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Smart Farming Everything you need to know

SMART FARMING 101

How technologies are Shaping the Future of Agriculture

The world around us is changing. And sometimes in not a good way.
But with help of today’s technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Automation, and Robotics we can bring many significant improvements not only to the urban life around us but also to the agriculture industry and farming, thanks to which we can provide the world’s growth population with enough quality food.
But how exactly can we do this? Let’s delve into global challenges and smart solutions that can help us find balance in sustainable life on the planet.

Why is efficient agriculture important?

What main features does it include?

How farmers can optimize their work?

How to manage and monitor the farm’s processes?

What's the most common ways to adopt smart farming?

What types of automation are commonly used in agriculture?

World Food Challenges

The way to the future, where all the inhabitants of the planet will be fed and healthy, is not an easy path. But what challenges will people and technology have to overcome? Let’s take a closer look:

POPULATION GROWTH

The world’s population is growing at an inexorable pace and there are no signs that this growth will slow down in the near future.
As of 2021, the world’s population is over 7.8 billion people. According to the United Nations (UN), by 2050 the population of our planet will reach almost 9.7 billion people.
In practice, this means that the world will need to produce way more food and water for an additional 2 billion people.
This, combined with shrinking natural resources, arable land and unpredictable weather, makes food security a major concern for most countries, especially developing ones.

POVERTY & HUNGER

Globally, hunger levels remain alarmingly high as never before. Back in 2016, according to the UN Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC), there were about 108 million people in 48 countries who were severely food insecure or in need of urgent assistance. Even then, analyzing the situation, the UN predicted a complete victory over hunger by 2030.
But only 5 years have passed and the situation has worsened significantly. By 2021, the number of hungry people has not fallen at all, but, on the contrary, has grown to 193 million already in 53 countries of the world!
In 2020 alone, the number of hungry people increased by an additional 40 million!
So, the latest UN reports say that the goal of “beating hunger” by 2030 is unattainable.
Moreover, the situation is greatly exacerbated by the war in Eastern Europe.

MAN-MADE CONFLICTS

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to the disruption, by sanctions and war, of two of the world’s largest grain exporters. This means 2022 and 2023 are shaping up to be a very difficult years for the global food system.
    • Ukraine and Russia account for more than 30% of global grain exports
    • Russia also provides 13% of the world’s fertilizers, while Ukraine supplies half of all sunflower oil.
According to UN estimates, the armed invasion of Ukraine will cause an additional 47 million people around the world to be food insecure.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change has a significant impact on agriculture.
Higher temperatures eventually lower acceptable agricultural yields while boosting the spread of weeds and pests. Short-term crop failures and long-term production losses are more likely as precipitation patterns change.
That is why, in terms of agriculture, we must be climate-smart. Smart farming is a holistic approach to landscape management, including crops, cattle, forests, and fisheries, and addresses the interconnected challenges of food security and climate change. It seeks to achieve three goals at the same time:

Increased productivity

Produce more and better food to improve nutrition security and incomes, particularly for the 75 percent of the world’s poor who live in rural regions and rely mostly on agriculture for a living.

Enhanced resilience

Reduced susceptibility to drought, pests, diseases, and other climate-related shocks, as well as increased ability to adapt and thrive in the face of longer-term stressors like changing weather patterns.

Reduced emissions

Strive for reduced gas emissions per calorie or per kilogram of food produced, avoid agricultural deforestation, and search for clever ways to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

LABOUR SHORTAGE

Another big issue for many farmers is a labor shortage caused by young people’s migration to cities and an aging population.
Agriculture employs around 900 million workers worldwide, accounting for about 26,5% of global workforce, according to YOUTH AND AGRICULTURE 2021 REPORT by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
EU AGRICULTURAL OUTLOOK (2021-2031) also told us that agricultural labour – measured in annual work units (AWU) – is projected to decrease by -1.3% per year in 2021-2031, slowing down compared to the 1.9% decrease in 2011-2021.
According to Eurostat 2018, the total number of farms declined by one-quarter between 2005 and 2016, resulting in the loss of up to 4.2 million farms.
All these figures give us a better idea of why it is important to look for ways to increase agricultural productivity with less labor.

