Can you imagine running your farm from a control room?
Instead of being out in the field, you would sit in a control room analysing data provided by GPS-guided autonomous drones and crop, soil and even livestock sensors.
Your crops would be engineered to need less crop protection, fertiliser and water, and harvesting could be carried out remotely by driverless machines and even small robots.
Perhaps this is an extreme picture, but these technologies are already available in some form and many more similar technologies are in development.
In 2015, global management consulting firm the Boston Consulting Group published what it believed were key trends which would shape agriculture over the next 15-20 years.
Its research was based on analysis of all agricultural patents registered worldwide between 2010 and 2014.
The report concluded change would be driven by the need to produce more food to meet the demand of a growing worldwide population, the burgeoning middle class, with more diverse tastes and requirements, and sociopolitical trends towards ‘back to roots’ food production, which utilises less chemical use and encourages biodiversity.
The group’s findings have since been widely supported by many within the global agricultural industry and there is consensus agriculture is entering a new era of technological change.
If precision technology has been at the forefront of farming innovation in recent years, monitoring crops from the sky will be next. Although drones have been talked about in agriculture for several years, they are now beginning to cross the line between aspirational and viable business tool, promising increased yields through crop health imaging at relatively low cost.
The rapid development of precision farming techniques, soil monitoring and wearables for cows, for things such as heat detection, means the use of sensors in agriculture is not new.
However, there is no doubt they will become ever-more sophisticated in years to come, as developers find new ways to exploit the technology. One of the latest developments to attract media attention is BeansIoT, a 45mm bean-shaped sensor which can be placed into grain silos to report on temperature and humidity.
Many believe robots will be commonplace on farms in coming years. As well as automated machines to carry out large-scale field work, small robots could perform tasks such as weeding and crop picking, providing solutions to a number of issues including crop protection on organic farms and labour shortages, for instance.
New molecular biology techniques have made it possible for scientists to introduce or edit genes in plant breeding in such a way they are indistinguishable from natural breeding processes, leading to calls they would not be labelled as genetically modified. This could pave the way for much greater public acceptance and lead to a sharp rise in disease-resistant varieties, requiring far fewer inputs.
As precision farming techniques continue to develop, you can expect to see more interfacing between technologies, enabling automated machines to carry out field work using data collected from linked sources, such as real-time soil sensors, GPS mapping, images from drones and even climate sensors.
Time is running out to access up to £250,000 of funding to help launch a new agricultural innovation.
Agri-Innovation Den is a Briefing Media (Farmers Guardian’s parent company) initiative, supported by the Co-operative Food, to give entrepreneurs with an interest in farming an opportunity to develop ideas and innovations, while accessing funding, publicity and advice.
If you have a great product or concept you believe could help farmers, we want to hear from you before July 1, 2016.
Visit www.aginnovationden.com for more information.