The future of farming will be determined by the interaction between two factors: on the one hand pressure from increasing and changing consumer demand and environmental degradation, and, on the other, the opportunities offered by technology.
The chief consideration for the first factor is population growth – by 2050, the world’s population will have grown by approximately a third, reaching 9.7 billion people, according to the United Nations World Population Prospects report. Not only will the agricultural sector have to produce more food than it currently does to address this population growth, but it will have to do so in a way that maintains sustainable productivity in the face of rising temperatures and other environmental challenges. Climate change is also taking its toll – consecutive years of drought in South East Asia, for example, has made it important for farmers there increase their yield.
Moreover, an ever-increasing array of regulations and standards seek to make sure that farming takes place in a sustainable and safe way, and put pressure on farmers to change the way they operate. With both regulation and consumers demanding a more environmentally-friendly agricultural sector that reduces water usage, food wastage, and lessens the distance from “farm to fork,” there is a growing pressure on farmers to change the way they operate.
62% of agritech respondents said that they were already exploring machine learning technology
It is vital that the global agriculture sector is able to adapt to these challenges, not just for its own good, but for the geo-political stability of the world. Technological advances offer a way to drastically improve efficiency and we have found with our own research that this potential is not being ignored by the burgeoning agritech sector. In their efforts to take advantage of the digital revolution, these companies are exploring a wider variety of technologies than their peers in industries such as energy and transportation.
It’s noteworthy that 62 per cent of agritech respondents are already exploring machine learning technology – the average for companies from other sectors is almost half this, at 33 per cent. Meanwhile, almost half are looking at cognitive AI – the average for other sectors is 20 per cent. At a time when these specific technologies are in their infancy, farming’s most progressive force is clearly forging ahead in order to find a way to take on the challenges of the future.
Precision farming will become the norm, increasing efficiency at every level of the agricultural process and therefore enabling the sector to get more produce out of their land in a way that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
This approach is clearly already yielding results, with around a third of companies having already achieved reduced costs and new revenue streams from their IoT deployments.
Once farms have this kind of network in place, they will have the volumes of quality data they require to drive AI and machine learning technologies. The best processing power of computers matched that of a spider’s brain in 2000, but by 2023 we will have developed computers which can process data at the level of the human brain.
By 2045, we may have developed computers with the processing power 100,000 times that of humans, according to leading futurologist Ray Kurzweil. Applying this kind of analytical power to agriculture and its difficult conditions could yield huge increases in productivity, cost-savings, and new ways of farming sustainably. While agriculture is coming under weighty new pressures from a wide range of sources, it is also forging a more productive and sustainable future out of the latest technology – an exciting future awaits those who embrace this vision.
76% of agritech respondents believe that IoT will revolutionise their industry
Agriculture is subject to a swathe of macro and micro environmental factors, meaning that AI’s intense analysis of vast data sets will be invaluable to the sector. This, however, relies on the ability to collect and process data from across the whole agriculture operation. Our research has revealed that agritech’s adoption of IoT technology has been enthusiastic and sophisticated, with almost half having fully deployed IoT-based solutions. This take-up indicates the place that IoT will have in developing a much more precise way of farming that can improve productivity and efficiency. Smart sensors with remote sensing capabilities will result in ever more detailed amounts of data collected in the years ahead, enabling the extensive micro-management of production in hundreds of new ways.
76 per cent of agritech respondents believe that the IoT will revolutionise their industry, and this is unsurprising when you consider how the farms of the future can utilise smart sensors in an IoT network that encompasses the whole agricultural operation. This kind of network will act as the foundation for an agricultural operation that adapts in real-time to environmental changes – for example, maximising production of certain crops during favourable weather conditions, automatically protecting growing yields from rain or hail, or diagnosing an outbreak of disease amongst plants or animals before it takes hold. Automated robotics will then be able to address this issues without the intervention of a human.