URBANIZATION

Human populations have tended to grow over time. Small groups of people found reasons to form communities and with help of agriculture live happy lives. A few of these settlements grew into what we now call cities. This type of expansion is frequently accompanied by a change in labor organization.
Over the last few hundred years, the world’s population has increased dramatically, and our economies have gotten more industrialized, resulting in a major increase in the number of people moving to cities. Urbanization is the term for this process.
Even after cities arose, the vast majority of people continued to live and work in rural areas. Cities did not fully take off until the seventeenth century, when large-scale industrialisation began. Currently, nearly half of the world’s population lives in cities. People are attracted by jobs in manufacturing, as well as by increased opportunities for education and entertainment.
One massive effect of this huge increase in people living in urban areas is the rise of the megacity, which is a city that has more than 10 million inhabitants. There are now cities with even more than that. Tokyo, Japan, for example, has nearly 40 million residents.
As we move forward in the 21st century, the global population is likely to continue growing. Urban areas will continue to grow with the population. This continual growth presents complex challenges as we prepare for the cities of the future. How we choose to manage urbanization will have consequences for our world for many years to come.

DEMAND FOR SUSTAINABLE FOODS & BEVERAGES

Sustainability is bringing significant change to the agricultural sector.
As countries develop, people spend a smaller share of their income on food and more of it on nutrient-rich, processed, and convenient foods. This transformation is possible as farmers become more productive.
The need for immune-boosting foods and supplements has increased significantly, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, in 2022, more than 50% of consumers are more concerned about the healthfulness of their foods and beverages than they were in 2010.
The necessity for sustainable agriculture production will become increasingly crucial as food choices change and customers become more concerned about the environment.
These major challenges are calling for better agricultural solutions with optimized production processes and overall better solutions. And these solutions lie in the area of smart farming.

So what is Smart Farming?

The ideas of smart farming are described by a variety of terms, including: farming 4.0, digital farming, and precision farming.
Each of these terms has its own characteristics, but they all refer to the use of data and modern technologies in complex agricultural systems to improve food quality and production processes.
Precision farming has been around since the United States’ Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, launched the grid planting system in the 1960s. Grid planting is a type of planting where farms are divided into squares and plants are planted in rows within each square. Farmers were able to have better control over their land and make the most of their resources with this strategy. Precision farming has grown in popularity since 1960.
It’s safe to say that smart farming began with John Deere’s introduction of GPS guidance for tractors in the early 1990s. The purpose of this technology was to automate steering, eliminate errors, and boost agricultural output by reducing seed loss.
Now there are many other features of smart farming, including:
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Robotics
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Drones
  • Automation
  • Mapping
  • Geomatics
  • GPS guidance
  • Telematics
  • Sensors
  • Micro- and weather forecasting
  • Intelligent platforms
  • Block-chain technology
  • and more.

The Benefits of Smart Farming

With the help of smart farming, farmers can optimize their production’s efficiency and sustainability.
Here’s some main benefits of smart farming:
Water Conservation

Soil- and weather-related sensors can optimize water management.

Optimized Costs

Automation reduces resource consumption, overall costs, and human error.

Increased Production

Optimized crop treatment and fertilizers usage affects production.

Improved Quality

Data analysis helps farmers adjust processes to significantly increase production quality.

Real-Time Data

Real-time insights into farm operations allow farmers to make better business decisions.

Livestock Farming

GPS tracking and sensors help monitor and manage the health and location of livestock.

Environmental Footprint

GPS tracking and sensors help monitor and manage the health and location of livestock.

Accurate Evaluation

Tracking production rates helps to accurately predict future crop yield and farm value.

Remote monitoring

With the Internet of Things, farmers can make real-time decisions from anywhere in the world.

Equipment monitoring

Equipment can be managed based on production rates, failure prediction, labour effectiveness.

Smart farming can help farmers maximize resource efficiency, minimize the environmental impact of food production processes, and improve global food security.
In addition, with the help of certain smart agricultural practices, farmers have access to large amounts of data. They can then use this data to make more informed decisions, thereby improving their productivity levels as well as overall profitability.

