A Digital Revolution in Agriculture?

In a world with an increasing population and the threat of climate change, keeping agricultural production on track is a major issue. There needs to be enough food for an expanding world, but the issues of waste and the processes of production need to be developed to ensure that we can produce he food we need. Agriculture as it is now is incredibly wasteful, with 44% of harvested crop matter lost prior to consumption. In addition, it is a carbon contributor, with animal by-products making up 7% of carbon emissions annually. Livestock grazing occupies 26% of the planets land, and 33% of all cropland is used only for livestock feed. Thee sector drastically needs to modernise, not only to meet the increasing demand across the next decades, but to be healthier for the planet itself. A widespread, structural integration of technology may be the answer.
This article highlights the idea of ‘smart farming’ as a way of bringing agriculture forwards. The concept is based around the use of data to revolutionise farming, creating ‘precision agriculture’. The idea is that by constantly monitoring farmland, the atmosphere and crops, yield will be increased and land will be used more efficiently. Coupled with developments in genetically enhanced crops widen what farmers can plant, precision agriculture could allow farmers to tailor what the produce so that it best fits the conditions around it. Integrating wide-scale data collection into farming practices will allow much more effective management of farmland, and will lay the groundwork for easier automation. With the UN Food and Agriculture Programme saying that global production of food, feed and fibre needing to increase by 70% by 2050 to match population growth, agriculture needs to modernise now. Using data collection and management systems that are already in existence in industries such as manufacturing is a vital step to support the more drastic overhaul that is needed.
The use of technology in agriculture is also vital in a world with a changing climate. As mentioned above, digitising farming can help to reduce carbon emissions, but it can also be key to maintaining crop and livestock yield in changing environmental conditions. In Colorado, during a severe drought this year, famers were using remote sensors to help them determine how much water specific crop fields needed. This allowed famers to get the most yield from their crops and most effectively use the Colorado River, lessening the pressure on the waterway that serves 40 million people. With extreme weather events become much more likely with rising global temperatures, work such as that done in Colorado is a vital first step fort eh expansion of digital agriculture to rapidly changing ecosystems. Making more efficient use of water in this way is key to maintaining agricultural production under climate pressure.
What needs to happen is the agricultural sector must fully embrace digital technology and put it at the heart of farming. The systems needed are already in use in other industries, and indeed, many famers utilise data collection in parts. Smart farming need to become integral to agriculture. It is not enough for certain crops or certain areas to be partially monitored. For both the largely increased yields needed due to population growth, and to reduce the carbon emissions and waste that are an inevitable by-product of current methods, smart farming needs to become the default principle or agriculture. If it does, then it will set up the base to implement more advanced GM crops, creating a target model of farming that takes full advantage of the local environment, and that can cope in a changing climate.