By the year 2050, the world’s farmers will have 9.8 billion people to feed. Simply put, traditional farming methods are not sufficient to feed a growing world population. In South Africa alone, floods, droughts and other phenomena linked to climate change are making it even more difficult for farmers to produce enough food to feed our nation.
Although it cannot work in isolation to solve the problem, technology certainly has a role to play in securing the future of food. As the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) dawns, farmers need to make use of its interconnected technologies to transform the way they farm.
Here are some of the ways in which farmers can use technology to implement more efficient and sustainable agricultural practices:
Smart farming incorporates technologies such as geographic information systems, GPS, remote sensing technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. Here’s an example of how it works:
- Sensor technology and other kinds of agricultural devices and equipment analyse conditions of the soil, animals and the weather (such as animal health, soil nutrients, soil moisture, crop health, water levels and climatic data).
- This real-time data is fed into a centralised data capture and analysis system.
- AI systems process this data and make autonomous decisions to improve efficiency then and there. For example, releasing the required chemicals, nutrients or seeds to crops by machinery in the field.
Drones are becoming more and more popular for remote sensing, surveying and assessing. They can also be used for the precision application of pesticides to crops.
Using robots for tedious operational tasks can help farmers maximise efficiencies and use their human resources more effectively. In an ideal situation, these robots will be controlled by AI to further reduce the need for human time and intervention.
Tasks that lend themselves well to automation include planting and packing. For example, a robot can easily identify ripe berries and harvest them without damaging the crop.
A robotic farm in the UK harvested its first fully machine-operated crop in 2017. Autonomous vehicles sowed, fertilised and harvested five tons of barley with minimal human intervention.
The South African arm of Swedish enterprise applications company IFS and local company Matsei Technologies and Consulting are collaborating to create an intensive digital aquaponics farming solution. The benefit of this aquaponics system is that it only uses a fraction of the land needed for other types of protein farming – it can produce the same amount of protein in about five hectares of land as a 5000-hectare cattle farm.
Here’s how it works:
- Fish and hydroponic crops are farmed intensively in a continuous closed loop.
- Ammonia-rich water from the fish tanks is circulated to plants in a greenhouse.
- The ammonia is converted into nitrate – an essential fertiliser for the plants.
- The plants are used to clean the water and circulate it back to the fish.
This solution is currently being tested on a working farm near Pretoria. The farm uses the IoT, advanced software and data analytics to monitor and automate the aquaponics operations using sensor technology. This data can be monitored from a remote control room in real-time so things can be fixed quickly if any issues arise.
Forging a connected future
Technologies such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, big data analysis and robotics have the potential to revolutionise the agricultural sector, resulting in more efficient and sustainable ways of farming that reduce costs, improve yields and enhance profitability.
However, it’s not always easy to secure reliable connectivity on farms, which are often ‘off the beaten track’. That’s why we specialise in expanding our network to rural areas and farmland. Get in touch to find out about coverage in your area: https://bundunetworx.co.za/.