Smart Farming Technologies

INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT)

The world is turning to the use of IoT combined with data analytics (DA) to meet the world’s food demands in the coming years. IoT device installations in the agriculture sector increased from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million by 2020.
The IoT integrates several technologies that already exist, such as WSN (wireless sensor network), RF (radio frequency) identification, cloud computing, middleware systems and end-user applications. The application of IoT in agriculture is about empowering farmers with the decision tools and automation technologies that seamlessly integrate products, knowledge and services for better productivity, quality, and profit.
In this way, farmers can use their digital devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to manage and track the performance of their farm, as well as collect valuable information to make the right decisions in the future.

SMART SENSORS

Sensors in fields and greenhouses are an indispensable tool in smart farming. Thanks to their work, farmers can receive detailed information about the key parameters, such as the soil pH-level or air humidity, which help increase the efficiency of the harvest. In addition, sensors can predict weather conditions for the coming days and weeks, allowing farmers to take action to protect their crops and livestock.
By 2023, the global number of sensors applied in agriculture is expected to exceed 12 million.

ROBOTICS

These days, farms can be assembled with many different robots that perform various tasks:
  • milking cows
  • fertilizing and watering crops
  • pulling weeds
  • automatically harvesting crops
Such robotics help can significantly increase yield and income.

AGRICULTURAL DRONES

Drones are very popular in agriculture today, and for good reason. Drones can not only monitor crops by flying over fields, but also help farmers manage their farms more rationally. In fact, drones can even detect animals before field work begins, saving countless lives every year.
Drones can take on much of the work that previously required human labor, which is a huge step towards solving the labor shortage in today’s market.
Here are some examples of tasks that drones can easily perform:
  • Farm Security and Surveillance Optimization
  • Air treatment from weeds, pests and plant diseases
  • Monitoring livestock, crops and soil conditions
  • Planting and irrigation of crops

SMART FARMING APPLICATIONS

It is impossible to imagine smart farming without special applications. Thanks to these software developments, farmers can easily interact with the collected information and make more efficient decisions. In a number of developed countries, such as Germany, Denmark, Holland, most farmers already use a number of smart farming applications, effectively managing their work.

FARM MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Farm productivity management systems represent a more complex approach to IoT in agriculture. They often incorporate a variety of on-premises farm IoT devices and sensors, as well as a robust dashboard with analytical capabilities and built-in accounting/reporting functions.
This allows you to monitor your farm from afar and streamline most of your business processes.
Vehicle tracking or automation, storage management, logistics, and other important IoT agriculture use cases are just a few examples.

Smart Farming in Practice

After reviewing the key technologies used for today’s smart farming practices, let’s take a look at the most common ways these technologies are implemented in agricultural activities:

MONITORING OF WEATHER CONDITIONS

One of the most common uses of smart farming these days is weather and climate monitoring. With smart sensors, farmers can collect environmental data that helps them predict weather conditions and react accordingly.

SOIL QUALITY MONITORING 

With integrated IoT sensors in the soil, farmers can optimize their precision farming practices. It also helps to regenerate the soil where needed, thereby ensuring that the soil is always of the highest quality.

CROP MANAGEMENT

Smart farming allows farmers to place crop management devices anywhere in their fields to measure rainfall, temperature and overall crop health, for example.
Thanks to this, farmers can use the collected data in real time to optimize crop yields and prevent damage to crops.

GREENHOUSE AUTOMATION

Using IoT sensors, farmers can collect real-time information about their greenhouse conditions such as temperature, light, moisture and soil conditions. In addition, with the help of smart weather stations and machine learning, it also allows farmers to automatically adjust the parameters of greenhouse conditions.

LIVESTOCK MANAGEMENT

With the introduction of integrated IoT technologies in smart farming, such as GPS tracking, smart collars and monitoring devices, farmers can easily track the health and location of their livestock.
This can bring a wide range of benefits, such as early detection of diseases, reduced use of antibiotics and drugs, accurate calving forecasts, and increased overall farm productivity.

Automation in Agriculture

Agricultural activities are rapidly being automated with the help of drones and robots. Seeding, watering, and harvesting crops are just some of the duties that agricultural robots may assist farmers with.
Agriculture offers several chances for automation due to the repetitive and labor-intensive nature of farming processes.
Let’s take a closer look at the many sorts of automation utilized in agriculture.

