The change was revolutionary when early humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer societies about 23,000 years ago. It allowed people to live sedentary lifestyles instead of nomadic, leading to profound evolutionary impacts. The age-old question has been how to do things more efficiently for a larger yield. That thinking led to the invention of tools, farm equipment, and other technologies.
Faced with the same challenges today, the agricultural industry has turned to automated farming in its many guises. Consider these facts.
The United Nations estimates that the global population will swell by 25 percent by 2050 to 9.7 billion people.
The organization also forecasts a 69-percent increase in agricultural production during this same time to meet the needs of a growing population.
The percentage of land used for agriculture was 36.9 percent in 2018, following a downward trend.
Automated farming offers solutions to meet the growing demand while increasing efficiency and reducing production costs. The technology for many of these applications already exists in other industries, such as package delivery and real estate. The opportunities lie with segueing them into agriculture.
Automated Farming Systems
Technological improvements have slowly been easing their way into the industry with innovations, such as seemingly simple items like the steel plow. Automated farming embraces these practices, using other hi-tech advancements with the possibilities that the Internet of Things (IoT) and Precision Agriculture (PA) Systems can offer.
IoT has transformed everyday life with smart devices, such as lightbulbs, TVs, and even appliances. The same opportunities exist with agriculture on a larger scale. The adoption of automated farming has been swift, with experts estimating over 82 percent growth by 2026. The industry expects similar spikes in smart agriculture with predictions of a nearly three-fold of 2020 to a staggering $34.1 billion by 2026.
Automated Yield Farming
PA and automated yield farming aim to optimize production while balancing costs. It includes several services and products that can help achieve these goals, such as:
- Soil mapping systems
- Geographical information systems
- Irrigation drones
- Fertilizer and pesticide application
- Variable-rate application control systems
- Harvest automation
- Agricultural robots.
Experts expect agriculture robots to become a $1.4 billion industry by 2025. They predict its most significant impact in the dairy industry with an estimated 74-percent penetration rate in the United States alone. It also has applications with livestock for monitoring herds in the field.
The current rise of automated farming technologies is fortuitous, given the rising repercussions of climate change, fuel supply issues, and food waste. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that the latter make up to 40 percent of the available supply. These issues can become more costly and widespread as the global population increases.
The pandemic brought its own challenges to the forefront with new concerns about the supply chain demands, the ongoing trade war with China, and labor shortages. Technology offers a way to harness its potential to overcome these often unforeseen challenges.
The move toward automated farming isn’t an afterthought but a necessity. As American humorist Will Rogers wisely reminded us, “Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.” Automated farming makes the best use of the arable land we have.
Automated Farming Equipment
Automated farming equipment uses a broad spectrum of devices and technologies, each capable of addressing specific obstacles in the field. For example, robots have provided farmers with welcome relief for labor shortages by planting crops and tedious tasks like weeding. That’s essential for jobs that can put individuals at risk of injury. Robotics mitigate that issue.
GPS-guided tractors can distribute fertilizers and other amendments fine-tuned to the specific conditions of croplands’ topography and soil chemistry. Monitoring tools and the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can replace manual analysis of the soil and crop condition. Automated irrigation can help control the impacts of drought for improved yields. Even simple smartphone weather apps empower farmers.
Automated farming uses various tools in a broad range of applications, from autonomous GPS-driven tractors to drones to sophisticated computer software for analyzing the collected data. One of the main advantages of using smart technology is matching the size and capabilities of the devices to the job.
Automated Farming Examples
Several factors add to the unpredictability and, thus, farming costs. They are often the things that make the difference between a successful or non-profitable yield. Delays in harvest can put crops at risk of an early frost. Likewise, long distances between the farm and the market increase the chances of food spoilage. Automated farming can provide much-needed solutions to common obstacles.
For example, drones and data analysis can provide a tailored map for pesticide applications to reduce the costs of unnecessary applications. Detailed soil analysis can offer a more efficient way to irrigate agricultural land based on its topography and soil type. IoT moisture sensors can complement this information with real-time weather data collection to optimize this process.
Automated greenhouses can help farmers meet the needs of consumers who want fresh produce available year-round. It also presents opportunities to grow fruits and vegetables closer to their markets and save on transportation costs. It can make farming more sustainable as the environmental pressures of climate change and provide food for an increasing population.
Drones hold great promise for smart agriculture, with the market projected to increase four-fold to $4.8 billion by 2024. Their value rests with a ready solution for labor shortages and increased efficiency. They can spray fields up to 60 times faster than doing it manually, thereby saving time and money. Precision mapping minimizes waste and pesticide drift by replacing crop dusters.
Automated farming is firmly rooted in this industry, with its use poised to increase with rising agricultural demands. Farmers have much to gain from the precision-driven data collection offered by its technological tools. Its benefits extend from increased production to improved safety to smarter crop management to reduce unnecessary losses.
Automated farming can make this practice more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It can provide the best solutions for a growing global population that benefits both consumers and farmers. It takes the guesswork and unpredictability out of agriculture and replaces it with data-driven guidance.