Diverse technologies combine to offer ‘smart’ ways of improving farm yields

24th February 2017 By: Dylan Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan’s science team finds that factors such as information and communication technology (ICT), chemicals, hydroponics and aquaculture inputs are augmenting profits for farmers.

Smart agriculture, according to the team, is rapidly rising in the global agriculture industry as arable land continues to shrink at an alarming rate. Farmers in rural areas and commercial establishments in cities are turning to smart agriculture to enhance yield with reduced agricultural inputs.

Smart agriculture enhances product quality, reduces wastage and ensures overall higher profits for the farmer by integrating numerous technologies that aid decision support, farm monitoring and crop management.

Analysis of the smart agriculture technology market by Frost & Sullivan’s Future of Agriculture & Nutrition Growth Partnership Subscription explores sensors, intelligent networks, unmanned vehicles (ground and aerial) and robots that allow for customised application of critical inputs, such as crop chemicals, fertilisers and farm labour, in agriculture.

In addition, it is revealed that agriculture innovation is the strongest in Asia-Pacific, owing to the region’s need to feed a rapidly growing, progressively more affluent population.

Frost & Sullivan Agriculture & Nutrition Research Programme global director Christopher Shanahan says “remarkable” innovations in allied industries, such as ICT, chemicals, hydroponics and aquaculture, have resulted in a profusion of innovative, smart agriculture technologies. “Some of the high-potential technologies under development include farming applications that provide data for on-field activities, rooftop farming technology in land-scarce regions, and monitoring systems that record information and place it in a cloud [remote server] for further access.”

Collaborations with technology companies have enriched smart agriculture solutions’ capabilities and resulted in “path-breaking” tools, such as agriculture drones for efficient monitoring to reduce farmers’ dependence on manual labour. Sensor fusion can also be used to aid in identifying, understanding and using information that quantifies variations in soil and crop within agricultural fields.

In addition, autonomous farming solutions can be used to turn large swathes of inaccessible land in poor economic areas to useful prospects for arable farming.

Prime examples of symbiotic partnerships across industries are farming equipment company John Deere’s partnership with a digital company, and telecommunications company SK Telecom’s collaboration with ministries of science, start-ups and government agencies to roll out SK-patented information technology for smart agriculture.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding nutritious, ethically produced food and beverages that are free from pollutants, allergens or overuse of socially valuable natural resources,” Shanahan notes, adding that these value-added foods are offered now only at a premium.

However, smart technology can make them available to the full cross section of consumers by ensuring sustainability as well as high and efficient yield/production, he adds.

Frost & Sullivan chemicals, materials & food: Africa business unit leader Richard Weissenberg says Africa’s farmers are in challenging times. “Just as the sustained drought is set to ease, fuel prices are forecast to rise by 50%. In common with farmers in the US and Asia, they need to feed rising populations with declining arable land.”

Simultaneously, economies across the continent are experiencing rising per capita gross domestic product; consumers are, therefore, demanding more calories and more environment-friendly food production.

“Smart agriculture uses digital technology to allow for the more precise use of inputs and irrigation. The result is more food, cheaper, with a lower environmental impact and energy costs. It is an aspect of digital business that could have a rapid, positive effect on the vast majority of Africa’s people,” concludes Weissenberg.