How technology has changed farming
Over the last few years, the agricultural industry has undergone a significant transformation with the introduction of new technologies that have enabled growers to revolutionise the way they produce crops.
In this blog, we'll explore the various ways that technology has changed farming, including artificial intelligence, drone technology, and vertical farming. We'll also examine the importance of these advancements in smart farming in terms of efficiency, profitability, and environmental sustainability.
What is modern farming technology?
In today's agricultural industry, innovation has become more crucial than ever because of major challenges, such as rising supply costs, labour shortages, and shifts in consumer preferences towards sustainability practises and produce costs.
The UK Government is aiming to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and with the increasing adoption of renewable agricultural technology, the UK Agri-Tech sector is well-positioned to respond. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has also set an ambitious target to reach net zero by 2040 by promoting and aiding landowners in improving efficiency, land management, and shifting land use to sequester more carbon.
Investments in farm tech reached $7.9 billion in 2020 globally, a 41% increase from 2019, creating many innovations in technology. With advancements in indoor vertical farming, automation and robotics, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and many others. But how are these new technologies being applied across the industry?
What is the importance of agricultural technology?
The progress made in the agricultural sector has enabled companies to achieve greater profitability, efficiency, safety, and environmental friendliness.
The benefits of these new technologies are varied, including enhanced monitoring and management of natural resources like air and water quality, greater oversight over the production, processing, distribution, and storage of plants and animals, and improved efficiency.
Traditional agricultural operations' effect on climate change
Traditional farming practices often have a substantial environmental impact due to factors such as land and water usage, as well as the use of protective chemical and fertilisers. There are also concerns about the impact of farming on deforestation and ecosystem destruction, as we are seeing in the Amazon rainforest.
On top of this, throughout the various stages of food production, including storage, processing, packaging, transportation, preparation, and serving, a substantial quantity of greenhouse gases are emitted. The agricultural industry as a whole is responsible for significant levels of methane and nitrous oxide, comprising 10% of the EU's total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012.
Some of the ways being trialled to improve emissions are reducing livestock numbers, improving fertiliser application efficiency, and enhancing manure management. The EU managed to lower its agricultural emissions by 24% between 1990 and 2012 by applying such practices. Unfortunately, the trend in the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction, with global emissions from crop and livestock production increasing by 14% between 2001 and 2011.
How are new technologies being used in farming?
Given the challenges discussed, how can new technologies help address the issue of agriculture and it’s effect on our climate?
Precision agriculture technology
Emerging precision agriculture companies are creating innovative technologies that enable farmers to optimise yields by regulating every aspect of crop farming, including moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions, and micro-climates.
Enabling more precise methods for planting and cultivating crops through remote sensors and satellite crop monitoring, precision agriculture empowers farmers to enhance efficiency and minimise costs.
Precision agriculture uses advancements in technology to improve sustainability by optimising the use of land, water, fuel, fertiliser, and pesticides. By leveraging these technologies, farmers can help to reduce their environmental impact whilst producing the food our population needs. In essence, precision agriculture allows farmers to achieve more efficient crop production while minimising resource utilisation.
UK agricultural operations have the potential for significant transformation through the application of AI technology. AI's powerful predictive capabilities for weather, prices, and crop yield can increase efficiency and help farmers make well-informed critical decisions by helping them better understand their environment.
Digital agriculture has given rise to new opportunities for gathering data. Remote sensors, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles can collect information on crops and soil conditions, and temperature and moisture sensors can track the climate.
These algorithms learn and adjust based on the data received, and the more statistical information gathered, the more capable the algorithm is of predicting a range of outcomes with increasing accuracy. The goal is to assist farmers in achieving a better harvest by utilising artificial intelligence to make better decisions in the field.
GPS technology has revolutionised farming practices over the past few decades.
Tractors equipped with GPS technology and autonomous steering systems are now used to improve seed placement, helping to reduce waste and costs. GPS-guided drones are being employed to perform various tasks, including crop spraying, livestock monitoring and mapping.
