Information and communications technology (ICT) is having an aspect on every aspect of business across all industries, but have you ever considered the impact ICT can have on farming? Like any other business, farmers have become more dependent on IT technology and digital communications to not only manage farm operations, but to change the way farmers manage crops and livestock. eAgriculture is a new phenomenon that is having a rapid and dramatic impact on food production and farming.
Food production is becoming a global challenge. The FAO predicts that there will be 9.6 billion people on the planet by 2050, and food production will have to increase by 70 percent. This increase in production is going to have to occur despite the limited availability of suitable land and freshwater; agriculture already uses 70 percent of the world’s water. Although these are global problems, even the local farmer here in the United States can improve crop yield, reduce water consumption, and increase profits by using technology in agriculture to improve operations.
Here are just some of the technology trends that are having an impact on the future of farming:
Farming is a business like any other, and computer technology has been a boon to farm management.
Harnessing the Cloud for Farm ManagementThe cloud is having a huge impact on farmers, and not for bringing rain. Cloud computing offers customized software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to help farmers better manage their crops and their business.
Startups like Granular are developing business applications specifically targeting agriculture. Granular, for example, offers cloud applications for farm management, helping farmers create budgets and operational schedules against production plans. Farming-specific software is also available to manage the workforce more efficiently, mapping workability to the weather, and monitoring progress. There also are mobile task management tools and data integration to measure machine operations and production. And Granular offers analytics software to help farmers track costs, production yields, and profits against established benchmarks. It’s the same technology many businesses use, but customized for farm production.
Mobile TechnologyWireless technology also is playing a larger role in E-Agriculture. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are a vital part of farming and have traditionally been done with pencil and paper. Now M&E can be performed using smartphones and tablets.
iFormBuilder, for example, is a mobile collection app that has been specifically designed to allow field teams to gather data using their smartphone. It provides real-time data collection and sends updates to the mobile workforce with new assignments.
Smartphone technology is ideal for farm applications, since cellular connections are the easiest and most cost-effective way to provide data access in the field. Using cloud-based agricultural services gives farmers access to vital information anywhere at any time.
RFID and Security TechnologiesRadio Frequency Identification (RFID) and similar wireless technologies are being used for agricultural tracking and security.
Cattle can be tracked using livestock tracking tags equipped with RFID, for example. These tags not only keep track of each head of cattle on a daily basis, the tags also can be used for health monitoring and to provide a health history of each animal.
Similarly, RFID and other security technologies are being used to secure and track crop shipments, especially organic crops certified free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic and non-GMO foods are increasing in demand there is a big market for counterfeit crops. Using technology for security tagging helps cut down on counterfeiting and impure food shipments.
Big Data, Analytics, and Smart FarmingThese types of applications are valuable for day-to-day field operations, but farmers also are getting a real benefit from measuring production and variables and using data analytics for precision agriculture. This type of “smart farming” is something that large-scale farms and agribusinesses have been applying to cut costs and increase yields.
Farm offices collect vast amounts of information about crop yields, fertilizer applications soil mapping, weather patterns, and animal health. For example, in Precision Livestock Farming, sensors are used to detect reproduction events in cattle and to identify health disorders in animals. By monitoring body temperature, tissue sensitivity, pulse, and location using GPS technology, a rancher can tell when a cow is ready for breeding.
Corporations can apply big data analytics to determine what to plant, where to plant it, and when. Even small farmers can assimilate data from multiple sources to increase efficiency and lower costs. Wireless water sensors, for example, can help farmers in drought-ridden areas such as California conserve water and increase yield. And the data accumulated from these water sensors over time can be analyzed to plan future crops and water usage.
Of course, all this E-Agriculture technology depends upon reliable communications and computer infrastructure. Data gathered using cellular and wireless technology has to be assimilated for review, and even data stored in the cloud has to be accessible for analysis. As farmers become more reliant on technology, they also become more reliant on technology partners to help integrate disparate data gathering systems and maintain a communications network that keeps their operation humming. As technology becomes an integral part of farm operations, more farmers are going to rely on integration partners to help them design and maintain IT systems that make the most of their technology investment.
How do you see the future of technology shaping the agriculture industry?