robotics.
Many farming activities performed by humans can now be done by agricultural robots (agribots), maximizing productivity and saving enormous resources. Today, agribots are used in seed planting, crop harvesting, weeding, sorting and packaging, livestock management, etc.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones are increasingly becoming useful in crop and livestock management. For example, farmers can use sensor-equipped drones to monitor the growth of plants, detect disease stress, monitor field temperature, and spray pesticides or fertilizers at desired locations on the field.
In animal husbandry, drones are used to observe grasslands and track animal movements on big ranches. Some drones have thermal imaging cameras to detect sick animals with high body temperatures.
The inherent benefits and the rise of drones in farm operations lie in their ability to help farmers acquire comprehensive data to make timely decisions.
The increase in the global population has led to increased food production per capita. However, this has also led to water shortages due to irrigation purposes. To combat these issues, farmers are turning towards precision agriculture as it can save them both time and money.
Precision agriculture is a rapidly evolving farm management system that involves the use of sensor technology, AI, GIS, and IoT to collect and analyze data about the soil, plants, and animals. It allows for more targeted use of inputs such as water, fertilizer, plant nutrients, pesticides, seeds, and labor. Precision agriculture deviates from conventional agriculture practices, where a uniform method is employed over a large area regardless of soil quality or topography variations.
Although there is a growing concern about the health impact of agricultural biotechnology, the use of genetic engineering to improve plants or animals will remain a trend in modern farming. Why? The appeal of this method is in its capacity to increase production and improve global food security. Moreover, genetically modified organisms have been proven safe for human health.
The major challenge that could render GMOs unsafe for consumption is farmers’ failure to comply with regulatory standards when practicing agricultural biotechnology. Otherwise, agricultural biotechnology can improve the quality of farm produce and help create more climate-resilient crops.
BIG DATA & ANALYTICS
The farm is becoming a data factory, with sensors and other technology collecting thousands of data points about everything from soil quality to humidity and crop yields. Big data & analytics can help farmers decide when to plant and harvest, how much water or fertilizer to use, and how much seed they should sow.
Farming operations are subject to weather and environmental changes, which are difficult to access, especially for large farms. Applying big data and analytics in agriculture help farmers predict water cycles or rainfall patterns.
In today’s information-driven world, agriculture production should be based on a knowledge- and data-driven approach. Farmers need to be able to communicate with each other, vendors, and customers to produce more food efficiently. This can be done through connectivity technologies.
Connectivity technologies, such as mobile devices, satellite technology, and internet-based platforms, allow farmers to share information to make better decisions about how they grow their crops or raise their livestock. These technologies also enable farmers to reach out to potential buyers or sell directly to consumers.
We are repeatedly told that the world population is expanding and increasing at a breathtaking pace. As a result, new innovations in agriculture have become necessary to ensure the survival of our species.
In the next decade, crop researchers, farmers, and the governments of countries worldwide will be focused on building innovation and new technologies to improve global crop productivity, support smallholder farmers, and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.