Smart Farming: how high-tech agriculture protects nature
Making more food from fewer resources – that is the challenge for the agriculture of the future. Digitalisation and the analysis of big data could be the key to success in this regard.
The following text is an excerpt from the "European Food Trends Report 2021", that can be ordered on our website.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things agriculture is taking a big step towards full-scale automation: machines, systems and computers all communicate and cooperate directly with each other. Precision farming is a management strategy that captures and analyses data to improve efficiency and sustainability. The differences within and between fields are constantly monitored and analysed to make sure the soil and plants get only the exact quantities of water, nutrients and fertilisers that they really need at a local level.
The networked sensors, drones and computer chips used here can ultimately hold more data than the farmer himself possesses: how much water is appropriate for the seven-day weather forecast, when is the best time for harvesting or the optimum crop rotation sequence for the soil. The aim here is to optimise yields, preserve resources and reduce the ecological burden of chemicals.
Agriculture 4.0 is made possible by various new technologies. Drones and satellites supply high-quality images of the cultivation area, GPS and other geotracking systems can capture the exact positions of the farm machinery and sensors in the field, and robots and high-precision agricultural equipment perform the lion’s share of the work – the farmer only steps in if there is an emergency. In future more and more autonomous machines will be used to spread fertiliser, plough and weed the land, irrigate the soil or even to identify and independently harvest ripe fruit. The Internet of Things (IoT) enables the devices used to continuously communicate with each other, while smartphone apps permit constant monitoring, analysis and evaluation of the generated data.
Machine learning is allowing the use of drones, robots and other devices incorporated in the Internet of Things to become increasingly effective and efficient. The generated data is transmitted to a central computer, which processes the information and then communicates the appropriate actions back to these devices. This way robots can spread the precise quantity of fertiliser required, the perfect amount of water is directly applied to the ground by IoT devices, and even the output of greenhouse gases could be optimised. With this approach we might succeed in achieving high yields without turning arable land into a desert in terms of species diversity and without permanently ruining soils and water bodies. Tech optimists however go even further. Some believe we could dispense with soil altogether.