What is Automated Farming, and How is it Transforming the Industry?

Inez Bartosińska

There are nearly 7.9 billion people in the world, and every second, the number keeps growing. For years we’ve been eating fast foods or processed foods even without realizing it. Having noticed how it affects our bodies, we headed toward a healthier lifestyle. We want to see fresh products on our plates, preferably straight from the farm. Even though agriculture has been developing nearly since the beginning of time, the demand for it in today’s world overgrows its potential. So how do the farmers cope with this struggle? Is automated farming the answer?

Trends in agriculture technology

While not so long ago, automated agriculture was just an unfulfilled dream that only a few were even thinking of, today digital solutions create a buzz. With a constantly growing demand for more efficient farming, there was no other way than to introduce tech-based solutions. Farmers who want to stay relevant in the market began to invest in digital tools to improve their workflow. It started to be seen not as an option but as a necessity. As a result, agri-tech devices such as autonomous tractors, agrobots, or drones are gaining popularity. How are they helping, you may ask? 

Tech-based solutions are so popular because they answer the most urgent challenges such as labor shortage. Even though robotics can’t supersede the human workforce entirely, they can be widely used for seeding, harvesting, watering, and monitoring crops, decreasing the urge to hire more employees. Moreover, there is a high demand for green solutions in the agroecosystem. People are much more likely to buy from those providers who place importance on sustainability. Thanks to the digital tools, farmers can minimize pesticide usage at the same time reducing costs. No wonder why so many new trends in agricultural technology are emerging so quickly. 

Farming 4.0 – what is it?

As the World Government Summit’s report says, The Future of Farming Technology or Farming 4.0 is a new approach to the agricultural industry. The primary purpose is to meet our world’s future demands, such as climate change, food wastage, deficits, or demographics. 

It is predicted that by 2050 the global population will grow up to 9.7 billion people, and the demand for food production will increase even by 70%. How to reach that goal, reduce world hunger and make sure the solutions aren’t climate-damaging? That’s what Farming 4.0 is all about. 

The innovative approach will be a significant turning point in farming as we know it. Farmers won’t be allowed to use pesticides or fertilizers anymore. Clean resources such as seawater and sunlight will take their place. Thanks to sensors, devices, machines, or IoT technology, future farming will enable growing crops in arid areas with the minimum resources required. Moreover, it is expected that technologies such as 3D food printers, cultured meat, or genetic modification might bring farming to the next level within ten years from now. 

Safer, eco-friendly, and more efficient agricultural industry surely won’t be a low-cost investment. However, many governments plus food industry companies are motivated to take a broad perspective over current legacy models and their modification to live in a better, sustainable world. 

What is automation in agriculture?

If you are somehow connected with the farming industry, you must have heard about automation in agriculture. What is it, and why is it such a buzzword? Farm automation is nothing else but introducing tech-driven tools in traditional farming to make it more efficient and effective. The use of machines and robotics enables farmers to automate almost every aspect of their daily work, such as irrigation, seeding, harvesting, and more. It helps keep the industry resilient and eco-friendly. 

What is smart farming?

Often associated with automation, smart farming is a new method that concerns farm management by applying new technologies such as IoT, drones, robotics, Big Data, Analytics, or AI and machine learning. Those tools are expected to optimize the human input in agriculture workflow and increase product quality and quantity. Smart farming is based on combining agriculture methodologies with technology. Using specific sensors can help reduce waste, improve productivity, control pest, or even monitor soil and weather conditions. Introducing innovative farming solutions could benefit in increased crops, saving time, and cost-efficient farm management. 

Challenges in transforming agriculture industry

As tempting as automated farming sounds, it might be pretty challenging to adapt. What are the possible obstacles?

Poor connectivity infrastructure

The major obstacle concerns connectivity infrastructure, or for that matter, its lack. Some regions are not yet developed enough to be able to allow themselves to implement modern, tech-driven solutions. Agrobots, drones, and other tools bring many benefits to farms. However, they are all based on reliable connectivity infrastructure, which can’t always be easily provided in rural areas, and that’s where most of the agriculture happens. 

Worldwide crisis

Moreover, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic proved how fragile some businesses are. For example, we could observe the importance of local providers as the global supply chains were shattered with all the worldwide restrictions. Even though the pandemic accentuated the need to spread automated solutions in the agricultural ecosystem, the lack of financial resources might be an obstacle. 

Lack of support 

Another important matter concerns the government and its crucial role in this whole process. While facing a threat of climate change, natural resources shortage, and worldwide hunger, the cabinet should adjust its country legacies the way it supports automated agricultural solutions and invest in them. There are two promising approaches: promoting and supporting rural development or taking an active part in it. Either way, it would help to take farming one step forward. Unfortunately, there is a third scenario in which the country does not take any active part in this venture, or worse, prevent it from happening. 

What are three examples of agricultural innovations?

As we already mentioned, several agricultural innovations could improve the farm’s productivity. Let’s see how exactly they are helpful to the farming industry.

  1. Robotics

Agricultural agrobots, as we can call them, are machines designed to relieve farmers from the weary tasks they have to complete every day. Tech-driven solutions can now perform harvesting, watering, seeding, and more. For example, automated tractors only need some assistance in the initial machine set-up. When calibrated correctly, they will use technologies such as GPS or vision systems to do the fieldwork for you. Robots designed for planting work with great precision and focus on particular areas. They implement AI technology to reduce pesticide usage and deliver food of better quality. Some of them even use solar power and, as a result, help farmers keep up with the ‘green’ trends. 

  1. Drones

We all have seen drones used to shoot great pictures from a more sophisticated perspective. Though, have you ever thought that they can be widely used in agriculture? This innovation brought completely new farming improvement solutions. The most obvious one is taking birdseye photos and videos to monitor and analyze the field conditions. However, there is more to it. Drones can be successfully adopted for seeding and irrigation. They can carry seeds and, with the help of compressed air, shoot them in the right place on the field, or based on previous soil analyzation they can fly to a particular area and water it. 

  1. Autonomous machines 

Even though it still scares some of us, autonomous machines are a part of our future, and they can be very useful in the agricultural industry. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning solutions enable machines to communicate with each other, sending and receiving data. Soil pH level, weather conditions, or hydration level – they know it all. At some point, your interaction in the process may not be at all necessary. Some agrobots are so technologically advanced that they might know better than yourself when and how the field should be seeded, harvested, or rinsed.

Future of agriculture industry

Agribusiness has significantly transformed over the last 50 years. We could observe farmers adopting new technologies in their daily work. Modern solutions improved farm productivity notably. Robotics supporting irrigation, seeding, and harvesting proved that cultivation could be much more efficient. Knowing that the demand for food and sustainable solutions keeps growing, will the farming industry fully automate within a decade? It turns out it’s not that simple. The industry meets some obstacles, such as poor connectivity infrastructure in rural areas or building strong business cases, that are yet to be overcome. Despite the hurdle, analysts predict that by 2030, improved connectivity could add more than $500 billion to global gross domestic product. The process will require a lot of engagement and many investments on the part of farmers. However, this is a necessity to keep up with the market demands, so we can be sure to observe many improvements in the agricultural world.

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