Precision agriculture is the future of farming – Doing more with less!

Agriculture touches everyone’s life, unlike many other industries. Farming is central to well-being since food and water are our necessities. The global economy relies upon basic food security provided by farmers across the world, from highly-industrialized crop farmers in the U.S. or Europe to small subsistence farmers in India and China.

But, modern farming faces many challenges in today’s environment. First and foremost, it needs to provide sufficient food for a still-growing global population. As per recent UN estimation, the 2017 global population of 7.6 billion will grow to 8.6 billion by 2030 and 9.8 billion in 2050.

Unfortunately, while the population continues to increase, the availability of arable land is declining. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, soil destruction caused by chemical-heavy farming methods, global warming, and deforestation is proceeding at an alarming rate. The amount of arable and productive land per person by 2050 would equal only a quarter of the total available land in 1960. The UN warns that land degradation will threaten the existence of about 3.2 billion people by 2050, causing mass extinction of insects, birds, and other species. Since three centimeters of topsoil take 1,000 years to develop, our current rate of replenishment is unsustainable.

As the original custodians of the land, farmers understand these challenges well. However, they are finding it increasingly difficult to find and keep labor to support them in the field. They are often under financial pressure. When coupled with their traditional risk-averse nature, this makes it especially difficult for them to invest in unproven technologies. Agriculture, and with it the world, clearly has a burning problem. But change is needed. Of course, there is no silver bullet to address the challenges we face. No magic wand we can wave to ensure everyone has abundant, nourishing food on the table. In fact, solving today’s problems will require the application of many levers, starting from reducing food waste to optimizing the supply chain and the way we operate our farms today.

Precision agriculture holds the promise in boosting yields and saving money. The use of imagery & sensors, robots, drones, automation, digitalization, and software technologies are opening a new chapter in agriculture. Agriculture today is at the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. Precision farming is essential for the future of all participants in the agricultural value chain and is ultimately the future of agriculture.

Precision agriculture includes a vast range of technology solutions such as farm management (soil, seed, crop health, and pest monitoring), prescriptive seeding and spraying, implement and row guidance systems, vertical farming, and hydro-/aeroponics. Enabled by adequate connectivity, computing power, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the cloud, Precision agriculture can create the basic building blocks for a revolution in farming, which is already in place.

Precision agriculture technologies include a vast array of tools of hardware, software, and equipment. They are:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS)
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Satellite imagery and geospatial intelligence
  • Yield mapping and monitoring system
  • UAV and Field Drones
  • Real-Time Kinematics Technology (RTK )
  • Nozzle Control
  • Visible Spectrum Imaging
  • Multispectral Imaging
  • Hyperspectral Imaging
  • Non-Imaging sensors
  • Soil and plant sensors
  • Precision irrigation
  • Remote sensing (Wireless Sensors)
  • Variable‐Rate Technology (VRT)
  • Combine harvesters with yield monitors
  • Site-Specific Crop Management (SSCM)
  • The Internet of things (IoT)

The global precision agriculture market is projected to grow at very healthy rates. From a current base of USD 3.4 billion in 2017, the market is expected to grow at 12.8% CAGR to reach USD 5.5 billion by 2021. The size of the prize is substantial and drives significant interest and investment in the sector. Overall, in 2017 alone, roughly USD 4.2 billion flowed into the agrifood tech space, according to AgFunder.

Although the approaches and solutions might differ due to farm size, crop type, geography, and farming methods, all agrifood tech companies are attempting to create optimized value for farmers. Finding an adequate solution to the farmers’ challenges can be difficult due to the difficulties in using precision agriculture methods centered around connectivity, the lack of integrated platforms, the lack of predictive advice, and insufficient information about the proposed precision agriculture solutions. But these challenges can be overcome, especially with stronger collaboration between agricultural equipment manufacturers, agrochemical companies, suppliers, technology providers, startups, venture capitalists, banks, and universities.

To sum up, we put together some of the key benefits of precision agriculture, which is currently undergoing rapid transformation from both a product and a service perspective.

  • Increase the productivity in soil sensing, plowing, seeding, planting, irrigation, weed removal, and harvesting
  • Better surveillance of crops to prevent, cure, and detect pests, diseases, rogue plants, or potential threats.
  • Better insight on nutritional or protection requirements of crops.
  • Reduction of chemical application and fertilizers in crop production
  • Efficiency in spraying pesticides and the use of water resources
  • Prevents soil degradation
  • Increase the farm’s economic and environmental sustainability

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