How Innovative Farming Software Technology will change the Future of Agriculture
A Second Green Revolution
For nearly all of human history, the advancement of farming technology has been perhaps the single most important factor in our survival and advancement as a species. From the first farming civilizations in Mesoamerica spurring the first rise of sedentism, to the green revolution of the 1950’s which massively increased food security and caloric intake worldwide, the adoption of new technologies in agriculture has always led to new pathways for human advancement. Many scientists and anthropologists believe that we are now on the verge of another agricultural revolution; with a global population projection of about 9.7 billion people by 2050, agricultural production of crops and animals will need to increase by at least 70% from current levels. Not only is demand increasing, but supply is decreasing: agriculture is facing a slow-down in productivity growth, limitations to the availability of farmland, changes to the climate, input price increases and restrictions to energy use. This second, software-based farming revolution, as opposed to the green farming revolution, will involve software rather than hardware technologies to meet increased demands for food.
Software and Precision Agriculture
New farming software is giving rise to what’s known as “precision agriculture:” the practice of increasing farming efficiency by tracking closely temporal, spatial and individual data points to make informed management decisions. Changes to technology in the industry would focus on three main areas. Automated Machinery, Data Collection/Analysis, and Controlled Environment Farming. Let’s unpack the potential of these technologies.
A variety of companies are working to create farm machinery that is self-guided utilizing cameras, advanced sensors, and other technologies to reduce the need of user operance. John Deere is set to start selling autonomous tractors later this year, with capabilities such as plowing fields, avoiding obstacles, and planting crops with minimal human intervention. The tractor would be controlled by a smartphone app connected to six pairs of stereo cameras on the tractor feeding it information. Furthermore, advanced autonomous robots are being developed to perform tasks such as planting, harvesting, tilling, and mowing. In line with these advanced mechanical products, various software systems are being created to drive innovation in agriculture. Mobius is an advanced unmanned command and control solution that is designed to endure harsh weather conditions and wear. Vantage is a system that detects and avoids potential hazards with an advanced suite of software and sensors. Vantage slows vehicles to a safe stopping point when an obstacle is detected and awaits operator intervention. These two examples highlight how software can make farming safer, more efficient, and less reliant on human input.
Data collection and analysis.
Improving the technology within the farming sector will inevitably lead to a reduction in wasted time, resources and labor while increasing the standard of living for farmers. These improvements will also help feed an exponentially growing population, and improve global sustainability efforts. New state-of-the-art equipment including tractors, combines and sprayers, use satellites, high precision positioning systems, smart sensors and a range of computer applications to collect data. This data can determine important information such as patterns in soil and weather conditions, seed viability, topography, nutrients, disease history, row distance and planting depth. Inputting data to software over a number of years can build up a farm record that can then help to improve decision making, provide traceability, enhance market opportunities and improve the overall quality of the produce. This data can be fed into Farming applications such as Hectre: an app for storing and analyzing agricultural information. Other apps with similar functions: Traction Field App, GROWERS Rally App, Farm HQ, Case IH AFS Connect Farm, and BeCrop.
Despite this variety of applications available for farmers there is room for improvement and continued innovation. Specifically there are opportunities in two areas:
1. Creating a globalized agriculture data center: consenting farmers add their data collected from these existing apps into a global database for things like watering needs, crop yield, crop size, disease, etc in order to create more climate resilient, efficient farming.
2. Carbon capture collection database, where any farmer can input carbon capture measured on their farms in order to build a carbon credit market where farmers can be reimbursed for their carbon capture through carbon credits paid by polluting entities.
Controlled environment farming
The third area of innovation in the agriculture space is Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). This refers to the usage of technology in controlling any part of the crop environment to provide optimal growing conditions and prevent disease and pest damage. This can look like simple shade structures, greenhouses, full indoor or vertical farms, or fully automated, closed loop systems with controlled lighting, water and ventilation. The efficiency potential of these farms is huge, as well as the opportunity to provide hyperlocal, fresh food to urban centers in a climate resilient manner. Up and coming CEA tech company Ingrow offers remote detection and control software, using different sensors, software, and equipment in order to know the instant conditions around plants and provide the missing factors. As this technology becomes more widespread, we will continue to see efficiencies realized in CEA environments.
Precision agriculture, like any major technological improvement, comes with cautions to consider, such as the potential to decrease the accessibility of the agriculture industry and make it harder for poorer farmers to compete. The benefit of precision agriculture to the earth’s health is not a given, either. While the revolution has the potential to maximize farm efficiency and reduce input and land requirements for farms, it also has the potential to encourage larger farms to monocrop, which is detrimental to soil health due to the depletion of nutrients. For both farming accessibility and farming sustainability, there is the potential for great advancement as well as great regression, so the integration of software and farming must be done carefully and under the right conditions.
Introducing software into the agricultural industry has the potential to spur an agricultural revolution, relieve massive world hunger, cut down on wasted resources, and increase farming productivity worldwide. Third-way agriculture describes the integration of the organic, small-scale farming movement and new farming technologies in order to create a future for agriculture which is equitable, climate resilient and efficient. Software has massive potential in shape the future of agriculture, if thoughtfully implemented.
Kassidy Jezierski is the Operations Lead at Lithios. She works to clearly communicate the capabilities and optimal engagement opportunities between Lithios and its clients. In her free time, she enjoys finger-painting pictures of lambs and docile sheep.