Precision agriculture involves using the latest tools and methods to attend to the specific needs of small sections of crops. Thanks to innovations in agricultural technology, farmers can make more efficient use of their space and resources, boosting overall crop yields in the process.
The following developments represent just a sampling of the advances currently changing the way farmers produce food for both local and global populations:
Most people assume that farms are exclusively located in rural areas. While that has been true for most of history, thanks to vertical farming, it’s becoming easier to convert urban spaces - such as abandoned warehouses or factories - into miniature indoor farms. This allows farmers to produce quality crops for local urban populations, who would otherwise rely on produce that has been shipped to the city.
As the name suggests, vertical farms maximize their small spaces by planting crops in containers and stacking them on top one another. Currently, the process is better for growing small greens, but as indoor growing methods improve, it may soon be possible to grow robust crops of all sorts in this manner.
If vertical farming continues to develop as an effective approach to agriculture, it may help to offset some of the burden that rural farms carry. Most rural farmers must produce food for large geographic areas. Often, there isn’t enough for everybody. Vertical farms can change this. City-dwellers won’t need to rely on distant farms to transport food long distances. As a result, farms can share more of their food with local populations.
Efficient Pesticide Applicators
Agrochemicals play a key a role in boosting the crop yield of a farm. They ensure that crops receive proper nutrients, are protected against pests, don’t have to compete with neighboring weeds for food, and more. That’s why it’s important or farmers to use them efficiently. The more funds they devote to replenishing their supply of agrochemicals, the less able they are to devote those funds to other components of their farms.
Recent technological developments may help to address this issue. In the United States, the Agricultural Research Service, via their Application Technology Research Unit, recently unveiled a new pesticide applicator that could reduce pesticide usage on farms by 50 percent or more.
Pesticide applicators are frequently imprecise. They can only apply the chemical over a general area of crops, potentially wasting chemicals on crops that don’t need any additional pesticides or insecticides.
This new sprayer accurately identifies the overall size and shape of particular sections of crops. It can apply the correct amounts of agrochemicals in a more precise area. Currently, the tool is designed for trees. Perhaps in the future, similar applicators will offer the same benefits to other types of crops.
Ultrasonic Crop Monitoring
It’s often very difficult for farmers to know what growth stage their crops have reached at any given time. For example, a farm may have several acres of corn. Simply looking at the crops doesn’t offer comprehensive information. Some will have reached their full maturity, while others slightly below the canopy may need additional nutrients, resources, or attention before growing to their maximum potential.
Some researchers believe that ultrasonic technology can offer a solution. Ultrasonic echo signals from corn leaves can identify where the canopy is in a group of crops. This allows farmers to more accurately measure the leaf height of their corn crops. Using this data, they can determine if an area of crops is fully grown.
As the technology improves and spreads to other farms, it could dramatically reduce the amount of time farmers spend on assessing the maturity of their produce. Farms of the future may have what can essentially be thought of as echo-location devices installed throughout them. These monitoring stations will relay information to a farmer about the growth stage of the surrounding crops. If the data indicates that they’ve reached full maturity, a farmer will know it’s time to harvest them. On the other hand, if the data shows that the crops need more time to grow to their maximum potential, the farmer will be able to let them do so before harvesting.
For literally thousands of years, agricultural technology has constantly been improved. With each new tool and method comes greater opportunities for farmers to boost crop yields. If you work in the industry, this means increasing revenue through superior efficiency. For the general population, it means more food for everyone. It’s essential for everyone from potential investors to everyday citizens to remember that better agricultural technology is good for the entire world.
When people visualize a farm, most come up with a similar image: sprawling tracts of land in an isolated, rural area. To be fair, for most of history, this has been a fairly accurate assumption. However, agriculture and agrochemical technologies are always changing. Thanks to new advancements in the science of growing food, it’s now possible to operate a legitimate farm in a major urban area.
This isn’t mere speculation. Startups like Edenworks have already demonstrated the concept’s viability.
Edenworks Farms in Brooklyn
Edenworks’ headquarters isn’t an expansive farm out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an 800-square-foot greenhouse adjacent to its office in Brooklyn, New York’s Bushwick neighborhood. The startup shares the building with a metalworking shop below.
Leafy greens thrive in the greenhouse, packed together and stacked vertically. Eventually, Edenworks will harvest these plants and sell them to a nearby Whole Foods grocery store. In the United States, the vast majority of leafy green produce comes from the deserts of California and Arizona. Though these two states have excellent climates for growing fruits and vegetables year-round, water is not abundant, and climate change will only increase water scarcity throughout the region.
