FarmTech: How tech is disrupting agriculture


Here at Luminous PR, we’re lucky enough to work with some really disruptive tech clients. We love seeing the way innovation is able to shape an industry, so we get really excited when we see new tech developments.

Feed the world 

It’s no secret that the population is growing – and fast. It’s expected the world population will surpass nine billion by 2050 – a 34% increase on where we are now. Unless we dramatically change the way we produce food, there won’t be enough to go around. Research from IBM suggests that global food production must increase by 70% to keep up.

It sounds scary, but thankfully there could be a solution: FarmTech. Successful farming is no longer just about being in touch with the soil. Tech developments are providing innovative ways to maximise the yield of crops and livestock, without expending more energy.

Though a relatively new sector, FarmTech is already on the rise. UK farmers spent over £16 billion on FarmTech in the last year alone. Plus, the UK government has invested over £160 million in funding on its FarmTech strategy over the last three years. This trend is reflected across the the pond, with US investors giving over $2.06 billion to FarmTech development in 2015.

We’re not just talking about really fancy tractors, by the way. Here are some of the exciting ways tech is disrupting the agricultural industry.

Pedometers for cows 

Wait, what?

That’s right: farmers are using fitness trackers to keep tabs on their cows’ health. A company called Quantified Ag have built a tracker that clips onto an animal’s ear, and measures its activity levels. Sudden restlessness or immobility could be an early warning sign of illness, so it gives the farmer a heads up to check his herd.

There’s even a more specialised option for dairy farmers. Vital Herd is a smart-pill that’s swallowed by the cow, and then transmits data from inside the stomach. Measuring hormone levels tells the farmer the best time to breed their cows, and data on stomach acid allows the farmer to alter the cows’ diet to maximise milk production.

GPS crop monitoring 

Not all crops require equal fertilisation. Fertilising areas where a crop is already flourishing is a waste of time and resources, and can even be harmful to some crops. Companies like Trimble provide GPS equipment that can track a tractor’s location, and adjust feed levels according to the conditions in that location.

Another way farmers are using tech to improve their crops is by analysing satellite data to establish the best locations for planting. The data is free from NASA’s LandSat satellite. Simply by analysing the colour of parts of the field, an experienced farmer will know what needs to be done to increase yield and save money.

Crop drones 

Finally: proof that drones have a usefulness that extends beyond wildlife photography, or spying on celebrities.

Crop Copter have developed an UAV that allows farmers to keep an eye on all their fields, without actually going to visit them. The copters stream footage to a laptop in realtime, and are even GPS enabled.

Another recent development are UAV crop sprayers. These are drones that the farmer flies the drone onto their field, spraying  pesticides or fertilisers as required. As the devices are GPS enabled, they can even make use of satellite data to establish which areas of land need attention.

The really clever bit 

Most of this technology is developed with large farms in mind. In reality, though, up to 70% of the world’s food is produced by small holding farmers.

Luckily, FarmTech is already evolving to tackle this problem. Over 2.6 billion people worldwide have access to a smartphone, including those in developing countries. Making FarmTech accessible through smartphones is the best chance of providing a smart solution to our global food problem.

Ulisses Mello, of IMB Brazil, foresees a future where a farmer can take a photo of their crops on their smartphone, and ping it to an agricultural expert for advice. Kenyan farmers can use FarmTech app MbeguChoice to help them choose which crops are best suited to their land. Another app, Agrivi, allows users to manage their farms, keep inventories, record crop data, and track sales and expenses, all from the comfort of their smartphone.

Take that, technophobes 

FarmTech is yet another example of how innovative new technology is changing the world for the better. Although we’ve been farming for around 12,000 years, it looks like it’s just about to get really interesting.

Throughout the year, we’ll be looking at how tech is disrupting several other industries. If there’s a particular industry you’d like us to look at, we’d love to hear your suggestions.

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