As we embark on an era where technology has seemingly evolved every aspect of our lives, the agriculture industry as well is undergoing an evolution.
New technologies, including drones, robots, GPS, artificial intelligence, big data, IoT technologies, and more, are helping farmers use “precision agriculture.” This is farming that optimizes the use of land, uses fewer resources, creates less waste, and helps ensure we meet the world’s food demand.
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The precision agriculture trend is said to have begun in the 1980s when GPS technology was first made available to the U.S. public. Smart farming tools were developed to help farmers more effectively apply fertilizers and pesticides. By 2015, according to a survey by Purdue University and CropLife magazine, nearly 90% of U.S. farmers were using GPS for chemical applications. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced it would focus on supporting the development of precision ag technologies and committed $1 billion to the effort.
Today, precision agriculture encompasses a variety of technologies and farm management applications, including:
Robots that use vision, guidance and machine learning technology to handle tasks such as identifying and spraying individual weeds. The ability to target an individual weed frees farmers from having to spray entire fields, greatly decreasing their use of pesticides.
Drones that can monitor fields in real-time, gathering a variety of data for farmers to analyze and improve their practices. Advanced drones can selectively apply pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Satellite imagery and Geographic Information Survey (GIS) mapping to help farmers monitor fields, detect threats and gather a variety of data for analysis.
Software that helps farmers make more informed, data-driven decisions regarding field conditions and needs, weather implications, record keeping and more.
Other precision agriculture applications leverage smart farming machinery; machines using either machine-to-machine communications or artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize farming practices. These technologies and applications include:
Irrigation systems using smart controllers and sensors to deliver water only where it’s needed and only in the amount needed.
GPS-guided autosteer systems for tractors, combines, sprayers and other large equipment. These systems can help keep crop rows straight and prevent overlaps.
Satellite-guided, precision seeders and fertilizer systems. These can be accurate to an inch or less, helping maximize yield.
Sensors integrated into farm equipment that can help monitor data such as seed counts, nutrient levels and fertilizer flow.
The benefits of using precision agriculture to help feed a growing population seem clear. And while precision agriculture is likely to grow — the market has an expected CAGR of 12.7% between 2020 and 2025, according to Markets and Markets — the technology does present some challenges.
One challenge is related to big data in agriculture, and to making sure farmers have the tools they need to make maximum use of the information returned to them. This might be another job for AI. Quoted in Inside Unmanned Systems,
“Using AI and deep learning makes it possible to harvest the data and make sense of it. The data is more manageable when algorithms automatically search and sift through it, pulling out the analytics growers need most.”
Jeff Williams of Empire Unmanned
Another challenge, cited in the same article, is that of speed. Farmers need tools to process sensor-collected data by themselves, without having it send it off for processing. This speed allows farmers to use big data to make more actionable, meaningful decisions.
Perhaps no other human activity has been as important throughout our history as farming. It will continue to be critical as our global population swells to nearly 10 billion people by 2050.
Precision agriculture is poised to help farmers step up to the daunting challenge of meeting this growing population’s food demand. Employing a variety of technologies, including GPS, satellite imagery, drones, big data, and AI, precision agriculture gives farmers much more sophisticated control of their farm management practices, helping them improve yields while reducing their use of resources and production of waste.
This article was contributed by the Hydraulic Team
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