In addition, because conventional produce must be shipped long distances, farmers must choose types of plants that have been bred to travel far without becoming damaged. This emphasis on durability means that there’s less focus on growing the varieties that taste the best. A head of lettuce from a traditional farm in California may be able to travel across the country tightly packed in a crate, but it might not be very flavorful.
Companies like Edenworks are striving to change this paradigm by using innovative agricultural techniques to convert large urban spaces, like factories and warehouses, into indoor farms in the middle of the city. Instead of trying to grow durable, travel-friendly produce, their goal is to grow high-quality, great-tasting, nutrient-dense produce for consumers in the area.
This approach doesn’t merely benefit city-dwellers. It’s good for the environment as a whole. The produce no longer needs to be shipped to the city from far-off farms, reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. In addition, Edenworks’ facility uses aquaponics—the plants are grown without soil, in a solution of water and nutrients. These nutrients are provided by waste from tilapia fish kept in tanks on-site. In this way, aquaponics leverages the natural relationship between aquatic animals and plants in the wild.
Aquaponic farming uses less water than traditional farms—in some cases, as much as 90% less. This is due to the fact that the plants are grown in a highly controlled, indoor environment in which evaporation is minimal. Produce grown using aquaponic methods also typically grows faster, allowing farmers to produce more food more quickly.
An Urban Agricultural Revolution
Although the new urban agricultural revolution is still in the early stages, it’s reasonable to assume that it will have a major impact on the agricultural and agrochemical industries on the future.
For example, if this movement gains traction, for essentially the first time in human history, people who live in cities will have easy access to farming jobs without needing to relocate. Because young college graduates often move to cities in the early stages of their careers, this may help to attract more talent to the field of agriculture.
Major universities based in these cities might also expand their agricultural programs.
Universities generally offer academic programs based on major industries in the surrounding areas—doing so ensures that students have opportunities for internships and relevant professional experience during their time in school. In cities, where farms are rarely accessible, universities are less likely to prioritize their agriculture departments. As urban farming becomes more common, their attitudes might shift.
Urban farming could also have a major impact on the agrochemical and precision agriculture markets. In order to more efficiently grow crops in urban environments, farmers must rely on greenhouses, aquaponics, and other methods that differ from those employed on conventional farms. If urban farms do become common, there will be greater demand for products and technologies tailored to their specific needs—such as agrochemicals specifically formulated for commercial greenhouses, or the pumps and tanks that are needed for aquaponic systems. Professionals in the agricultural industries would be smart to pay close attention to the development and growth of the urban agriculture movement. Those who monitor the trend closely will have a better opportunity to address the growing needs of urban farmers early, before the market gets crowded with competition.
As always, the agriculture industry is evolving. For people currently working in the field, it’s an exciting time. For those considering a career in agriculture, it’s perhaps even more exciting, with a whole new set of potential job opportunities waiting to be claimed.
Much has already been said about the way in which the shift from the hunter-gatherer way of life to a more agrarian approach provided the foundation for civilization and society. Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook the fact that agriculture continues to help today’s nations thrive. While those who work in the agriculture and agrochemicals sector may be well aware of the impact that farms have on a country’s citizens, economy, and infrastructure, people outside the industry can easily overlook certain essential truths.
It’s important not to. Lawmakers - and the citizens who vote for them - must always remember the role that agriculture plays in a nation’s growth. Major points to consider include the following:
Agriculture and the Economy
Among developed nations, Russia has an unusually fast-growing agricultural sector. On the whole, this has had a positive effect on the country’s economy, largely due to the fact that an increased emphasis on farming boosts a nation’s exports. The more food a country can grow, the more food that country can sell to other nations. This general principle applies to any country where agriculture is prioritized.
Within a nation’s borders, farms also contribute to economic growth by providing citizens with employment opportunities. Although there are seemingly countless jobs within the agriculture and agrochemical industries, some of which can be outsourced, the actual work of farming can’t be outsourced to citizens of other countries. The people who manage or tend to a farm must be on the property.
Granted, it is true that technological innovations will almost certainly impact the role that human labor plays on farms. Some farmers already use aerial drones and unmanned agricultural equipment to monitor crops and perform basic tasks that once required a human being. However, that does not mean that farming is at any risk of becoming totally automated. It simply means that there will soon be a shift in the roles that humans play on a farm.
