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Precision Farming

 

「Precision Farming」

By: Rapid Access International, Inc. March 2021

The kinds of technologies that have written about making their way into areas such as healthcare, transportation, urban planning, and ski resorts, have simultaneously been developing in another very important area: agriculture. Collectively, the increased use of these varied technologies in agriculture is known as “precision farming”. One recently published report estimates that the global value of precision farming will reach $16.35bn by 2028, with average annual growth of over 13% over this forecast period.1

A recent BBC News article outlined a range of companies and their precision farming technologies that exemplify this precision farming trend2:

Ceres Tag:

Ceres Tag describes itself as one of the world’s most comprehensive animal monitoring platforms.3 The company’s smart “tags” are attached behind the ear of a farm animal and transmit real-time satellite data back to the farmer. David Smith, the CEO of the Brisbane-based company, explained: "It tells us where the animal is with GPS, and also what condition the animal is in. We have a very sophisticated algorithm for things like pasture feed intake, so we know what the feed efficiency of the animal is. From that, we can start making some genetic selections."4

The tags are soon to be accredited for use in Australia as a kind of asset management tool that can provide “breakout alerts” that might indicate theft or wandering of an animal; serve GPS positioning functions for finance or insurance purposes; and serve health and fitness tracking functions.

Moocall

Moocall5 is another company that makes sensors for animals. Their sensors also focus on herd management for cattle, along with another especially innovative function. They are able to alert farmers via text message when a pregnant cow is approaching calving. This enables farmers to better manage their time and productivity by allowing them to only focus on the needs of the pregnant cow at the appropriate times. It is common to spend a significant amount of time with these cows that might otherwise be spent more productively.

Autonomous Farming

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is experimenting with technologies at the leading edge of autonomous farming in its Distributed Autonomous Systems Laboratory (Daslab). For example, robots are already being used at Daslab’s research fields to monitor the health of crops. Daslab’s director, Prof Girish Chowdhary, explained what he sees as a range of needs for different kinds of robots at farms in the future: "Some of them are going to be very small... others are going to be big, perhaps even as big as combine harvester. There will be an autonomous system that is co-ordinating this team of robots, telling them what they need to do in order to get different tasks done."6

Prof. Chowdhary expanded his estimation of these needs to include the increased use of drones for uses such as targeted spraying or taking photos. Indeed, drones are already used in farming for a range of purposes. Not just in the developed world. But, non-profit organizations such as TechnoServe7 have been behind the use of remote sensing, drone mapping, machine learning, and satellite data, with the aim of boosting cashew nut production in the West African nation of Benin. Their efforts have been very successful in increasing productivity and incomes of local farmers, and they are looking to expand these efforts into other West African countries and in Mozambique.

Vertical Farming

US-based Penty is focusing on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and software to develop scalable indoor “vertical farms”, using up to 99% less land than conventional farms to grow vegetables.8 If this kind of approach gains traction, it may well be a viable solution to our long-term needs in meeting the demands associated with the world’s population growth and alleviation of poverty.

Going Forward

We have seen major changes over the years with agriculture over the generations. The Green Revolution massively increased agricultural production worldwide, while also removing a large source of employment from rural economies. But, with the growth in our world’s population and the levels of poverty that persist with the status quo, precision farming also offers much hope. As Dr. Nate Storey, the co-founder and chief science officer of Plenty has put it, "[e]mpowering people to do that with technology is going to be really meaningful for a lot of people, both in terms of quality of life for consumers, and quality of life for producers."9 Let’s hope those words ring true.

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