DRONES FOR AGRICULTURE

Drones will play a significant role in agriculture’s future. Farms have large fields that are practically hard to monitor without the aid of a dependable, accurate solution. This is where drones come in, taking farming automation to new heights.
Here are a few examples of typical drone use cases on farms, as well as drone solution providers:
Aerobotics is one of the agriculture drones start-ups that are based on farm management and pest management solutions. It offers AI-enabled pest detection, drone imagery services, disease detection, orchard, and yield management. It was founded in 2014 and is a Cape Town-based start-up.
Gamaya is a precision farming solution that uses HSI technology deployed through drones. It is one of the agriculture drones start-ups that use small unmanned aircraft systems for remote sensing and high-resolution imagery. The company is also a winner of the IMD start-up competition and was founded in 2014 which is based in Switzerland.
XAG is a provider of drones for applications in precision agriculture. It is one of the agriculture drones start-ups that provides drones for local enterprises that offer pesticide-spraying services to individual farmers. This start-up was founded in 2007 that is based in China.
DroneSeed is a company that builds drones that can plant seeds from the air. Their solution is not only advantageous to farmers but also helps the environment immensely by tackling deforestation and wildfires.
In addition, drones can be used to water crops in a way that saves farmers lots of time and effort. An example of this is the DJI Agras MG-1, which can spray fields 40 to 60 times faster than when done manually.
Last but not least, harvest monitoring and analytics helps farmers identify damaged crops so that they can quickly respond to unexpected change or undesired conditions. SenseFly has developed a range of drones for exactly this purpose — and many more

AUTONOMOUS TRACTORS

Autonomous tractors work independently and can be controlled by the farmers remotely. Farmers merely need to set up the system and maintain the machines on a regular basis. As technology advances — especially GPS, vision, and light detection technologies — smart tractors will become more and more independent and profitable for farmers all around the world.
An example of an autonomous tractor provider is Bear Flag Robotics. The company specialises in building driverless tractors with the goal to reduce labour costs for farmers. Besides enabling farmers to control the tractors remotely, the company also enables them to plan the tractor’s routes in advance and receive real-time reports and alerts. All without the need for human intervention in the field.

SEEDING AND WEEDING ROBOTS

As the name suggests, seeding and weeding robots are used for planting purposes and they focus on a specific area of the field. These robots work with great precision and use artificial intelligence and computer vision to reduce pesticides in the field, thereby improving the quality of the food.
A great example is Dino — Naio’s weeding robot for vegetable crops on a large scale. A variety of built-in sensors — including RTK GPS — allows this robot to autonomously navigate the field with a 2cm precision range. This makes it ideal for harvesting a wide range of vegetables, such as lettuce, cabbage, onions, cabbage, leeks, cauliflower, various herbs, and so forth.
In addition, the autonomous robots produced by Farmdroid are a great example of how robots can help farmers in terms of business goals while also reducing their environmental footprint. Farmdroid provides solar-powered farm robots that sow crops and control weeds across the fields, thereby minimising damage to both the crops and the environment.

AUTOMATED IRRIGATION SYSTEMS

An irrigation system assisted by robotics consists of special sensors as well as a Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) system. SDI systems are not new to the agricultural industry. They help farmers control the amount of water that is being used and tell them at what exact time the plants ought to be watered.
Depending on the advancement of the sensors that are integrated into the irrigation system, they may require human assistance to some extent. However, with integrated IoT sensors, the system is able to monitor moisture levels by itself and send real-time data analytics to the farmer’s smart device(s). The RAPID (Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery) is an example of such a system.

HARVEST AUTOMATION

Due to the fragility of the crops — especially certain fruits and vegetables — harvesting is no easy task for machines as they need to be able to harvest the crops without damaging them. Luckily, such robots already exist these days.
For example, Octinion’s autonomous strawberry picking robot — Rubion. With its built-in quality monitoring, Rubion can pick strawberries like the ideal human worker, without bruising the berries. Another example is Agrobot, a company that also builds robots to harvest strawberries and assesses the ripeness of the fruit with the help of artificial intelligence.

Conclusion