Many have already observed this shift, noting that more farmers are focusing on precision agriculture, a general term referring to the implementation of new techniques, technologies, and methods designed to maximize the growth potential of small sections of crops. Precision agriculture requires human workers to closely monitor crops. As automated equipment continues to take over certain basic tasks, the human labor of a farm won’t become redundant; people will merely take on a different set of responsibilities.
Additionally, people will still be involved in maintaining and repairing all this new equipment, ensuring that agriculture continues to offer jobs to citizens of a given nation.
Improving Infrastructure and Technology
There are several reasons why many farmers have been slow to adopt some of the innovations mentioned above. Poor infrastructure is a main one.
For example, unmanned aerial drones that relay information about the condition of a section of crops rely on mobile networks in order to send that information reliably. Many farms are located in rural areas, where data providers have yet to install sufficient antenna towers. Up until recently, this made sense; in regions with lower population levels, there’s been limited demand for that type of infrastructure.
As more farmers embrace the possibilities of these technological innovations, that will change. Data providers will take notice, installing more towers and boosting the country’s overall mobile telecommunications infrastructure as a result.
It’s also worth remembering that when a nation focuses on a goal requiring technological innovations, there’s often a positive ripple effect. When the United States committed itself to landing a human being on the moon that goal also provided American citizens with the motivation to pursue careers in STEM fields. The United States did eventually send astronauts to the moon, but the technologies developed to put them there had practical applications back on Earth as well.
Improving agricultural technology may not be the type of goal that inspires the same degree of awe and wonder that the space race did, but it does offer nations a way to encourage their brightest minds to develop useful solutions to a range of problems. Innovations developed to boost the efficiency of farms will likely benefit citizens of the country in other ways.
It’s no secret that agriculture is essential to a nation’s growth. If the citizens aren’t fed, the country can’t thrive. Those in power must keep this in mind, but they must also keep in mind that an emphasis on farming can lead to other opportunities for growth.
A frequent theme of this blog is the role of new technology in agriculture and more specifically how unmanned vehicles and aerial drones will make it easier for farmers to boost their overall crop yield. The new technologies will be good for everyone. Improved farming methods will enable more food production to keep pace with the world’s growing population.
However, the topic of agricultural technology inevitably leads to one underlying question: What kind of impact will these new technologies have on farm labor?
The Impact of Automation
It’s an understandable concern. Across many industries, automation has eliminated a number of jobs over the years, and it will likely will continue to do so. While unmanned agricultural equipment may improve the overall efficiency of farms, it could mean that manual labor is no longer necessary.
While that’s a fair way of considering the issue, it’s not the only way. After all, there is often a misconception about how easy it is for farmers to find workers. In the United States, for example, some farmers have discovered that many citizens actually aren’t willing to take on that kind of physically demanding work. As a result, they have to hire H-2A workers instead.
H-2A workers are not technically citizens of the United States, nor are they immigrants. They come to the United States for seasonal employment and return to their home countries when they are not working. Generally, they are more willing to endure the arduous nature of farming.
Hiring H-2A Workers Can Be Difficult
The problem is that hiring them can be difficult. Checks are checks put in place to ensure that they do not remain in the country for longer than their allotted time, and the process of hiring them through this system can be time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, some farms do not offer enough seasonal work to qualify for the program. As a result, they are stuck looking for workers who are citizens. Often, they come up short.
Add in the fact that policies relating to non-immigrant workers are constantly shifting in most countries, and it can be difficult to find enough workers in this industry.
More automated machinery could provide a solution to this dilemma. Basic tasks that would have required a human could now essentially be performed by a robot. Rather than giving farmers a reason to reduce their workforce, the increased efficiency would allow them to use their workers more effectively. In recent years, precision agriculture has been a hot topic in the industry. Farmers are continuing to develop new methods of addressing the specific needs of a small section of crops. The approach boosts crop yields while limiting the amount of wasted resources, which may include fertilizer and pesticides.
Machines Could Make Farming Less Labor-Intensive
In order to be effective, precision agriculture techniques often require a person to carefully evaluate the condition of a given crop and address any nutritional deficiencies. With machines tending to the mundane tasks, farm workers can now aid in this process. Doing so will actually make farming significantly less labor-intensive. As a result, more people will be willing to take on farming jobs.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that these new machines will need to be manufactured, maintained, and repaired. Such work will still have to be performed by humans. In fact, the odds are good that the implementation of these tools will be positive for every farm’s workforce.
