Smart Farming: A key to developing sustainable agriculture

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In recent years, farming is getting smarter day by day. Fortunately for us, the application of modern Information Communication Technology (ICT) into agriculture is making way for another green revolution.  Thanks to smart technologies replacing traditional methods of farming, we can see widespread improvement in the fields.  

Smart farming:

Smart FarmingSmart farming is all about using various technological applications like mobile applications, big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning into farming. The world currently requires 50% more food to be produced in order to feed the growing population, which will grow to a staggering 9 billion by 2050. Until and unless, such technologies are not utilised, we would not be able to meet this requirement. Smart technologies will ultimately guide higher production levels. With growing concerns on climate change, limited arable land and high costs of inputs, turning to these technologies is even more indispensable. Here, smart farming can help boost farm production by utilising a combination of technologies and methods, which can deliver ground-breaking results.

However, smart farming comes with one unique feature – it is an information-driven approach that requires a great deal of observation. The purpose of this observation is to ensure that systems are economically and ecologically meaningful to achieve the desired output in production.

“Smart technologies will ultimately guide higher production levels.”

– Dr. Venkat Maroju

Technologies used in smart farming:

Smart farming is not a standalone technology, but more to do with interconnected technologies.  The three major Farming Technologytechnologies that it is connected to are MIS (Management Information Systems), precision agriculture and automation & robotics.  MIS is used to collect and process data needed to carry out operations and functions on the farm. It can even store and disseminate data as well. Precision agriculture, on the other hand, is the management of spatial and temporal variability to gain higher returns on investment, so that the environmental impact of these agricultural activities is minimal.  Automation and robotics is the process of applying robotics, automatic control, and artificial intelligence techniques to just about every level of agricultural production.  All put together, these technologies include mobile applications, precision equipment, the IoT, sensors, geo-positioning systems, big data, drones, hyperspectral images, and robotics – providing functionalities of spatial precision as well as smart treatment.  

The earth-observation technique used by farmers in the old days has been replaced by the more advanced satellite data. This new technique provides excellent time-series data of characteristics such as biomass development, crop types, farming practices, and calamities.  

What does smart technology feel like for the farmer?

Smart technologies provide the farmer with support in decision making and increasing the efficiency of operations and management of the farm.  It’s a more common feature in developed economies to see smart farming technologies adopted in large farms spanning hundreds and thousands of hectares of land.  These technologies help in timely pest detection, optimising irrigation, estimation of yield and even crop insurance. But adopting these practices into farms in developing countries with small-sized farm holdings (of an average of 2 Ha) is not easy.   

Agriculture is one sector which has grappled with an information challenge.  It is here that smart farming can help answer questions that traditional approaches have simply not been able to do.  However, the data that is required in the smart farming framework can be quite complex. Analysing the information collected helps, for example, in establishing the fertility of a particular farm.  Adding to this, satellite images and the use of data determine the yield potential of a particular farm. Likewise, GPS technology, when applied to tractors, can help farmers transmit data on the vehicle’s position, enabling the land to be uniformly cultivated, leading to a huge saving on fuel.  What’s evident here is that from planting and watering to crop health and harvesting, just about every aspect of farming can benefit from technological advances.

It is such an integration of technology and farming practices that can increase the production efficiency and quality of agricultural products.  With the twin goals of increase in food production on the one hand and the need for sustainability on the other, it is becoming necessary for agribusinesses and other stakeholders to invest in knowledge, technology, and sophisticated machines and devices.     

Smart farming and sustainability:

FarmingAs a precise and resource-efficient method, smart farming has real potential to create a system of higher productivity and sustainability in agricultural production.  A combination of satellite data and ground truth data, processed through advanced AI/ML algorithms helps achieve this. This provides farmers with precise actionable advice that helps farmers make informed choices. One example is the use of soil moisture sensors, which helps farmers make decisions on how, where and when to irrigate, thus reducing wastage and saving costs.

Such an approach, when followed over a period of time, can mitigate some of the food security problems that many parts of the world are experiencing.  Precision in pesticide and fertiliser use can help contain leaching problems and greenhouse gas emissions. Smart farming technologies demand the use of hyper-local weather forecasts, probability mapping of diseases and disaster, along with yield projections. Reducing ecological footprint is another positive fallout of smart farming.           

The future of smart farming:

Smart farming is quickly catching on in the agricultural business as a concept and practice.  The key features of a smart farm include high-precision crop control, useful data collection, and automated farming techniques.  Proper use of data in decision making helps achieve sustainability in the farm, so much so that innovative farming is now considered a spinoff of data analysis and Mathematics.  Think of the farmer or an agribusiness grappling with all sorts of issues ranging from soil composition to climate change. It would be smarter to apply proper analysis for each requirement and come up with the right action plan.  It’s time to harness the power of smart farming to make agriculture profitable and sustainable.      

Farming is the activity that ultimately sustains the human race. This is why, it is equally heartening to note that today farmers operate so very differently from their counterparts a few generations ago – with predictability and sustainability in their favour. 

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