November 14, 2017
Innovation in agriculture gave rise to modern society as we know it. Most notably, exponential advancements in technology and standards of living followed the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century. As the general population could rely on few farmers to cultivate the food supply for urban workers in industry.
Problems Facing Agriculture
Most people probably don’t view agriculture as a high tech industry. However, technological innovation in agriculture is necessary to address problems in modern farming. Technews reports the world’s population will exceed eight billion by 2050. In order to support that kind of population growth, current agricultural yields must increase by 70%. However, the percentage of arable land won’t change much.
Two growing, major environmental challenges facing agriculture today include climate change and water scarcity. Agriculture uses roughly 70% of the world’s fresh water supply. With severe droughts affecting major agricultural hubs such as California coupled with increasing populations, water desalination and conservation will be key to ensuring survival in the future.
Other challenges facing agriculture include a shrinking labor supply, uncertainties in energy prices and crop disease. All of these problems lead to one major question; how can we cultivate more food with the same or fewer resources?
What Smart Farming Looks Like
That same TechNews article illustrates what a smart farm would look like. The future of farming is precision farming through the Internet of Things or IoT. Precision farming involves sensors that can provide data to farmers by monitoring crop performance, triggering warnings for animal disease and analyzing soil moisture.
The future for drone technology in agriculture also looks promising. Drones can help monitor crops over vast distances of land and collect data on crop performance. According to Business Insider, John Deere is pioneering the manufacturing of autonomous tractors to help farmers boost efficiency and manage the shrinking labor supply.
Drive about three hours southeast of Silicon Valley to Fresno, CA where AgTech company OnFarm is connecting the field to the farmer’s smartphone. Sensors collecting data in the field allow growers to make smart, science based decisions that ultimately increase yields. OnFarm charges subscription fees from $50 to $250 per month for farmers to monitor their land’s vital signs. OnFarm serves as just one example of innovation tackling some of the most critical, yet largely invisible problems facing the global food supply.