Farmers Continue to Struggle to Find Workers
By helping farmers to grow more food and increase their revenue, machines will enable them to hire additional workers. Again, farmers are struggling to find workers as it is. With more funds at their disposal, they will be far more likely to expand their operations. Think of a farm like a growing company. When a new tool comes along that makes the company substantially more productive, that company doesn’t shrink in size. Instead, it grows and provides more jobs as a result.
That’s not to mention the fact that increased revenue for farms is better for the general economy of a region, since more people will have money to spend. While it is certainly fair to be concerned about how new agricultural technologies will eliminate the need for manual labor, the farming industry is one example in which the opposite would appear to be true. Consider that farmers are having a difficult time finding humans to do these jobs. Rather than become pessimistic about how machines will affect the agricultural workers, it’s better to be optimistic. When farmers are no longer struggling to maintain a full workforce, they can devote more energy to serving their communities.
A.G. Kawamura, California’s former secretary of agriculture, recently spoke about the importance of farming at the Nebraska Innovation Campus.
Many Americans have taken the agriculture industry for granted due to the general abundance of food available in the United States. As a result, Kawamura warned against falling prey to the idea that relying on conventional farming methods will always yield enough food for the population.
There have always been parts of the world where food is scarce. Rising populations, combined with the unpredictability of droughts and similar climate issues, could dramatically change the status quo without warning.
Agriculture’s Impact on Civilization
“Successful agriculture sustains civilization,” Kawamura said. “We don’t have to talk about what kind of agriculture it is, as long as it’s successful. That should be our focus right now.”
Kawamura makes an important point. Agriculture serves as the foundation upon which societies build and thrive. It’s impossible to pursue innovations in the arts, sciences, and any other field if your people aren’t fed. By addressing the basic needs of a society, farms allow civilization to flourish. If humankind is going to continue developing as a species, we’ll need to be certain that our methods of farming remain as effective as possible.
“Effective” is the key word in that statement. Kawamura would seem to agree. It’s no secret that there are many different approaches to farming. As technologies like aerial drones and unmanned equipment become more widely utilized, that will only be more evident. Nations should seek to identify and implement those methods that reliably yield the most amount of food for the greatest number of people.
Embracing New Agricultural Methods Is Crucial
That might mean adapting to new ways of thinking about agriculture. It could even mean preparing for another agricultural revolution. As Kawamura said, “It’s time for a global reset button,” adding, “We’re in a new age of agriculture. The pace of new knowledge and new thinking that is taking place is unbelievable.”
He’s right. Thanks to recent developments in areas like precision agriculture, farmers have recently discovered new ways to grow more crops. These methods could be regarded as vastly superior to those that came before.
Unfortunately, agriculture isn’t a topic that the average citizen thinks much about. As long as the existing farms continue to produce a dependable amount of food for their consumption, it’s easy for people to fail to consider where the food comes from. They may also forget that we still need to innovate in order to feed the world in the coming years.
For example, many of the techniques that fall under the heading of “precision agriculture” - essentially an approach to farming that involves very closely monitoring and addressing the individual needs of smaller groups of crops - require farmers to have access to special tools. In many (if not all) countries, the existing agricultural infrastructure doesn’t support the widespread implementation of these methods, despite their efficiency.
Government Contributions and Educational Outreach Will Be Crucial to Advancement
While some independent farmers may be able to afford the tools that they need to grow crops with greater precision, many others won’t. If citizens were informed of the benefits, they may see the value in governments contributing to the upgrade of existing infrastructure. Again, a new agricultural revolution could very well be starting. The countries that will benefit most will be those most prepared to embrace it.
With this in mind, Kawamura stressed the role of education in helping to spur innovation and public interest. Rather than urging listeners to rely on schools to make the needed curricular changes, Kawamura encouraged those working in the agriculture and agrochemical industries to work on cultivating this interest themselves.
“We need to produce excitement and enthusiasm globally about these goals to get everybody from around the world involved in this outcome we call the future.”
Although his statements may sound melodramatic to an outsider, to anyone who has worked in this industry, they sound entirely reasonable. Nations thrive based on how effective their agricultural methods are. Nations should not assume that the global, social landscape will remain static - it never does. Further, they should not assume that there are no farming methods more efficient than those that are already in use - nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, it’s essential that world leaders focus on staying abreast of developments in the industry. Doing so could have genuine historical significance going forward, as the new agricultural revolution unfolds.
