The pressures on the planet will be immense, the logistics of growing and transporting food to where it needs to be, highly complex; and without the adoption of advanced technology, people will go hungry.

The latest available figures from the Centre for Sustainability and Global Environment, on land use estimates that, already, nearly half (46 per cent) of the world’s land surface is currently used for food production. When you also factor in rising GDP-per person and that richer people eat more, and have more diverse eating habits, the impact of global population growth on the planet becomes stark.

Global population projections (millions) SOURCE: United Nations, 2015

World
Africa
Asia
Europe
Latin America & Caribbean
North America
Oceania

If agriculture is going to continue to feed the world adequately, it needs to find new ways to increase its yields produce more food using fewer resources, and to limit its impact on the environment. New technology, and particularly IoT, is a significant part of the answer to this challenge, and a vibrant agritech sector is now taking shape to support farmers at a global scale. In short, food producers and processors need to get smarter, leaner and faster.

Food production will need to become a lot more efficient, with heightened attention to environmental sustainability and use of resources.

— Ayan Jobse-Alkemade, Director, Agritech

IoT is central to innovation in agriculture because so much of precision farming rests on having highly accurate and specific information on the status of crops, livestock, and their environment. Without accurate data, other technologies like automation, machine learning and robotics become either redundant or at least far less effective than they could be. The IoT functions as the eyes and ears for all other technology in the era of digital transformation.

As an example, we can look at fish farms. The largest operational cost for these farms is the feed that they need to provide to maximise growth in their livestock. By placing sensors above and below the waterline in fish pens they can monitor water temperature, oxygen levels, and water currents. These three data sets are then analysed for the optimum time for feeding, minimising food wastage.

 

Our latest research shows that agritech businesses understand the central importance of IoT-based innovation and have a clear focus on the technology in their R&D. However, it should not be an isolated innovation, but rather as part of a larger combination of transformative technology including machine learning, automation, robotics and more.

Returning to our fish farm example, other areas of digital transformation can also play a role. Whereas now a lot of feeding is completed manually, in future, this whole process can be automated – IoT sensors can collate data, which is then analysed through machine learning for the most optimum moment for feeding. Automated feeders can then be set to work without the need for any human intervention.

Predictive analysis of IoT data is another area that can bring significant benefits for agricultural production, particularly when it comes to the weather.

It is one thing to use sensors to understand the current environment of a crop – acidity, water levels, etc. – but another to analyse this information and predict how the microenvironment will change depending on varying weather conditions.

Farmers can take precautionary measures to protect their crops as needed, maximising potential yield. Predictive analytics can also be used to estimate crop yields based on the information being collated from the fields. This ensures that farmers and their customers can tailor their supply chains accurately to crop yields later in the year, reducing unnecessary logistics and labour costs.

 

 

 

Which digital transformation areas are being prioritised by your organisation? (%)

26.3% IoT
11.1% Robotics
14.1% 3D printing
15.2% Machine learning
12.1% Next generation security
12.1% Cognitive AI
8.1% Virtual reality
1% Augmented reality

Cultivating ever more land for agriculture is not going to be an option in the future.

The future of farming can only be to drastically reduce the ratio of land and resources needed to produce the food that we need. Key to this is to have the knowledge, derived from IoT sensors, and the tools to manage the micro-environment of crops and livestock.

Agriculture is both an ancient profession, slow to change with the majority of production based at the SME level, and one at the cutting edge of innovation, forced to tackle significant global issues. Perfecting the technology to efficiently feed the world as it undergoes a dramatic set of changes will be challenging, but with the right focus, investment and innovation it is achievable.

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