AgTech: Innovation in the Field

Enhancing the industry with IoT & VR

As both a way of life and a vital industry, agriculture has faced unprecedented disruption over thousands of years. We’ve definitely come a long way from manually tilling the land, but in many ways agriculture hasn’t received the technological attention that it deserves. Farming has long been described as ‘ripe for disruption’, particularly in light of humbling statistics about population growth. By 2024, it’s estimated that there will be eight billion people living on Earth. Feeding this many is a daunting challenge for legacy agriculture. However, recent interest in FoodTech and Aquaculture has demonstrated a new attitude towards technology enabled farming (also known as precision farming) which could herald the beginning of a new agricultural age.

New MacDonald has a drone. . .
Precision farming is all about collating data and using it to inform agricultural processes. For a farmer with acres of land, drone technology is one of many solutions that are becoming more accessible and affordable. Internet of Things connectivity is now another widely adopted tool within agriculture, allowing farmers to keep an eye on things without having to be physically present all of the time. The collection of important metrics has also been applied to livestock. Cows, pigs, chickens, and any other furry or feathered farm inhabitant can be fitted with wearables to track location, health, and additional biological info. In terms of robotics, farms already rely on machines. Equip these machines with AI and you’ve got autonomous systems capable of completing jobs largely on their own. In fact, semi autonomous tractors had been developed long before self driving cars. According to pioneering precision farmer Nick August, the challenge is to, “pick up bits of tech from different sources” and try to make it work. Although agriculture hasn’t necessarily been overlooked by technology, he feels that other industries receive more attention because of their controlled environments and access to high computing power. At the end of the day, farming is still largely dictated by nature. Gradually, though, more innovative tech is filtering on to the farm. . . and some of it is quite bizarre – a personal favourite is Virtual Reality for chickens – VR hensets, if you will.

How will advancements in precision farming disrupt agriculture?
Disrupted agriculture ultimately comes back to data. All of the innovative solutions used on farms today are geared towards collecting and then utilising data for the improvement of productivity. This data has helped and will continue to help farmers to identify important changes in crops, livestock and general farm processes. This is even the case for farmers in the developing world, who can access simple but useful apps for weather and market prices. Future technology will undoubtedly cause further disruption. Genomics, for instance, is a subdiscipline of genetics which has received mass funding in the last few years. Genomics analyses and then creates genetic data, which could theoretically develop entirely new plant and animal species. As more things become connected by IoT, it will be easier to track and predict events on the farm. Robotics, increasingly equipped with AI, could streamline automated processes even more. This will inadvertently lead to farms that don’t rely on human labour, thereby changing traditional employment patterns. Aided by advanced robotics and autonomous systems, farming will become less of a manual job. Instead, employers will focus on engineering, programming and mechanical skills. This disruption will be disconcerting for traditional farmers, but their productivity is likely to suffer if they are slow on the uptake. As well as providing food for the world, farms are businesses which need to adapt to survive.

Agriculture has undergone continual disruption, evolving from an entirely manual industry into a largely mechanical one. Precision farming, fuelled by innovative technology, will only accelerate this trend. Data collection, advanced robotics, machine learning and genomics are just a handful of the technologies primed to maximise the productive potential of today’s farms. In fact, thanks to connective technology, farmers won’t even need to be on the farm to know what’s happening within it. Accelerating the adoption of tech within farming is ultimately beneficial to everyone, as without agriculture, there would be no food on our plates. Unfortunately, disrupting legacy industries is notoriously difficult due to outdated infrastructures and conservative opinions. As population numbers creep steadily, hopefully this will change.

Are we entering a new agricultural age? Can innovative farming handle ever growing food demand? Is there a place for legacy farms in the future? Comment below with your thoughts.