Agriculture—and, for that matter, agrochemicals—serve as the essential foundation upon which human civilization built itself. Prior to the rise of agrarian societies, most early human ancestors were hunter-gatherers, exhausting the resources in one area and moving on to the next. This nomadic lifestyle left little time for the development of science, art, or the numerous other fundamentals of culture that we so easily take for granted.
When tribes first discovered the principles of agriculture, they were finally able to settle in one location. This gave them the opportunity to focus more attention on other endeavors. Without farms, humans would have never built cities. We would have never established trade networks connecting our various societies and nations. And we certainly would have never developed the innovations necessary for space travel.
Permanent extraterrestrial colonies
Now, we find ourselves at yet another major turning point in the history of human civilization. NASA and other space agencies, including independent organizations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have announced plans to land a human on Mars within the coming decades. These initial missions would theoretically serve as the first of many, as humans begin to establish permanent extraterrestrial colonies.
While it may sound like science-fiction, it’s no longer reasonable to dismiss these claims. Humans are almost certainly going to visit Mars in the near future.
Of course, when they get there, they’ll need a reliable food source. That’s why this isn’t just a critical time for people involved in space exploration—it’s also a critical time for people involved in agriculture. In order to sustain a colony on another planet, the agencies organizing these missions will need help from the brightest thinkers in the industry. You can’t stay on Mars if you can’t grow food there.
Creating a ‘Mars Oasis’
Elon Musk’s plan for what he calls a “Mars Oasis” addresses this concern directly. Potential timelines for an eventual manned mission include an early mission that would involve transporting a small greenhouse to Mars, with nutrients and plants aboard. Engineers would devise a method to ensure that the plants do not begin growing until the greenhouse reaches the surface of Mars. Monitoring their growth cycle remotely from our planet, researchers would have the ability to gather information about the prospects and challenges of cultivating food in a Martian colony.
The researchers will need input from agricultural experts to come up with the most effective solutions to this problem. The essential challenge of the issue involves finding a way to alter a portion of the Martian soil so that it mimics the soil we have on Earth. Although films such as The Martian gloss over this barrier by depicting a few smart people arriving at basic solutions, experts agree that actually achieving this goal will be far from simple. However, they also agree that it can and will be done.
Accounting for gravity differences
Converting the barren Mars soil into nutrient, life-sustaining earth is just one part of the problem, though. Mars receives significantly less sunlight than we do. Colonists will either need to rely on plants that have been engineered to thrive with less exposure to the sun, or they’ll have to use artificial lighting sources to compensate for the difference. They might also need to account for gravity differences, which could theoretically keep plants from growing in the Martian atmosphere.
Then there’s the radiation problem.
Earth is protected from the sun’s radiation due to its remarkably thick atmosphere, a quality that’s not shared by any other planet in the solar system. Some experts believe that the atmosphere of Mars won’t be sufficient to protect crops. Any greenhouse that the first Martian colonists use for growing food will have to be strong enough to block the radiation that could otherwise decimate any plant life.
Creating the first farm on Mars
In other words, starting the first farm on Mars is going to be very difficult. However, people who work in the agriculture and agrochemical industries are used to tackling extremely difficult projects. Throughout nearly all of human history, farmers have encountered these types of problems in one form or another. While no one has ever tried to grow food on another planet before, they have had to grow food in an inhospitable climate, in regions where pests or diseases have threatened crops, and in areas where the soil was barely fertile enough to support even meager plant life.
Yet, they’ve always managed to overcome these obstacles. As visionaries continue to strive towards the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human colony on Mars, agriculture experts have an opportunity to make a major contribution to the history of the human species.
It’s a very exciting time to be a farmer.
Regular readers of this blog know that it often touches on several recurring topics. One of them is the need for smart young people to join the agriculture and agrochemical industries. Some people assume that these fields are shrinking, but actually, experts expect to see a surge of new jobs in the coming years. For those who recently graduated college or will be graduating soon and are unsure of what their next step should be, it’s a good idea to explore a career in agriculture.
According to a 2015 announcement from former United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, close to 60,000 new jobs are expected to open up each year in the agriculture and related industries in the United States alone. A report from Purdue University and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture indicates that more than half of those jobs are filled by college graduates with specialized skills and training. A commonly held myth about farming is that most people in the industry lack any formal training or higher education, but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the field of agriculture, there are literally thousands of roles available to college graduates.