GPS has many applications beyond tractors. For instance, farmers can employ a GPS receiver to identify predetermined positions in a farm field for soil sampling. The collected soil samples are then analysed to produce a fertility map in a geographic information system. With this map, farmers can precisely prescribe the amount of fertiliser needed for each sampled section of the farm field. Farmers can then use variable-rate technology fertiliser applicators to apply the exact amount of fertiliser to the area, reducing wastage.
The implementation of GPS technologies in agriculture will enable farmers and agriculture companies to make significant contributions towards protecting the environment as well as cultivating healthy crops.
Advancements in cloud computing and data management solutions can facilitate the integration of sustainable practices in agriculture, allowing for the processing and storing of large data sets. This tracking of data points around crop production and processing creates more opportunities for transparency for consumers who are interested in the origin of their products, as well as unlocking new innovations in the agricultural sector.
Drone agricultural technology
For the past twenty years, drones have been used in agriculture, primarily to assist with crop spraying via remote-controlled helicopters. However, the next generation of drones is poised to revolutionise the sector.
With the capability to survey crops and herds over large areas quickly and efficiently, as well as serving as a relay system to transmit real-time data to other connected equipment and installations, drones offer a wealth of benefits.
Drones could leverage computer vision to evaluate field conditions and provide precise interventions, such as fertilisation and nutrients and pesticide delivery, in areas where crops require them most. They could also plant seeds in remote locations, reducing equipment and labour costs.
Vertical farming technology
Vertical farming is an advanced agricultural technology where crops are grown indoors in vertically stacked layers. This method incorporates modern advancements in technology, such as LED lighting, closed-loop water recycling and climate control to optimise crop production.
At IGS, we call our vertical farming systems Growth Towers. These towers regulate environmental elements like lighting, water distribution, CO2 levels and nutrient delivery. Each tower has its own self-contained microclimate, allowing for faster and better-controlled production. Plus, you can produce a variety of crops in just a single tower. We're only just scratching the surface of the possibilities vertical farming presents.
Vertical farming also offers a high level of adaptability that traditional open-field methods cannot match. It provides growers with the flexibility to produce a variety of desired crops that can’t traditionally be grown on UK soil, such as Basil or Coriander, which can help to reduce reliance on imports, which can also contribute to lowering food waste.
We also provide a Cultivation Management Platform (CMP) as an addition to our Growth Tower Management System (GTMS)s. With this system, growers can enhance their profits, minimise risks, and manage expenses by ensuring operational transparency and traceability, forecasting yields and labour and monitoring crop health in real-time to prevent crops failing. The CMP also assesses workflow efficiency and productivity, reducing the chance of human error.
Vertical farming also eliminates the need for protective chemicals, such as pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. With tightly managed humidity levels and controlled environments, pests and fungal diseases find it difficult to thrive, resulting in healthier crops.
CEA and TCEA
Total Controlled Environment Agriculture (TCEA) is an evolution of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).
CEA is a method of food production that involves growing crops in spaces where conditions can be controlled by humans to suit the very specific areas and needs of crops. This level of control allows for variations in temperature, light, humidity and nutrient delivery.
While glasshouses and simpler indoor systems fall under CEA, these methods often lead to unpredictable and inconsistent yields because of the lack of complete control over the growing environment. TCEA eliminates external factors like heat and light and creates its own microclimate, resulting in a more dependable and repeatable growing environment.
Modern agricultural technologies have had a tremendous impact on farming in recent years, enabling farmers to optimise yields, reduce costs, and improve environmental sustainability. Innovations in farming technology continue to advance at a rapid pace, making it an exciting time to be in the agriculture industry.
As we look to the future, it's clear that technology will continue to play a crucial role in addressing the challenges facing the agriculture industry, ensuring that we can feed a growing population while minimising our impact on the environment.
The UK's food system faces a variety of challenges, but sustainable farming practices provide a way forward for farmers.
Get in touch if you want to find out more about how an IGS growth tower could help your business thrive.