Agritech: Driving the future of agriculture with innovative technologies
Agriculture and new technologies are only seemingly unrelated. The answer to the needs of modern agriculture is the agritech trend, which combines farming and technological achievements. As it turns out, this combination creates truly astonishing, enormous results.
If you have ever had the opportunity to get into a modern tractor, combine – you can probably see how much work has been put into making these devices as efficient as possible in doing their job. Sensors, machine operator conveniences, harvesting assistance systems (which could be called the equivalent of safety systems in cars) are just the tip of the iceberg that is new technology in agriculture. Because you should know that they are already very much present in this area.
New technologies and agriculture are definitely something that go hand in hand. Hence, the agritech trend is one of the more promising directions that are currently on the trend horizon.
The advent of agritech
The farmers who own a lot of land are already eager to use all novelties which are able to optimize – speed up, improve and make easier – the harvest. As a result, it is possible to produce food and other products in an even more pleasant, cheaper and more accessible way.
The continuous development of new technologies and the ever-increasing need to increase the overall production of food (because there are more and more of us in the world) are some of the more compelling reasons why as a civilization, we need to look for new methods to improve the acquisition of food. Agriculture is unparalleled in the production of fruits and vegetables – before mankind equips itself with printers that allow us to print food or other inventions that will change the world as we know it – it is worth improving what we already know and have been doing for thousands of years.
Hence, it’s no wonder that agritech is one of the most important developments and challenges for the world of software development.
There are different streams of agritech introduction. One of them is urban farming that is about imparting knowledge about how useful it is to grow your own vegetables and fruits, and how you can do it.
Smart farming, on the other hand, means introducing all the technological advances into the world of crops and agriculture. As an example, smart farming can be applied in practice by all the solutions mentioned here and by, for example, irrigation sensors that make it clear to the farmer whether he should continue to irrigate his seedlings.
Vertical farming, on the other hand, is nothing more than growing crops under artificial, controlled conditions – in greenhouses, for example. It turns out that in such places, the use of water and pesticides, insecticides and the like can be reduced many times over.
Satellite farming, also known as GPS agriculture, is the use of GPS technology to increase farm efficiency by the real-time mapping of fields and gaining actionable insights on the crops.
What can we gain from agritech?
Agriculture remains a big player in generating income and a source of food for many people around the world. The sector has seen many changes and advancements in different farming approaches and techniques over the years. There is a need to use natural resources and processes to improve agricultural production and reduce costs. Today, for example, inorganic fertilizers are used, lesser amounts of pesticides are consumed, and different tractors and machinery are used. Over the years, technology has proven to be extremely useful in the agricultural sector.
Technology can be applied to various aspects of agriculture such as the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and improved seeds. Farmers are now able to grow crops in areas where it was thought that they could not grow, but this is only possible because of agricultural biotechnology. For example, genetic engineering has made it possible to insert certain trains into other plant or animal genes. Such engineering makes crops more resistant to pests and droughts. With technology, farmers are able to electrify any process for efficiency and improved production. So there are many benefits to using modern technology in agriculture.
Which factors affect adoption of agricultural technology?
Nevertheless, there has been a limitation on how to accelerate the process of modern technological adaptation in agriculture. This can be attributed to the fact that accelerating this concept requires a lot of knowledge and understanding of some of the elements that influence farmers’ decision to adopt modern technology in agriculture.
The following aspects are accountable for the slow rate of adoption of transforming agriculture into agritech:
- Institutional, social and economic are some of the factors that influence how quickly or slowly agricultural technologies are adopted.
- Land size, cost and benefits of technology are some of the economic factors that determine the rate of adoption of agricultural technology.
- Education level, age, social groups and gender of farmers are some of the social factors that affect the likelihood of a farmer to adopt modern agricultural technologies.
- Smallholder farmers face both internal and external challenges in adopting modern agricultural technologies.
Irrespective of the challenges, what matters is whether modern technologies have any value in the agricultural sector.
Challenges faced by agriculture
Increasing global agricultural production is becoming a necessity due to the demographic, social, and climatic situation. The world population is projected to grow by 30 percent by 2050, which will mean nearly 10 billion people to feed. Rapidly growing demand for food will also be driven by high rates of urbanization and rising incomes in many parts of the globe.
Expanding crop acreage would involve further clearing of forests, which would only exacerbate climate warming. Meanwhile, according to an Oliver Wyman report, up to 25 percent of agricultural land is degraded by improper forms of cultivation, and restoring its vegetative capacity would require an investment of $160 billion.
A growing problem is access to water, which is steadily shrinking for as much as 40 percent of rural populations, and agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water consumption. Investment alone in irrigation systems in developing countries would require a trillion dollars by 2050. Additionally, raising livestock for slaughter accounts for a quarter of agricultural water use and causes 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (methane and nitrogen compounds).
Meanwhile, the rural population, and thus the number of farms, is shrinking. In Europe it decreased from almost 15 million in 2005 to 10.5 million in 2016. The situation is not improved by statistics – farmers are a social group that is aging. According to Eurostat data, as many as 40 percent of them are over 55 years old, while in China the average age of people working on the land is 53, and 25 percent are over 60.
In addition, yields are increasingly affected by the changing climate, which brings increasingly prolonged periods of drought and torrential downpours causing floods. According to calculations by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as much as 60 percent of the world’s crop yields are dependent on climate change. In these conditions, taking into account demographic forecasts, the world by 2050 should produce even 50-70 percent more food than it produces today.