Perhaps even more interestingly, statistics indicate that only slightly more than half of those roles are filled by graduates who studied a subject closely related to agriculture while pursuing their degree. While a background in the field may be useful to have, it’s still entirely possible to thrive in this line of work without having learned much about it in school. If you’re able to learn fast and tackle new challenges, you can find a way to make yourself valuable.
One of the reasons people who haven’t studied agriculture still find rewarding jobs in the industry is simple: there are many different roles to fill, requiring a pool of job candidates representing a wide variety of talents and areas of expertise.
For example, you may not have had much interest in the science of farming during your time as a student, but you may have been drawn to innovations in mobile technology. People with these types of interests have found recent success in the field of agriculture and agrochemicals.
Farmers are always looking for ways to maximize their crop yield. This isn’t simply because doing so allows them to make more money. The fact is, the more food they can grow, the more food there is to share with the global population. When they boost their crop yield, the entire community benefits.
In their efforts to grow more food, farmers have turned to a number of technological innovations to facilitate more precise methods of cultivating and protecting their crops. Many now use aerial drones to get a bird’s-eye view of their fields (and, perhaps one day, to distribute agrochemicals), unmanned tractors and similar farming equipment to complete work more efficiently, and even remote monitoring stations to keep a close eye on how healthy their crops are.
Although the application of these tools has occurred only fairly recently, evidence suggests that the trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon. As such, farmers will need technologically minded people to design more effective machines and programs and come up with the best possible ways to apply them.
This is just one example of the kind of role you could find in the agriculture industry, even if you didn’t study a subject directly related to it. The point is, no matter where your interests and talents lie, you’ll still have the opportunity to forge a career in agriculture.
Students are often idealistic people. They may seek a career that rewards them financially, allows them to put their skills to good use, and makes the world a better place.
While humankind has come a long way since the first hunter-gatherer tribes began to adopt a more agrarian lifestyle, we still rely on farms to supply us with our food. By working in agriculture, a young person can have the chance to contribute to the global community, using their expertise to help in the fight against hunger. The stimulating, interesting work is just an added bonus.
If you’re looking for an industry that will give you a sense of purpose but requires drive and intelligence as well, look into the kind of work you could do in the agrochemical or agriculture industries. With a creative application of your education or talents, you could find a perfect fit.
Anyone with an interest in the business world knows that fresh, young startups are constantly revolutionizing established industries that haven’t kept up with the times. Agriculture may be the oldest industry of all, and tech companies could stand to benefit if they target the niche early on.
Although it’s unlikely that there will ever be a farming app that’s as popular as Instagram or Facebook, farmers are going to need new software solutions in the coming years. Software developers looking for an untapped market should take note.
The Current State of Agricultural Technology
As has been covered on this blog before, new technologies like drones and unmanned equipment are becoming more commonplace on farms. For example, a farmer could use an aerial drone to monitor crops more efficiently, or to distribute agrochemicals rapidly. Unmanned vehicles will perform the work that typically required a human operator. Additionally, remote monitoring stations may even supply farmers with a constant stream of data about the health of a given sections of crops.
All these innovations are quickly being embraced by many in the industry, because they’re geared towards spreading the principles of precision agriculture. This is one of the most quickly-growing trends in the agriculture industry. It essentially involves farmers using a range of tools and methods to more specifically assess and target the needs of their crops.
In the past, a farmer might have noticed that a section of crops appeared healthy, and as a result, he or she might decide not to apply additional agrochemicals or nutrients. However, within that section, there could be some crops that do need those resources. Without the nutrients they needed, those crops could fail to grow, limiting the crop yield of the farm as a result.
Now, it’s generally accepted that farmers will soon be able to use monitoring stations to get a more thorough picture of which crops needs more attention and which don’t. This allows farmers to not only boost crop yield, but also to conserve resources like agrochemicals. Rather than applying agrochemicals throughout their crops randomly, farmers can apply them to the crops that need those chemicals, while skipping those that are already healthy.
Room for Technological Development
However, there are three needs which must be fulfilled before these types of solutions can become more widespread. First, the actual drones, vehicles, and devices must be available. That doesn’t appear to be a problem: companies are quickly responding to demand within the industry.
Second, because most of these tools rely on mobile technology to relay information to farmers, digital infrastructure will have to be built up to facilitate this. Currently, the infrastructure necessary for quick and reliable mobile communications is often sparse around farms.
Providers tend to build their antenna towers and facilities in areas of high population density. As farmers continue to pursue these types of precision solutions, mobile companies will have to help by constructing the needed infrastructure.
