In previous weeks, we’ve taken a look at some of the broader implications of technology disruption in the agricultural and farming industries.
Today, though, we’re going to go into a little more depth: exactly what difference can technology make to the day to day running of your average farm, and what changes and leaps forward do we expect to happen in 2019?
Let’s get started.
In farms and agricultural production areas with more land, one of the biggest obstacles to becoming more efficient is managing the vehicles themselves. After all, it’s very common to have multiple machines running at one time.
How can you ensure that yours are running in the most efficient way as a whole? In short, telematics.
Current technology has reached a level where it’s possible for farmers to pull up one screen, and to immediately see where all their vehicles are, what levels they’re running at in terms of fuel, how much crop has been harvested by each one, and so on.
This gives farmers an immediate birds-eye view of what can be improved, without them having to waste time manually gathering information. It also means they can immediately fix any potential issues, such as machines running out of petrol or any major security issues.
Telematics alone is an invaluable tool in the armor of any agricultural business, and you can expect big leap forwards in 2019.
Crop care will continue to improve
Crop care is one of the biggest benefits of agricultural technology. In the days before technology could work to the level it can today, learning how to maximize crop was simply a matter of the skill and knowledge of the farmer.
In 2018 and into next year, it’s a task that can be almost completely automated. Sensors are now capable of measuring plant health – so farmers can sense any issues with a crop as soon as possible, and take remedial action.
New technologies are being developed to improve irrigation, so that hardware can actively measure water needs of each crop, meaning there is no danger of over-saturation.
One other particularly exciting technology development are sensors that are capable of measuring light reflectance in plants, which of course translates into the nitrogen levels of the crop. And sensor technology has also now reached the level where it can measure crucial soil factors like:
- Electrical conductivity
- Ground elevation
- Organic matter content
And even the pH levels of the soil.
All of this sensor data can then be sent as a signal through to the machinery and application systems, which can then use it to ensure the optimal levels of crop treatment.
The more sensors improve, the more farmers will be able to ensure the maximum crop yield every single year without quality being affected. Needless to say, with the world population continuing to grow, this level of improvement in every major farm across the globe could have an astonishing impact in terms of food production.
Soil analysis is, in fact, a perfect example of how the combination of hardware sensors with software monitoring can be used to improve efficiency of any manufacturing business.
Now, it’s fair to say that this technology is certainly still in its early days. We’re talking about the cutting edge of agtech here.
However, mini-chromosome technology definitely has incredibly exciting potential that could hugely improve crop quality and yield over the next few years.
So how does it work?
Mini-chromosome technology could essentially allow crops to have multiple ‘stacked’ traits in a single batch, but without the corn’s original chromosomes being altered. (This is obviously crucial in securing regulatory approval.)
Essentially, it would become possible for geneticists to grow corn with specific traits, such as drought tolerance (ideal for warmer climates) or improved nitrogen use efficiency. Essentially, corn could be grown to a far higher standard while using less farm resources, which is obviously hugely exciting.
As we said, this technology is certainly in its early stages, but field trials are already being carried out. And in the long, long-term, there’s no reason it couldn’t be used in all forms of crop production.
Again, though the efficiency and quality improvements might not seem exponential in a single batch, when you apply it across the US and the rest of the world, it could lead to thousands more tons of crops being generated with less effort and resources.
One of the biggest challenges for farmers looking to increase crop yield and quality with less resources is controlling pests without using non-environmentally friendly control methods. (Which, in 2018, are rightly frowned upon.)
This is another area where agtech can bring major change. The ability to obtain more information about crop growth means that natural treatments can be made more efficient and tailored to individual crops.
Several companies are now working on potential treatments. Becker Underwood recently introduced a treatment called Polymer 1172-0, which is a water soluble seed polymer capable of binding performance enhancers and seed protectants onto seed in an organic system.
Increased accuracy in crop treatment
We’ve mentioned above sensors can be used to measure more specific treatments that will ensure a greater yield, but without machines capable of delivering that specificity, the information is essentially worthless.
Fortunately, this technology is being developed more and more, and we expect to see it take more leaps forward in 2019.
Controllers drives and shutoff systems capable of applying multiple treatments at variable rates are become the standard, with farmers eager to take advantage of technology capable of adding real value back into their farms.
In 2019, you can definitely expect more precise seeding and fertilizer applications to continue to be installed in farms around the world and in the US.
Once the crops have been grown to the maximum yield and the highest quality, it’s vital that as little is lost as possible during the harvest.
Fortunately, that’s another area where technology can make a big impact, and it has been steadily improving over the last few years. Navigation systems capable of automatically guiding grain carts alongside the combines is looking like becoming a reality over the next year or so. The result should be a big improvement in on-the-go cart filling.
What are the potential levels of improvement? One agricultural specialist at Auburn University predicted that harvest efficiency could rise by as much as 15% as a result of improved off-loading.
As with any business, the potential to improve production efficiency by 15% will likely mean a saving of millions of dollars a year: when you add up that cost in all the farms across the USA, the impact this could have is obvious.
Worldwide, the potential of this technology alone could mean trillions of dollars is saved over the next few years.
The potential is also there for integrated sonic or visual sensors to monitor the cart or wagon to make sure filling is as efficient every single harvest.
All of these technologies will make a real difference to every single farm that chooses to make use of them. The more the uptake improves, the more the US farming and agricultural industry will save money which can then be re-invested to improve crop yield and quality.
The potential for agtech to revolutionize the industry through 2019 and beyond is obviously huge, and you can expect to see several leaps forward through the next year or so.
If you’re interested in finding out more how agtech could help improve your business, then get in touch with us today, we’d love to help you.