Cultivating the Future: Introduction to Precision Farming in Agricultural Practices
What led to the introduction of precision farming, and how does it contribute to contemporary society?
The Agricultural Revolution enabled transition from traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles, to living in permanent settlements with sustainable food supply. This was the fundamental contribution of agriculture – providing food for people and fostering the expansion of urban centres and the prosperity of civilizations.
As the global population grows, the rising demand for food intensifies pressure on agriculture to increase production. To address this, obtaining insights into key factors like weather conditions, animal and crop diseases, and the challenges posed by pests, is crucial. Using this data for decision-making is vital to optimise agricultural strategies in precision farming and ensure a consistent food supply.
Agriculture's Balance: Meeting Demand, Addressing Challenges
Agriculture is currently at a crossroads. On one hand, 700 million people are facing hunger today, meaning there is pressure to meet the increasing demand for food. Moreover, the global population is projected to reach around 10 billion during the same period – this may very well mean that agriculture will continue its daunting race to feed the whole population.
On the other hand, one cannot ignore that agriculture plays a considerable role in contributing to climate change and ecological crises, as highlighted in the report by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. As stated, agriculture plays a substantial role in water resource utilisation, accounting for over 70% of global freshwater consumption, as well as about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Also, soil depletion and biodiversity loss from agrochemical use and habitat reduction pose ongoing challenges.
When we add to the numbers above that the global agricultural land area is approximately five billion hectares (38 percent of the global land surface), it becomes obvious that we should start turning towards precision agriculture. By integrating digital technologies and deep data processing, agriculture can align with global needs. Such a strategy would ensure that as a society we are making good use of the one-third of the agricultural land area that is used as cropland (the remaining two-thirds consist of meadows and pastures for grazing livestock).
Overall, the focus on precision agriculture will ensure a resilient food supply crucial for withstanding upcoming challenges, whether they arise from climate fluctuations, population demands, or potential pandemics.
Precision Farming On the Field: Real-life Example
In the perspectives of farmers, some may prefer cutting-edge technology, while others lean towards a more nostalgic appreciation for traditional, hand-crafted organic farming methods. One of the main challenges in adopting precision farming is high initial investment that includes equipment, software, and training to use these tools. Secondly, the complexity of the technologies involved could deter some farmers from implementing precision farming on their fields.
A growing number of initiatives are focusing on this subject. The STELAR project, a three-year initiative under Horizon Europe, has the objective to make agrifood data easier to use. The significant emphasis is placed on enhancing user-friendly platforms, so that farmers could make informed decisions.
A farmer interviewed by the BBC highlighted that the future of agriculture revolves around data, artificial intelligence, and continuous learning. He emphasised that adopting precision farming practices, including the use of GPS technology, has enabled him to address soil quality issues by measuring, analysing, and researching his crops, ultimately optimising crop yields.
The investment in soil scanning technology has proven to be a valuable tool, offering insights to enhance soil potential, predict optimal areas, and address deficiencies. Moreover, the integration of sensors and data infrastructure is a widespread practice, contributing to the overall improvement of agricultural efficiency.
Precise Farming Techniques
Satellite and Aerial Imagery
Daily satellite imagery allows farmers to see a complete picture of their fields providing data such as visual information about Earth’s surface, capturing details on land cover, weather patterns, and changes over time. That data is processed by AI and machine learning (ML) systems, enabling farmers to improve efficiency, as well as real-time global and local-level decisions.
Monitoring and Sensor Technology
Utilising sensor technology enables continuous collection of data on temperature, humidity, sound, and movement. ML techniques have been developed to interpret this data and provide valuable insights into the monitored environment. In case of any issues, changes in the monitored behaviour trigger alerts, enabling timely intervention and preventing unnecessary disturbances to the system.
Recently, agricultural robotics has become a leading-edge technology, offering a key advantage in saving time and energy spent on repetitive tasks, thereby enhancing productivity. These robots operate autonomously in fields, interpreting assigned tasks like weed control, chemical application, and crop harvesting, facilitated by advanced navigation systems.
How are Some Companies Helping Farmers Develop Agricultural Strategies?
A growing number of companies in the EU are dealing with the subject of precision farming. More precisely, they are developing technology that will make decision-making and comping up with agricultural strategies easier.
- – Vista – In the scope of the STELAR project, this German company is fighting yield loss and food insecurity by using satellite and aerial imagery. This precision farming approach means integrating heterogeneous data from various sources. These are then fed into multiple forecast scenarios which then predict how crop development will advance depending on meteorological conditions.
– ABACO Group – Among their multiple activities, ABACO is contributing to STELAR, as well. The company developed a platform that uses spatial and agronomic data from satellites, helping farmers develop agricultural strategies by planning timely precision farming interventions.
Precision farming methods empower farmers to address contemporary challenges by increasing food production while optimising resource usage—requiring less water, additional land, and time. Initiatives like STELAR support farmers in implementing effective data management, a foundational element for precision farming adoption.