Third and finally, farmers will need intuitive and accurate software they can use to gather the information they need from their tools. Imagine a farmer using remote monitoring stations to keep an eye on the health of their crops. In the future, they may access this data via a mobile app on a tablet device. To get the best results, they’ll want easy-to-use software that provides them with a clear breakdown.
Additional Applications for Agricultural Technology
Collecting data isn’t the only use farmers will have for new software technologies. As precision agriculture techniques help to further conserve agrochemicals and resources, farmers may find it worthwhile to keep a detailed digital inventory of these items.
Doing so will help them to save even more money and grow even more crops. People already rely on mobile apps to manage their own finances, keep track of daily tasks, and handle their banking needs.
Agricultural apps will simply be a more specialized service. Imagine an app designed specifically for farmers, making it easy for them to take inventory, schedule necessary tasks, evaluate the health and quality of their crops, and respond to the needs of crops which may not be receiving sufficient nutrition. It’s possible that such an app is right around the corner.
Before the agriculture industry can truly embrace the possibilities that drones and related technologies have to offer, this final piece of the puzzle needs to be available. Software developers are in the position right now to address a major demand before the competition does.
Better Agriculture Technology Can Improve Everyone’s Lives
Again, these apps and services will probably only affect farmers in a direct way. Indirectly, however, they can have a huge impact on people all over the world. With tools like these, farmers can grow more crops, providing more food to the people of the world. Even if you never find use for a mobile farming app, you’ll still benefit when software firms truly begin focusing on this niche.
As has been covered frequently in this blog, agriculture is one of the oldest industries known to humankind - some might even say it’s the oldest, full stop. However, that doesn’t mean that the work of farming today resembles that of thousands of years ago. In fact, it doesn’t even resemble farming from 50 years ago.
Just like any other field, agriculture is constantly adapting to new technological changes and embracing new innovations. For those who work in the industry, implementing new methods of boosting crop yields have resulted in increased profits.
Additionally, in many instances, precision agriculture has also allowed farmers to simplify processes that once may have proven tedious or time-consuming. By taking advantage of emerging technologies and staying on top of new farming methods, they’ve streamlined their tasks and become more efficient.
That said, you don’t need to work in the industry to benefit. When farms produce more food, the global population as a whole is better off.
What is precision agriculture?
To better understand why precision agriculture is so important, it pays to spend a little bit of time getting familiar with the concept. Precision agriculture refers to a broad constellation of farming tools, techniques, and methods used to manage production within individual fields of crops. A single blog post can’t begin to cover every subtopic that falls under the larger heading of precision agriculture.
On the other hand, having a deeper familiarity with what this approach to farming entails can allow everyone - from casual readers to industry veterans - to more fully appreciate how the industries of agriculture and agrochemicals are always developing.
Quite simply, precision agriculture involves farmers’ ability to hone in more closely on the specific needs of small sections of crops. In the past, it was difficult to monitor particular plants that closely.
The approach of trying to determine which crops were thriving and which were not on a case-by-case basis did not lend itself to efficiency. Unfortunately, this often meant that crop yields were not optimized. Additionally, resources like fertilizer, herbicides, and other agrochemicals were sometimes wasted.
What would happen without precision agriculture?
As an example, imagine that in one small section of a farm, there is an even smaller section of crops that do not appear to be receiving sufficient nutrition. Without precision farming techniques, there were generally two potential outcomes in a situation like this one.
In the first scenario, a farmer might discover that some crops in this section were not receiving all the nutrients they needed. He or she would then correct the problem by applying fertilizer or any other necessary resources throughout the entire section of the field.
While this may have been effective when it came to helping the unhealthy plants thrive, it was also wasteful. Many of the other plants in that section of the field didn’t need additional nutrients, so fertilizer and other resources are wasted on crops that already have all the nutrients they require.
The other potential outcome wasn’t any better. If those unhealthy crops were a small part of a larger section, surrounded primarily by healthier crops, the farmer might overlook them. This would deny those crops the additional resources they required to grow as fully as possible. Such a practice may have prevented waste, but it also meant that those crops wouldn’t grow. Additionally, the amount of food the farm produced wasn’t as substantial as it could have been.
How does precision agriculture address these issues?
Precision agriculture represents an attempt to solve this problem. A large component of precision agriculture involves using technologies like aerial drones to create detailed maps of a field. These maps divide crops into much smaller sections than they previously would have been. This allows a farmer to account for a greater number of potential variables that could impact the health of a given set of crops.
