As the number of humans on earth continues to grow beyond 7 billion, humanity must also expand its ability to feed the population. Agriculture technology is striving to meet these needs by making effective use of emerging technologies.
Artificial intelligence and drones are reducing the man-hours required to maintain a given plot while cellular agriculture and IoT-enabled sensors are helping to improve crop yields through consistency and constant improvement.
These are the top 5 trends impacting AgTech in 2017:
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has a wide variety of uses for agriculture including for use in crop monitoring and viability tracking. IBM sees uses for AI that include analyzing data from farm sensors, helping to reduce labor demands, and even providing chatbots specifically for farmers.
Among the major difficulties with using AI in agriculture is the extreme variation in variables such as rainfall from one place to the next, presence of pests, and other environmental factors.
However, with the costs of complex AI, like most technology, consistently dropping, it may be feasible to deploy and train location-specific AI for use in agriculture.
AI also helps control many of the drones that can provide great benefits in an agricultural setting, as we'll discuss next.
Drones save farmers time and money alike thanks to their affordability and maneuverability which can be used to monitor and inspect crops.
Especially advanced drones which harness AI and machine vision to be able to move autonomously and observe the land around them have many work-reducing pros for farmers who may be working with limited labor availability.
We are seeing robots infiltrate many industries (along with artificial intelligence) to a degree that many people are fearful of losing their jobs. Luckily, in agriculture where workforces are already limited, robots can provide labor that can be cheaper and more effective than traditional methods.
For example, automated robotic lettuce thinners, pesticide sprayers, and self-driving tractors can reduce the need for human labor while completing the necessary tasks with greater accuracy and efficiency.
In order for farms to run “intelligently,” as the buzzword goes, there must be sensors to collect the data for use agriculture AIs, etc.
Sensors can be used across farms to gather data about plant health, soil moisture, temperature, presence of pests, and other similar conditions that may impact crop yield.
IoT sensors can also be used to monitor farm equipment usage and location.
Internet of Things technology isn't reserved for stationary plants and devices. Livestock monitoring devices like the Cowlar (a “Fitbit for cows”) can help with monitoring cattle location, health, and even factors impacting happiness- and reproductive cycles–especially helpful for dairy farmers who want their cows to produce abundant milk.
5. Cellular agriculture
We have the opportunity now to step in an entirely different direction from traditional farming methods.
Cellular agriculture uses bioscience to create common agricultural goods such as meat, milk, and eggs without the need of their related animals.
Companies engaging in cellular agriculture replicate the same processes as animals do in order to grow things like beef and chicken in a laboratory.
Lab-grown meats, milks, etc. have benefits such as the absence of bacteria and disease as well as ethical benefits. With these processes, farmers would not need to pay to house, feed, and treat animals.
This technology is still relatively expensive, but many startups are entering the field of molecular agriculture, and products are now available to public consumers.
Which technologies do you expect to make the biggest impact on agriculture? Would you eat cultured meat or milk or eggs? Let us know in the comments below!