Technology is changing the world, from smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, faster internet, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) just to name a few, the old ways of life are fading into obscurity.
It’s now time for the agriculture sector to reap the rewards that this abundant technology has to offer.
Imagine spending time finding, identifying and treating a problem area or plant, not only would this be time-consuming, but also very costly. With the advent of new agriculture technology for example; swarm bots, a robot can spend whatever time is needed on a problem area or plant to remedy the problem.
How much more efficient would a cattle farmer be with a robot that can move his herds around his pastures while at the same time monitoring their health and condition?
What would be the cost of employing someone to work your assets 24/7 365 days of the year?
Over the last hundred years or so we have seen the rise of broadacre farming, while this may seem to have the advantage of more is better we run into the problem of can one size fit all?
The application of additives (herbicides, pesticides, and fertilisers) to one’s crop has been applied with a broad brush so to speak. Through the use of robots, we can “individualise” applications of these additives.
This could be anything from resistant weeds, poor soil nutrition or pest infestations. Rather than spray large areas one could allow the robot to go to the problem and spend whatever time is needed to rectify it. Another advantage of this would be that it could be carried out at any time of the day (or night) without difficulty.
For a landholder to do this or have a worker do this would be cost prohibitive. To have a machine capable of carrying out these tasks would not only prove to be cost-effective, also it would mean that the most valuable commodity of all, time, has been best utilized.
Now we move into the ecological advantages of new agriculture technology. With targeted applications comes the ecological advantages of fewer additives due to the direct application to affected areas, thus no overspray left to be carried away by the wind, or run off of residue on the land into our water systems. This can be anywhere from a 40% and in some cases, a 90% reduction of additives and I don’t think I need to draw a line to the cost savings that would ensure from fewer additives applied to crops.
While there can be no doubt the role of chemicals has greatly improved crop yields and quality over the last five or six decades, some will argue that these aren’t the best methods of food production. With the advent of GMO’s this argument has widened and in some cases become highly contentious. How then do we satisfy Anti-GMO advocates in riding one’s crop of unwanted weeds? Imagine going back to pre-chemical solutions of uprooting (hoeing), by hand this would be very labour intensive, however, with the new agriculture technology, one can implement this form of farming without the time consuming or back-breaking techniques of days gone by. From hoeing, tiling and even the seemingly sci-fi use of lasers and microwaves, one can reduce chemical usages even further.
Farming has a labour problem, the younger generations have accessed higher education and thus the lure of exciting jobs in the “big smoke” has drawn them away from a career on the land, we have an ageing population of farmers which in turn leads to a replacement problem down the line. With the advent of robots on the land, the labour deficit has been greatly relieved. Another knock-on advantage here is that the technology aspect is now seen to be drawing tech-savvy individuals back into rural life.
Not only are these young people being drawn back to jobs on large farms, but they also are being drawn into building their own small holdings that range from traditional farming, also there is permaculture and other organic alternatives being explored.
Drones – UAV’s – Flying Robots.
With everything from targeted aerial spraying, crop and soil surveying and other applications, UAV’s have a big future in agriculture. Listed below are six benefits of drones for the person on the land.
- Soil and field analysis: Before planting even starts one can assess soil condition and planting patterns. This can be augmented by the use of 2D and 3D mapping. After planting things like nitrogen levels in the soil and the best use of irrigation can be observed and maintained.
- Planting: Drones can be used to plant crops by shooting seed pods along with nutrients into the soil. This has been shown to increase of up to 75% take-up of new plantings and up 85% saving on planting costs.
- Crop spraying: Drones are very accurate when applying chemicals to crops, firstly this brings down the cost per hectare (acre), and secondly manned crop dusting has always been not only expensive, also extremely dangerous. Due to low flight heights, drone spraying can be anywhere up to five times quicker than traditional methods.
- Crop monitoring: In the past monitoring has been slow, imprecise and expensive, however, with drones a landowner can monitor crops day to day crop development in real time.
- Irrigation: With the many sensors available a landowner can see what parts of a field are dry and need attention before planting. Once crops are sown and growing various aspects such as vegetation index and the amount heat and energy a crop emits can be tracked.
- Health assessment: By scanning a crop using both visible and near-infrared light, early detection of sickness within a crop or surrounds can then be acted upon rather than later when it may be too late. This would also have implications with insurance claims as documentation would be recorded.
Sourced from: https://www.pwc.pl/pl/pdf/clarity-from-above-pwc.pdf
Traditional methods of propulsion as in fossil fuel motors are not only costly in terms of having to maintain supplies, however, maintenance can be quiet costly also and THEY CAN BE VERY NOISY.
Rechargeable batteries on drones are now reaching the ability to service up to 200 hectares (500 acres) on a single charge. While field robots can be a return to base and be recharged, or solar powered while working. Being that the motors are electric, maintenance costs average around a 40% saving and because they are virtually silent (very quiet) the disruption to stock and neighbours is negligible.
Shutting The Gate.
Whatever the need for the person on the land, there are now solutions that are cost-effective and an advantage to maintain life on the land. The benefits that are being delivered by technology and automation will see not only better returns on time invested, also the quality of products being delivered to market.
Whether applied to a large holding or a small acreage or even the hobby farmer, the solutions are here and they will continue to get more efficient and an all-around benefit to producers and consumers.