Suppose a farmer recognizes that the crops in one area seem to be less healthy than those that surround them. By using precision agriculture, he or she can more effectively provide those crops with the resources they need. Furthermore, farmers can do so without wasting resources on crops that don’t need them.
Precision agriculture also allows a farmer to identify small areas where crops seem healthier than normal. By taking stock of the numerous variables and factors that might account for this, farmers can more easily determine what steps they should take to ensure all their crops are just as healthy.
This doesn’t just help farms make more money. First and foremost, it helps them to grow more food for the people of the world. That’s why precision agriculture is important, whether you work in the industry or not. As this approach to farming continues to develop, the fight against hunger could get much easier.
Although this blog touches on subjects ranging from politics to ancient history, its primary focus is agrochemicals and their uses in farming. However, that’s a fairly broad topic.
To have a richer understanding of (and appreciation for) agrochemicals and their uses, it helps to learn some specifics. By knowing the difference between various subsets of agrochemicals, you’ll get much more out of what you read here.
What are agrochemicals?
Quite simply, an agrochemical is a chemical-based product used in farming, typically to boost crop yield. These products have been used in a variety of forms for a very long time.
That said, modern innovations have made for much more effective agrochemicals than those of years past. Innovations continue to this day, helping farms supply more food to the global population.
The following are the key types of products that fall into this category:
Animals and insects pose a major risk to crops. If they’re drawn to a food source, they could seriously deplete the supply of that particular plant. Pesticides, as the name suggests protect crops by killing, incapacitating, or warding off these invasive species.
It’s important to note that the benefits of pesticides aren't limited to boosting crop yield, though. Many of the pests that are drawn to farm plants carry illnesses with them.
Before pesticides were in widespread use, people were at risk of contracting these illnesses if they ate plants that had been in contact with disease-causing pests. Thanks to increased pesticide use in farms throughout the globe, this is much less of a threat now.
Insecticides are a tape of pesticide and serve essentially the same purpose. The primary difference between the two is easy to guess. While pesticide is an umbrella category for any chemical substance designed to protect against different types of pests, insecticides target insects specifically. That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful, however.
These products are generally tailored to guard against particular species of insects. This makes them a good resource to have available if there is a certain insect that is especially common in a given area.
Another factor that makes insecticides worthy of attention is the fact that they fall into two separate types. One type of insecticide, called a contact insecticide, simply kills an insect when the insect comes into contact with it. These products are effective, but the effect is short-lasting. Since they don’t remain on a plant permanently, they’re not a long-term danger for insects.
Other forms of insecticides - through complex chemical and biological processes - essentially become a part of the plant. In other words, the plant begins to absorb the insecticide. That means when an insect tries to consume the plant, it also ingests the insecticide.
Even if you don’t work in the agriculture industry, the odds are good you’ve used herbicides. If you’ve ever sprayed weedkiller on your property, you’ve used an herbicide. It may have been a consumer market herbicide, but weedkiller is an herbicide nonetheless.
Herbicides are useful because animals and insects aren’t the only pests that pose a threat to crops. Other species of plants can begin to grow in the same area, competing for nutrients and resources.
Herbicides are designed to kill off invasive or unwanted species of plants while leaving the useful crops unharmed. This gives the crops a greater chance to thrive, as they’ll make greater use of the nutrients in the soil.
Many species of fungus have also been known to cause significant damage to crops. As such, fungicides are commonly used in agriculture, but they are also widely available to the average consumer in a variety of forms. These products effectively prevent fungi from doing harm to any crops to which they're applied.
To be more specific, synthetic fertilizer.
Many fertilizers are actually natural materials. These don’t qualify as agrochemicals because they have not been designed or manufactured to include any special chemical-based formulas.
However, it’s no secret that fertilizers play an important role in agriculture. Without them, it would be far more difficult to grow healthy, robust crops. In fact, the role fertilizers play is so important that many have chosen to improve on natural fertilizers by creating synthetic, agrochemical varieties.
There are several other types of agrochemical growth agents, like hormones, commonly used in farming. With them, it’s even easier for farmers to grow the most food possible.
Once again, that’s good for everyone. Agrochemicals may have been in use for many years. However, it’s important that they continue to improve and that the industry continue to progress towards more effective solutions.
Although the agrochemicals in use now are strong, they don’t completely maximize the potential of a farm to produce crops. The closer the industry gets to reaching that goal, the more food there will be for people throughout the world.