Thick potatoes instead of thick air – digital agriculture
Whether it is the ageing society of the industrialised nations or the boom of young people in the developing countries – everyone has to eat. The hunger of around 10 billion people in 2050 will pose enormous challenges to global agriculture and the environment. How do we manage to feed all people without leading the earth into an ultimate collapse?
As little as possible – as much as necessary Controlling agriculture with the smartphone? A utopia?
No, a real future scenario: satellite-based weather information, sensor data from the ground, data on water and air quality, nitrogen content and other environmental conditions: The collection of these data provides farmers with information on which fertiliser mix is needed in what quantity, how much water, which mixture of seeds is most suitable and much more. Digitalised farmers achieve better results and protect the environment and resources.
The smart farmer practices precision farming
Data analysis can help farmers produce more food with less pollution. Technological development gives hope: the use of digital technologies therefore seems to be nothing less than the solution to world hunger.
Manioc cultivation with artificial intelligence
The cassava plant is one of the most important food plants in the world. This useful plant is an excellent supplier of carbohydrates.
According to a publication on arXiv, a team of researchers has now developed an artificial intelligence that is able to independently detect plant diseases. With success: the AI detects brown leaf spot disease with an accuracy of 98 percent, as initial tests have shown. However, not only the avoidance of crop failures, but also the harvest itself can be organised more efficiently with new technologies.
Robots go for the ripe apples!
In a cooperative venture, two companies from Israel and California have developed the world’s first apple picking robot. This should reach the market by early 2019 at the latest and compensate for the lack of human harvest workers. The robot, named Fresh Fruit Mechanical Harvester, is not only intended for apple harvesting. He is to be trained as a universal harvesting robot.
Agriculture with weed enemy robot and field drone
The cultivation density of the fields can be calculated by surveying with drones, as can the growth and development of the crops. The smart evaluation of the collected data in agriculture is now known as “Agriculture 4.0”. Drones and robots detect harmful plants and can remove them independently.
Fields can be given an “awareness” of their condition with artificial intelligence: Over the entire cycle – from sowing to harvest! They document and communicate their status and necessary interventions. The data of the last harvests are stored and analysed. The cultivated areas learn from their experiences for the coming years – they become “smarter” with every harvest.
Since the 1980s, robots have been making their way into agriculture to support farmers in their work. Analogous to industry, it was initially automatic machines that helped to cope with the mass of work involved. With the advent of artificial intelligence, autonomous machines are now finding their way into agriculture.
Now more than ever: A job with a future – digital farmer
The use of large-scale data technology and sensors requires experts who combine broad knowledge. For the successful use of digital technologies, it is essential that someone with the necessary agricultural science expertise is on site who also has at least rudimentary IT skills. The farmer – or then perhaps rather the agricultural engineer or agricultural computer scientist – will be a highly specialised and sought-after profession.
High quality and affordable food
Today, fields can be individually managed with data-based precision farming. Plants are left in peace at most and receive only the minimum amount of treatment required. For example, in the event of pest infestation, only the affected plants can be treated with pesticides – all others remain untreated. This significantly reduces environmental pollution and promotes biodiversity. Organic cultivation can become the common standard, as the need for pesticides is extremely minimized.
Robots, drones and sensors collect exact information and AI determines the necessary level of agricultural intervention.
“What the farmer doesn’t know…” Necessary transparency and the scepticism of farmers
As in all sectors, “sharing” is at the top of the agenda in agriculture. The more farmers exchange data, the smarter their analyses become. Farmers too are thus subject to the new demands for transparency that digital technologies are bringing to all areas of our lives.
Their data are the “new capital” of future agriculture. If you want to have a perspective as a farmer, you have to be open to new technologies. Not only that, farmers must be prepared to be transparent – in all directions – from supplier to consumer.
They need to share their information not only with each other in order to be successful in data-based agriculture, but also with suppliers and customers. Transparency along the entire agricultural production chain – from the supplier of the feed to the buyer of the products – opens up the possibility of an individually digitally optimized farm.
If, for example, a field reports a pest infestation, the supplier learns about it immediately through smart data exchange and delivers the exact amount of pesticide required without any major delays – then many other plants and the environment are spared. In addition, customer requirements for untreated products are fulfilled in the best possible way.
But: the opportunities already offered by digital agriculture are still little used. In 2016, only just over twenty percent of farmers used IT-based systems to manage their farms.
It’s worth rethinking. The digital farmer will be able to watch his potatoes getting thick while drinking a cup of tea with his smartphone.