The growing capacity of smart machines to turn data into useful, timely knowledge is becoming a key driver of sustainable productivity growth in agriculture
Farming is often seen as very traditional, particularly in today’s highly urbanised societies. In fact, farmers have always embraced change and today are using increasingly advanced technologies. A greater understanding of genetics has improved the seed breeding process and precision farming – using satellite sensors to tailor treatments for small areas of fields – has improved productivity while reducing the use of fertilizer and pesticides. Now comes the next stage. It may surprise some people, but farming is entering the digital age.
The constant quest for farmers is for larger and more predictable harvests from the same fields, while minimising the use of expensive fertilizers and chemicals and spending as little time as possible in the field. This means an increasing reliance on sophisticated farm machinery which allows farmland to be ploughed, seeded, weeded, tended and harvested very efficiently.
The advent of GPS satellites allowed tractors and harvesters to be guided accurately, and other satellite-based sensors let farmers map soil moisture content or their crop’s development in detail. Farmers have always understood their land and how to manage it, but systems like this have helped them get the best from each field down to the individual square metre.
But that’s not the end of the story. As computing power has blossomed – we now all have smart phones with the power of a supercomputer of a few decades ago – so has the capacity to gather and analyse data. This has ushered in the era of Big Data, where novel ways have been found to make use of the vast amount of information available.