This cannot be achieved by intensifying traditional farming methods. The hope is to take advantage of new technologies and use digital solutions that make it possible to individualize the way crops are grown and adapt them to the different conditions that exist within a single area. This approach has been given several terms – agriculture 4.0 or precision farming, smart farming. It offers a variety of benefits, as it:
- reduces inputs (reduces consumption of water, fertilizers and plant protection products) while increasing yields and crop quality,
- reduces soil degradation and increases soil biodiversity by reducing pollution of water bodies and air,
- contributes to reduction of carbon dioxide emissions,
- increases farm profitability (enables higher return on investment) and facilitates farmers’ access to markets.
Examples of agritech use
Autonomous agricultural vehicles
Self-driving vehicles are not only cars, but also tractors and other agricultural equipment. There are already integrated systems that allow the combination of such vehicles in whole teams able to independently go to the field, collect the crop and accumulate it in the designated place. Although this process still requires human intervention – it is all moving towards the goal that no one will have to oversee the work in the field. The aim is to make the work in the field more efficient, faster and simpler. This would not have been possible without the achievements of autonomous machines in the field and the GPS system that allows the machines to determine their location.
The use of drones
Drones have proven to be great companions for humans in improving efficiency in various activities. Agritech is no exception – the use of drones allows for much better, simpler and faster farm management. A farmer doesn’t need to go out into the field at all to check if everything is okay with his crops – he just needs to launch a drone and it will gather all the information for him. These most automated systems in agriculture are able to check if the crops have fallen victim to one of the diseases, where not noticing sick plants will cause the infestation to spread quickly.
Agriculture drones can be also used for irrigation or automated seeding and weeding by releasing herbicides to fend off individual weeds or spraying fertilizers. It is also worth pointing out that drones have even been used in the context of animals. There are already applications where such unmanned machines are used to protect sheep!
Big data is the entirety of concepts used to analyze data in such a way that will allow users to achieve the best possible results. Without big data, we would not be able to analyze X-rays or MRI records to diagnose dangerous diseases faster. What in the standard way would take us centuries or would simply be inaccurate, with the help of big data happens very quickly and can be expected to be very accurate.
The use of big data has increased in recent times – not surprisingly. This technology is truly changing the world. In agriculture, big data allows you to analyze crop photos (from drones, for example) and analyze crop information in real time to have very accurate data on crops as quickly as possible. A farmer can at any time follow the recommendations of a system that automatically analyzes crop data and implement changes to increase production.
Sensors to safeguard the right parameters
The use of different types of sensors in agriculture brings farming to a new level. From sophisticated installations using infrared camera systems, for example, to simple sensors for determining soil parameters. Whatever agri sensor is used – it will help improve the entire harvesting system. The IoT solutions are particularly applicable in the case of vertical farming, where a variety of plants – vegetables and fruits – are grown under controlled conditions.
Thanks to the fact that such farms are equipped with sensors, it is possible to monitor them in a very convenient way. The IoT tools allow us to track the weather or the quality of the soil providing accurate information about their conditions to optimize farming. Based on collected data, the sensor data tells the farmers how they should treat their plants – when to water them, what minerals they need, and sometimes they can even tell what diseases they suffer from.
AI and machine learning
American indoor urban farming company Square Roots builds farms in containers, on parking lots and rooftops. Plants grow vertically at 90 degrees and artificial intelligence takes care of the right amount of daylight, CO2, water and temperature for optimal growth. This allows for significantly higher yields than traditional agriculture – an area of just 340 square feet (44.5 m2) yields as much food in a year as a traditional harvest from 2 acres of agricultural land, or more than 8,000 m2.
The company also minimizes the need for crop protection products by using a special LED light that protects plants from pests. A similar technique is used by startup Plenty, which grows fruits and vegetables in purpose-built towers. One of its investors is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Electrification is a promising direction in agriculture. Although there is a lot of talk about electrification of cars and trucks, agricultural vehicles can also become machines that can be supported by an electric motor. This will mean less noise in agricultural areas and of course it will reduce the emission of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. The benefits of electric motors are huge – agriculture is another industry that will have to abandon motors that are powered by non-renewable energy sources at some point.
Nanotechnology and precision agriculture
The application of nanotechnology in agriculture also has promising prospects. Special capsules, easy to apply (spread over the field), can release nutrients and protective agents depending on the diagnosed needs of plants. One manufacturer of such biodegradable and programmable (!) tablets is Canada-based Psigryph. The precision technology developed by the company also significantly reduces the use of fertilizers, pesticides and water.
Nanosensors as much as multi-picture technology can help with irrigation applications because they can assess evapotranspiration, or total evaporation from soil and plants, and an AI-based program can select irrigation intensity and frequency for each part of a crop acreage separately. These solutions can be aided by Internet of Things sensors that remotely identify leaks in irrigation systems, replacing the need for physical inspection and reducing water loss.
Chance to change the world with agritech
Technology is replacing, based on experience, the intuition of farmers and growers at harvest or harvest time, with special meters enabling optimal harvest time by analyzing moisture, acidity, sugar content and other parameters relevant to crop, vegetable and fruit quality and transport. It looks like in the near future many crops will be unmanned, physical human labor will not be needed. The first such experiment was carried out in 2017 by researchers at Harper Adams University in the UK, using robots and drones to grow barley.
The agritech sector is best developed in the U.S. and Israel, and that’s where the biggest stream of investment is flowing, because these types of solutions are much more efficient than traditional agricultural production, if only because the vegetation of vertical crops can last all year and is low-carbon.
Agritech is certainly “the next big thing” in our world. It’s worth getting well acquainted with, as it’s sure to be an important direction of change in the coming years. This means that it is already worth getting interested in them and joining one of the better growing sectors.
Therefore, if you have an idea for the next interesting agritech application – tell us about it! We will be happy to listen to you and show you how to realize this idea. Get in touch with us!