Game-Changing Ag Tech Innovations
In a previous article, we explored doubling global food production by 2050 and the challenges that growers face, from rising input costs and crop disease to unpredictable weather events.
We will collectively pull several levers to double food production and ensure food security in the next 30 years. This will include accurate weather prediction systems and weather stations, robust farm investment, and networking strategies.
Equally important, the Ag Tech field is burgeoning with advancements aimed at higher crop yield, agricultural production efficiency, farm profit, and long-term sustainability.
Here are some of the game-changing ag-tech innovations steadily gaining momentum over the last several years:
Funding Climate Smart Agriculture
According to the EPA, global CO2 emissions have increased by 90% since 1970. Fossil fuels and industrial processes are the number one culprit of GHG emissions. Agriculture and deforestation are the second largest contributors.
To incentivize growers and ranchers to implement sustainable practices, the USDA announced a $1 billion grant program. The funds will be distributed by the CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) to forestry, farmers, and ranchers that make the commitment to “climate-smart” practices and create market opportunities for those products.
The CCC will award funds to approved participants who meet the following criteria:
- Embrace and execute climate-smart practices on farms and fields,
- Document and measure their carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction efforts,
- Create market opportunities by promoting their sustainably grown products.
The grant program itself isn’t necessarily a technological innovation. However, it seeks to fund innovations in agriculture that lead to sustainable practices.
Artificial Intelligence, Smart Machines, and Robotics in Agriculture
A.I. and ML- Artificial Intelligence in agriculture and machine learning will become ubiquitous in the years to come. A.I. offers growers and farmers 24/7 real-time data on weather, crop yield and health, water monitoring, and livestock management.
Additionally, A.I. can spare businesses from expensive losses by detecting irregularities and diseases across crop and livestock populations. This can lead to early detection and course correction. A.I. can also make recommendations for inputs based on field data sets, enhancing healthy annual crop yield, profit, and sustainability.
Robotics & Smart Machines: Automating repetitive tasks offers all businesses cost and time savings and allows them to focus energies on more lucrative pursuits, such as growing and scaling their business. Robotics are helping Ag businesses overcome human labor shortages and alleviate time-consuming processes. These machines can handle routine tasks such as picking, harvesting, planting, fertilizing, and weeding.
A whole new generation of smart machines has entered the market, such as GPS-enabled tractors. Industry giant John Deere recently announced the arrival of their first fully autonomous tractor, and German Ag brand ***Fendt unveiled its low Co2, low energy Xaver field seeding robot, 6 of which can seed 120 acres in 24 hours.
Precision Planting & Farming Methods
For many years, most farm fields were treated with the same amount of fertilizer, water, and pesticide regardless of condition.
Micro-climates: A trip to San Francisco will enlighten you about micro-climates. For example, it can be 72 degrees, with low humidity and full sun in one part of the city. A mile down the street, it is 10% more humid, partly cloudy, and 67 degrees.
In the same way, various parts of any farmland will receive different levels of sunlight and water and feature varying soil conditions. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach is inefficient, costly, and can harm crop yield and soil health.
Precision Methods: Precision Agriculture, also known as site-specific crop management (SSCM), is a method where farmers manage various field sections differently. This involves site-specific inputs in various parts of the field based on variables such as soil pH, soil moisture, average daily sun exposure, grade or slope, and varying needs for pesticides and fertilizers.
This “surgical” approach leads to cost and time efficiency, long-term soil health, higher output yields, and higher profit margins. The Ag industry at large benefits from these customized, data-driven practices.
Alternative Farming Methods
In a recent symposium, Climavision’s Head of Energy Transition, Alex Baldassano, said, “The black swan weather events have continued to escalate over the last few years. Whether you call it climate change or not… There are two tornadoes a month in New York. So, there is a fundamental change happening in our weather that we need to address.”
One of the ways growers can hedge loss due to environmental climate change is with robust, accurate weather data.
The other way is to control the environment itself to operate entirely weather independent.
CEAs: That is precisely what CEA, Controlled Environment Agriculture, seeks to achieve, complete controlled farming. The umbrella of CEA is extensive, encompassing traditional greenhouses, vertical farming, and high tunnel structures, and includes conventional growing techniques and alternatives such as aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics.
CEA typically employs a “closed-loop system” where the amount of light, water, and nutrients is controlled to produce a high crop yield at a predictable and efficient cost.
Local Strategies: Another benefit of systems such as Vertical Gardens is that they can be located close to populations in historically underserved communities or densely populated areas eliminating the need for expensive CO2-producing transportation supply chains.
Vertical gardens are often housed in shipping container structures using artificial light and can be transported easily around the country.
Real-Time Field Data, Drone Technology, and Automation Mechanisms
Real-Time Data: The Internet of Things in Agriculture (IoT) is a network of objects (or things) devices connected by sensors, software, and various technologies that exchange data. In the case of Agriculture, this network enables precision automation, adaptability, and field monitoring previously unavailable to growers.
Traditional farming and crop monitoring are often expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive. IoT solutions circumvent traditional methods by collecting critical data from soil, plants, and livestock through sensors connected to a desktop or mobile app.
This gives growers the ability to monitor remotely and make management decisions based on precision data collected.
Automated Irrigation: Irrigation systems utilizing IoT technology can automate water delivery to areas on an “as needed” basis with incredible precision, saving time, money, and precious water resources.
IoT in agriculture offers unique sustainability mechanisms to existing farm practices.
Drone Technology + GPS: The agricultural drone industry is estimated to be worth $32 billion and growing.
With aerial imaging and surveying, drones in agriculture help farmers monitor their fields, collect data, analyze crops, and optimize metrics such as the application of pesticides, fertilizers, water, and seeds. Additionally, GPS-enabled drones can track livestock and measure grazing.
Drones can help farmers analyze crops, adjust inputs, plan for irrigation, and administer pollination, pesticides, and fertilizers in the Precision Farming processes. In addition, in extreme weather events, drones can help business owners assess the damage and formulate a recovery plan.
No single path will lead us to profitability, sustainability, and crop output, but the technology to achieve these goals is clearly in sight.
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