If the trends of 2016 are any indication, 2017 looks to be yet another year of innovation and progress for the agriculture and agrochemical industries. Although farms have existed for millennia, the work of farming is constantly changing. New technologies and methods allow agricultural specialists to maximize their crop yield, reduce the amount of farmland they need to produce a sufficient quantity of food, and perform basic farming processes more efficiently.
With that in mind, now seems like a good time to explore where the agriculture and agrochemical industries are headed in 2017. The following farming trends have picked up steam in recent months, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to do so in the year to come.
Put simply, precision agriculture involves accounting for variability within the conditions of a given crop field. Rather than treating all the plants in a given area equally, farmers employ numerous technologies and approaches to ascertain the individual needs of a particular crop.
For example, in a field, some plants may thrive, while others may need nutrients, endure pests, or succumb to illness. In the past, farmers may have addressed this in one of two ways: by focusing on the healthy crops and failing to tend to the needs of the unhealthy ones, or wasting valuable resources—pesticides, fertilizer, water—on the entire field just to address the needs of the unhealthy crops.
In other words, if a farmer identifies that certain plants within a field require more herbicides to fight off weeds, then he or she might distribute the same amount of herbicides throughout the whole field, even though there may be healthy plants that don’t need this kind of attention.
This waste of resources can cut into the profits of a farm. On the other hand, if a farmer fails to notice the unhealthy crops within a field because they’ve attended only to the healthy ones, they won’t produce as much usable food as they can.
These potential consequences are two key reasons why more and more people working in the agricultural industry are adopting the precision agriculture approach. By using GPS technology along with innovations designed to give a thorough portrait of the soil and crop conditions in a specific area of a field, farmers can divide their crops into smaller and smaller sections. This allows them to more effectively care for unhealthy plants without wasting resources on healthy ones. For the rest of the world, this could mean increased food production.
To aid in the work of precision agriculture, many farmers have begun to make use of unmanned aerial drones. Rather than physically travelling to a portion of their fields to assess the health and overall condition of the crops, they can operate these vehicles remotely, getting an aerial view of the field. This new development promises to make farmers much more efficient in their work.
However, reconnaissance isn’t the only use for drones. In the future, it’s possible they could be equipped with mechanisms that would allow them to distribute agrochemicals from the air. Some specialists even anticipate drones armed with safe laser devices that could target invading weeds with surgical precision.
Aerial drones are not the only unmanned vehicles farmers have begun to make use of. Recently, manufacturers have developed unmanned tractors and similar agricultural equipment to perform many of the tasks formerly relegated to humans. In some instances, these vehicles may operate on their own, much like robotic swimming pool vacuum cleaners do.
In other cases, farmers could operate or monitor the vehicles remotely, performing necessary jobs and getting a thorough picture of their crops’ health in the most efficient way possible.
As of now, experts at Goldman Sachs estimate that in the near future the driverless tractor industry could be worth $45 billion, which doesn’t even account for the other new agriculture technologies that are beginning to hit the market.
The appeal of these developments is clear. One of the key goals of most farmers, after all, is maximizing crop yield. By focusing more precisely on the specific needs of individual plants, using drones to survey their property, and relegating time-consuming work to robots, farmers can ensure that they’re taking every step possible to get the most out of their farms.