Technology trends in agriculture 2020: What does the future hold?

In the past decade, global agriculture has witnessed great innovation and modern technology trends leading to the digitization of the oldest industry known to man. Factors such as changing consumer behavior, scarcity of labor, growing overhead costs, reduced land availability has led to a spurt in the use of agriculture technology to catalyze efficiency.

The changes that we are witnessing due to COVID-19 seem to have a significant permanent impact on expediting these AgTech advancements. The radical transformations that the current pandemic is driving in AgTech are out of necessity. Farmers are having to opt for online or AI-based solutions to drive efficiencies due to a lack of available labor and resources.

In the past 12 months alone, the amount invested in agriculture technology or Agritech was 1.9 billion dollars. These capital infusions have been focused mainly on artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT), indoor vertical farming, blockchain technology, farm automation and robotics, modern greenhouse technologies to mention a few. However, in a post COVID era, these investments have to be bolstered even further.

Here are the major changes that we’ve witnessed in the agriculture sector as a result of the pandemic.

What does this mean for the future of farming and Agtech?

Informed decisions through Farm Management ERPs

Future trends in agriculture will not be based on the application of fertilizers, plant protection chemicals, and water through the entire stretch of the farm. Instead, it will be a target-specific and need-based application of the required products through real-time data analysis. Farm operations will be streamlined based on remote sensors, GPS and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Khetibuddy is one such Farm Management Software that helps farmers improve their yields by harnessing data on every step of the farm management lifecycle. Farm management systems could be efficiently deployed in small-scale as well as large scale farms to manage farm operations and daily farm activities. In the near future sensor data can be used to drive robotics and AI-based supervision of farms leading to more profitable and eco-friendly production systems with minimal human labor.

Artificial intelligence-based farming to minimize overheads

Farms equipped with automation based tools such as driverless or self-driven tractors are helping to decrease the labour requirement and saving time and overheads for farm owners. Driverless tractors in the US which are already in the market are already being used to completely automate harvesting and minimize human intervention. By helping automate the farmer’s current farm equipment, agriculture technology helps in increasing the efficiency and capabilities of available resources. Another AI-based tech to look out for includes systems such as voice recognition activated sprinklers, temperature sensing detectors, machine vision for animal husbandry and many more.

Internet of things (IoT) and Agri-tech sensors in the field.

The Internet of Things can help develop Agtech solutions for the betterment of crop yield. Here are some of the innovations in the space that are quite promising.

Precision farming with remote sensors

In small scale farms, it could be possible to observe disease outbreak by keen observation and a constant scanning of their crops for contamination. But on a large scale, it is unlikely for the farmer’s eyes to reach every corner of the field and may lead to heavy losses. With the help of IoT and remote sensing agriculture technology, the farmer can access each and every region of the farm and find out potential disease or pest probability with microsensors. The entire process is made farmer-friendly by producing output on tablets or smartphones with swift alerts. There are even sensors in the market already that help measure variables such as the compaction of soil and erosion and detect pest population density in the field.

Crop monitoring using drones

Using cameras and microsensors within the drones, monitoring, and analysis of plants down to a single leaf is made possible. The collected data, when combined with a machine learning solution, gives clear information about the farmer’s stock and yield.

Smart collars for animals

IoT wearable devices are being developed for use in the animal husbandry industry. Farmers can now take accurate information about livestock such as animal heat status, its wellbeing, disease prediction in real-time without physically inspecting them.

Plant protection chemical application

With the combination of AI and IoT sensors, site-specific treatment of individual plants is made possible. Potential pests on a particular plant can be easily detected and treated. This enables minimal usage of chemicals treating the affected plants, thereby minimizing the impact on surrounding soil and environment.

High-tech vertical farming

One of the most promising technology trends in agriculture when it comes to optimizing land availability is vertical farming. Basically, it is the method of growing crops in vertical trays or surfaces which may be integrated onto buildings and living spaces making them self sustainable. Vertical farming could be the solution to the food demands of the growing population, in urban areas. Vertical farming yield can be maximized if integrated into a greenhouse setting, making it resistant to climate changes and making the year-round supply.

Underground farming

Underground farming uses hydroponics grow trays to grow vegetables and an automated monitoring system to aid the management of the underground ecosystem’s CO2 concentration, temperature, and humidity, making it appropriate for plant growth. This high tech venture is fairly new agricultural technology and is mainly adopted in densely populated urban cities.

Barriers to adoption: Why some Agtech innovations fail the field test in India
Lack of sensitization
Innovations are essential but executing them well at different levels that consider the best interests of farmers as well as everyone involved in the agribusiness is challenging. Without proper management, it could lead to resistance and delays in execution as some farmers will be scared of adopting into new systems due to lack of sensitization. There may also be lobbying against certain tech innovations if they are rushed through such as the resistance observed to GM crops due to lack of knowledge about them.
Unaffordable for small scale farmers
As most of the farmers in India don’t have much capital to invest in farm machinery, AgTech tools and innovations seem like a long mile to go for them. The digitization of field-level data must be made affordable using cheaper ‘Made in India’ sensor tech, that makes it accessible even to small scale farmers. The government must also provide adequate subsidies and loans to farmers to make it more affordable for them to adopt such tech and contribute to the food security of our nation.
Language barriers
One of the biggest challenges that keep farmers from adopting the AgTech innovations is the language barrier. As most of the products and tools are geared at the west, they fail to consider the needs and of the farmers in India. India needs to develop its own platforms or localize the content to Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and other regional languages so that farmers and stakeholders can understand the data in a language that they are comfortable with.
The way forward
The technology trends in agriculture sound thrilling and promising, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Agtech is still quite nascent in India and the potential that it holds for the country is enormous. With close to 70 per cent of rural households engaged in agriculture for livelihood, a tech revolution in farming will help enormously improve the GDP and economic indices of our country. The need of the hour is for scientists and innovators to come up with accessible innovations with a focus on user experience and accessibility. Creating Agri-technology is only half the battle, ensuring adoption through public-private partnership and policymaking is the milestone we should aim for in a country that’s largely still unsavvy when it comes to tech.
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