Although agriculture is among the oldest industries in the history of humankind, those who work in this arena continue to embrace the latest technological innovations. This is especially the case when it comes to applying pesticides and other agrochemicals - new tech generally provides for greater precision and efficiency in this process.
Just consider the following examples:
The company Case IH Agriculture has been equipping farmers with tractors, mowers, and numerous other vehicles for years. However, they recently unveiled their Autonomous Concept Vehicle, which could signal a revolution in the industry.
The Case IH Autonomous Concept Vehicle is essentially an unmanned tractor. No human operator is necessary, as it uses radar, cameras, and other features to identify obstacles, correcting its route in order to avoid them. The tractor can run throughout the entire day, controlled remotely via computer or tablet.
Granted, this is not the first prototype of its kind, but it does indicate that momentum has built to a point that unmanned tractors will likely become more commonly used in the future. This has major implications for farmers, especially from an economic perspective. Rather than hiring workers to operate their vehicles, they can cut down on costs (and save a lot of time) by relying on autonomous machines.
For consumers, this could mean more food on the table. With additional time and money at their disposal, farmers can invest those resources back into their products, identifying ways in which they can further increase their overall crop yield.
Of course, it’s unlikely that such changes will happen overnight. However, it seems likely that they will happen sooner rather than later.
Commercial drones are set to offer tremendous benefits to farmers. In some instances, they already have. In Japan, for example, some farmers have used them to help spray pesticides in areas where the terrain is too steep to do so by hand or with grounded machinery. Japanese farmers have also used drones to target flooded rice paddies that were previously difficult (if not impossible) to access. Again, this will play a major role in boosting crop yields.
But drones may not merely make it easier to reach certain areas of a farmer’s property. If technological development continues on its current course, drones may also provide for vastly improved precision. With precision agricultural methods and techniques becoming more commonplace in the industry, it’s a natural step.
Based on recent innovations, it looks as though it may not be long until farmers use drones to conduct aerial surveys of their crops. Using onboard tools, the drones can identify areas where more pesticides or herbicides are necessary, applying the exact amount needed.
This has the potential to save food that would otherwise have been lost to pests, disease, or simple competition for resources. It may also help farms save money by only using the needed amount of agrochemicals.
In Germany, some are taking this concept a step further. At Leibniz University, researchers are working on a laser that could be installed on drones. This device would help further eliminate competitive plants that could otherwise deprive a crop of much-needed resources. The laser would identify weeds based on their shape, shooting the growth center with intense heat to kill the plants.
It’s not science fiction, though it might sound like it.
Progress always takes time. While there are already many incentives for farmers to adopt these technologies, there are also obstacles standing in the way. One of them is money: while drones and unmanned tractors appear to be sound investments in theory, until enough data is available to show that they do indeed offer substantial financial rewards, farmers may be reluctant to make use of them.
Another problem, one which has an indirect but significant effect, is lack of proper infrastructure to support all of the features these new tools have to offer. A drone that flies above a farmer’s crops, using infrared technology to provide a thorough and accurate representation of the health and productivity of a field, is technically a useful tool. However, in many rural areas where farms are based, the infrastructure necessary to quickly relay this information wirelessly simply isn’t in place yet.
Granted, if drones do become more widespread in the agricultural industry, wireless companies will be more likely to erect antenna towers in those areas. However, that could take years. In the meantime, a farmer might feel as though owning a drone with these functions is like owning a sports car with no road to drive it on.
The key lesson to take away from these recent developments is that precision agriculture continues to earn advocates. Additionally, technology companies are responding to such trends.
It probably goes without saying that agrochemical companies will need to respond to these trends as well. It’s an exciting time for the industry, and since farms are essential to stopping world hunger, it’s an exciting time for the world as well.