Next Big Thing

The Future of Farming Sep 7, 2016

Agriculture has always been the backbone of civilization. When most people think about farms, their minds are more likely to envision a peaceful barnyard scene from Charlotte’s Web than the high-tech farms of today. Agriculture took a leap forward when the family farm was mechanized. Now, newer technologies are taking food production to the next level by integrating space technology, genetics and everything in between to streamline their processes.

Here are 5 cool technologies that today’s high-tech farmer uses to turn air and sunshine into the dinner on your table.

1. Autonomous tractors

The new Case IH Magnum Autonomous Tractor looks like it would be more at home in a monster truck rally than spreading fertilizer. This state-of-the-art vehicle uses a combination of radar, LiDAR, cameras and GPS technology to perform time-consuming tasks such as seeding, planting, and tilling, without anyone having to actually drive the tractor. It uses a simple tablet interface to set the boundaries and plot paths, freeing up the operator to take care of more pressing needs.

2. Geo-sensing Satellites

There is plenty of space for big-data startups in agribusiness. Descartes Labs processes satellite images of earth to map land use and crop production.

“Agriculture is just one of the patterns of human life that can be seen from space,” wrote CEO Mark Johnson in a LinkedIn post. “Understanding the changing world through time and space is an idea whose time is now.”

Newer Entries into the arena also include SETS (Space Electric Thruster Systems), which recently received funding from Noosphere Ventures to build constellations of satellites that can provide mounds of big data to hungry, data management firms to provide everything from weather data for farmers, to tracking national land-usage patterns for governments.

3. Aerial Drones

Closer to the ground, farmers are taking advantage of the latest drone technologies to track their crops in real-time. Quadcopters and other small aerial vehicles are fitted with autopilots using GPS and a standard point-and-shoot cameras. Using software back on the ground, these aerial images can be pasted together into a high-resolution map view of a field or entire farm.

This low-cost imaging, previously only available from manned aircraft, can show a farmer everything from irrigation problems, to soil variation and even pest and fungal infestations. Another advantage is that by using multi spectral images, farmers can see the difference between healthy and distressed plants in infrared spectrums that could not be seen with the human eye.

Not only does this equate to less water and pesticide usage, but also healthier crops and tastier food.

4. Genetically designed food

We all know that mother nature has provided us with more fruit varieties than just apples and oranges. To add to natures deversity, researchers are accelerating evolution through rapid selection processes or leapfrogging evolution using bio-engineering.

New strains of food crops can be more nutritious, resistant to pests or pathogens, or provide higher yields.
Some researchers want to go a step further than simply modifying existing species and design new branches of food crops from the ground up (pun intended). These will provide a level of biodiversity that is unprecedented in history, providing food options and variety that we can’t even imagine now.

5. IoT – The Internet of Things is everywhere and already includes most of the tractors and equipment around a larger farms. This can allow a piece of equipment to send an email warning when it is about to break down, or report its location and status. But, why should the Internet be limited to mechanical equipment?Biometric sensors can be fitted to livestock using unitrusive collars with GPS, RFID and biometrics which can automatically identify and relay vital information in real time. This helps farmers care more individually for each animals health, improving animal health and comfort along with business efficiency.

With a stable food supply in America for the past 50 years and a Starbucks on every corner, it is easy to take the presence of food for granted. But with 9.6 billion people expecting to call Earth home by 2050, the ability to feed everyone remains an ongoing priority.

At its core, farming is an input-­output problem. By using the latest technologies to reduce the inputs – water and pesticides – while increasing the output, we will be able to meet this global need, before it become a global problem.