Agriculture 4.0: How Technology is Helping Build Digital Farms of the Future
Have you ever wondered about that eureka moment when mankind realised that he could grow his own food and sustain life? For a large part of history, we were hunter-gatherers who led a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to another, eating whatever nature provided until that moment in time when someone decided to plant a seed.
It was around 12,000 years ago, following whatever spark of genius that could have inspired it that humanity witnessed the first instances of cultivation and food production. In the centuries that followed, change was slow and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution from the 1760s that we began to look at food production more scientifically. The widespread mechanization that allowed crops to be cultivated with a lesser number of workers, enabled better soil replenishment, and improved care for livestock is what eventually lead to the Green Revolution that began in the 1960s. In the decades since then, mankind has made enormous leaps of progress, and agriculture has kept pace.
At least, we are getting there.
Food in a Shrinking World
We have reached an interesting stage of our food story. As the world becomes smaller, thanks to lightning-fast connectivity and more efficient modes of travel and communication, food is no longer limited to what is locally available. Gone are the days when au gratin potatoes and confit lamb were terms you heard floating around exclusively in Michelin-star restaurants or tucked between the glossy pages of food magazines. Food, today, is a form of expression. One that is not limited by language, race or geography.
But what makes the discussion even more pertinent is the fact that we are facing a food production crisis like never before. Technology is not just making the world smaller metaphorically, it is shrinking physically too. The decrease in the availability of agricultural land that can feed the 9.8 billion people expected to populate the world by 2050 is a definite reason to sit up and take note.
How Digital Farming Helps Solve the Food Problem
The modern farmer has arrived. Precision Agriculture, a data-driven method of cultivating and managing crops on cultivable land in the most optimum manner with the help of technology, allows farmers to make the most of the resources that are available to him. No longer are farms subject to inconsistent and unscientific farming practices, variable weather conditions, pests and other risks that impacted food production. With the help of technology in agriculture, farmers can adopt a more structured approach to cultivation and accurately predict the outcome with a high level of certainty. Almost every aspect of cultivation — from planting to sowing and harvesting — stands to benefit from the impact of technology in agriculture.
But how does digital farming help the modern farmer solve agricultural challenges? At the starting point, it provides the farmer with a better understanding of the land he is about to cultivate so the process of production is scientific and less arbitrary.
What this translates to in the literal sense is:
- Scientific understanding of the land under cultivation: Digital farming provides information that goes beyond what is visible to the naked eye. Advanced imaging technologies provide detailed data regarding aspects such as the contours and slopes of the region that could pose to be a deterrent in cultivation.
- Conductivity mapping: It allows an accurate assessment of the soil conductivity, an in-depth analysis of soil properties in terms of texture, cation exchange capacity (CEC), organic matter level, hydration level etc. and provides a more accurate understanding of the health of soil for cultivation.
- Providing soil sampling data: This helps the farmer understand thecomposition of the soil and assess the nutrient levels in the soil.
- Identifying historical stress locations: Understanding the history of the land in terms of previously identified stresses like weeds, insects, or fungi that could impact yield in the future.
- Monitoring the health of the farm: The use of drones and satellite imagery help to monitor the health of crops, in addition to applications that allow field officers to collect and present real-time data about the crops using their tablets and mobile phones. This data is further analysed to derive insights that can help enhance overall yield.
- Yield monitoring and forecasting: A thorough evaluation of all these aspects helps the farmer get a more accurate assessment of the potential yield from a given piece of land and monitor the activity from sowing to harvesting.
The Future is Smart, and So Are Our Farms
Since every step of digital farming is recorded and systematic, it leaves behind a digital footprint that can be analysed to unearth future enhancements. BI Intelligence predicts that IoT devices installed in agriculture will increase from 30 million in 2015 up to 75 million by 2020. Going by that number, connected farmers are expected to generate as many as 4.1 million data points each day in 2050, from a meagre 190,000 in 2014.
The next frontier in farming is about accurately analysing this huge mass of data in a manner that enhances production and removes any form of ambiguity in the cultivation process. What started as precision farming, has evolved to develop a smarter system of agricultural production that utilises the information and insights provided by intelligent networks and data management tools to derive a more sustainable and scientific approach to farming.
The future of food production depends on a deeper understanding of the physical limitations of the world we live in, and an improved application of technology to overcome those limitations. In many ways, the future of the world itself depends on it.