The farming industry is experiencing turbulence due to rising concerns over climate change and a lack of solutions on sustainability whilst retaining a high productivity level. Liam Condon, Head of the Crop Science Division at Bayer AG believes there is a clear solution - 'Farmers and industry need to stand up for science and innovation in farming.'
Technology has disrupted every industry to some degree, and it's now the turn of the agricultural sector to benefit from it too. So what can be done?
A number of advancements exist and are available for some, but there is still a lack of communication between innovators and farmers. Thus, it's important to provide tech solutions to reduce the challenges in farming, and it's paramount to provide education on innovation capabilities to all industry practitioners.
There must be an understanding that innovation in agriculture can be healthy, accessible, and affordable, regardless of geographical location. One of the ways to achieve this is to systematically measure the progress of all initiatives, provide access to relevant data, and then farmers can learn, communicate, and find the best solutions to problems.
In terms of technology, there has been a number of breakthroughs in the sector, including the use of drones and AI-powered devices. With the industry 4.0 being just around the corner, advancements in robotics may also have something to offer. With effective communication channels between farmers and tech enthusiasts, there is every chance that agriculture will successfully further adopt modern technology.
Here are three examples of how innovation can benefit farmers and make the industry more sustainable:
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) found a solution to save millions of dollars and boost sustainability in the sector. The research team created AgBot II, a solar-powered machine capable of beating one of the biggest enemies of farmers - weeds. This technology is of paramount importance, as currently, the industry spends more than $1.3 billion on various initiatives to tackle the issue, and until now, they have not offered everything needed.
AgBot II uses myriad sensors, a special software, and learning algorithms to allow the machine to move through the field, detect weeds, and destroy them. The destruction is achieved through the application of chemicals, where their amount is accurately measured to reduce any waste. According to QUT, the technology can reduce costs for weed destruction by 90%.
It’s not only crops that can benefit from smart technology, but the poultry industry too, where innovation has long been needed to replace questionable conventional methods. Originally, the poultry industry used a gender specific approach - billions of male chicks are killed annually, whilst the female and fertile chicks survive. The methods used to kill these chicks is also not only considered brutal, but also not cost effective.
Farmers still use these methods because it's hard to financially justify raising male and infertile birds due to their small mass if they were to be sold as meat. Novatrans, a technology company from Tel Aviv, has designed TerraEgg - a method that identifies male, female, or infertile chicks whilst still in the egg. Using terahertz spectroscopy (non-invasive method), technology they can identify gender from the gases that leak through egg pores weeks before hatching. TerraEgg is aimed at commercial use and looks to save time, money, and also helps farmers to avoid killing billions of chicks.
Sundrop Farms' Hydroponic Technology
As the world experiences a shortage of fresh water, scientists have been thinking about how they can make more use of seawater. Sundrop Farms designed a sustainable solution - a greenhouse which uses sunlight and seawater to maintain plants without using fresh water, soil, or fossil fuel. The heat provided by sunlight has enough energy to desalinate tons of seawater that is later used as the main pillar for the hydroponic growing process - where plants are grown in water without soil.
According to the EcoSalon, the desert of Southern Australia grows 15% of all the country's tomatoes using the hydroponic method, which comes to 15,000 tons of tomatoes annually.