Embracing Agricultural Technology Innovations for Sustainable Farming Practices

With the increasing need for cultivating more food in less arable lands, enabling farmers to work smarter, not harder has been a strategic imperative. Technological innovations in agriculture have become the bedrock of driving this transformative shift.

Digitisation and automation brought about by agricultural technology hold the power to transform today’s food production landscape. 

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into various agricultural technology innovations. 

What is Agricultural technology?

Agricultural technology, also known as agro-technology, is the process of implementing advanced technologies in agriculture, aquaculture, and horticulture in order to increase yield, profitability, and production efficacy.

Importance of Implementing Agricultural Technology

Between 2000 and 2021, the global food production of primary crops, such as corn, wheat, etc., increased by 54%, hitting 9.5 billion tonnes in 2021. 

Despite this increase in crop production, as many as 828 million people — about 10% of the global population — suffer from starvation. Recurrent economic shocks, severe weather conditions, and ongoing conflicts around the world have exacerbated the existing food crisis. Having around 9.8 million people worldwide to feed daily, transforming traditional agricultural practices has now become dire. 

Let’s go through the importance of agricultural technology innovations:

  • Higher Crop production: Implementing a combination of advanced technologies in farming helps farmers monitor crop production processes more efficiently. Leveraging advanced data analytics and algorithms helps them streamline processes, optimise resource management and tailor input to get expected production as the outcome.

    The result is improved production yield at minimal resource utilization and resource wastage. Case in point: according to a study, farmers implementing AgriTech Analytics reported seeing around 57% increase in crop production within three to six months. After a year, yields improve by 75%. 

  • Decreased Use of Water, Fertiliser, and Pesticides: As we have already stated, advanced technologies, such as precision farming, enable farmers to produce high yields, ensuring optimised utilisation of resources – water, pesticides, fertilisers, etc.

    Traditional chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides are highly soluble compounds that can easily leach into groundwater, resulting in contamination of water. Needless to mention, water contamination poses a great threat to aquatic wildlife, thus throwing the entire aquatic ecosystem off balance.

    On the other hand, excessive use of fertilisers, such as urea, ammonium nitrate, potassium chloride, etc., can cause nutrients to run off in the water, resulting in algal blooms, eutrophication, and oxygen depletion.

    In addition, these compounds derived from non-renewable sources can cause soil acidification, GHG emissions during the production phase, loss of biodiversity, etc. Since agrotech helps reduce the dependence on these harmful compounds, it plays a crucial role in safeguarding the ecosystem. 

  • Reduced Impact on Natural Ecosystems: Advanced monitoring tools, farming technologies, and augmented decision-making with agricultural technology help preserve biodiversity, and reduce the impact of chemical-based products on the natural ecosystem. 

Technological Innovations Used in Agriculture

Let’s go to the technological breakthroughs reshaping the agricultural landscape.

Precision Farming 

Precision agriculture (PA) is an advanced agriculture management strategy that leverages sophisticated technologies to enable data-driven observation, measurement, and response to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. This data-driven information empowers farmers to customise interventions in a specific area of a field and for maximum yield with limited resources. 

PA integrates data from advanced systems such as GIS, GPS, drones, etc., thus enabling efficient monitoring of factors that impact production yield – such as plant health, probability of rainfall, soil moisture content, etc. 

This targeted approach to crop production not only maximises yield or optimises resource utilisation, but it also fosters sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate environmental pollution.

Drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)/drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors that provide farmers with aerial images of agricultural farms. Extracting valuable insights from information gathered by drones helps enable efficient production monitoring and surveying extensive fields.

The high-end airborne capability of a drone facilitates capturing a wide range of pictures – from standard visible-light images to multispectral imagery that helps analyse various soil, crop, and field parameters. In addition, they can more efficiently figure out crop issues on a granular basis.

Moreover, these in-depth insights help enable the targeted application of resources such as water, fertilisers, insecticides, etc., thus facilitating precision farming. 

Furthermore, tasks such as geofencing, crop cultivation, and livestock and grazing monitoring become effortless with the use of drones. 

Research is being conducted on evaluating the effectiveness of drones when it comes to analysing mineral content in the soil, weed pressure, etc. 

Artificial Intelligence

AI has emerged as a transformative force in revolutionising the agricultural landscape. Leveraging the power of advanced data analytics powered by AI enables farmers to make data-driven about crop yield projection, weather forecasting, and price trends analysis. In addition, farmers can get tailored answers to their queries, suggestions, and recommendations by using AI-enabled chatbots.

In addition, it automates and streamlines the detection of anomalies and diseases in livestock and plants, thereby helping take immediate actions to address them. 

Agriculture businesses looking to drive innovation use AI to enhance crop quality. For instance, harvest quality vision (HQV) technology is fast gaining momentum among innovative startups for facilitating scanning and assessment of the quality and quantity of the produced crops.

In addition, predictive analytics with AI are making incredible strides in agriculture. By processing variables such as weather patterns, historical data, market trends, etc., predictive analytics help foresee crop yields, optimise harvesting schedules, and more. Thus, they can anticipate any potential risk and take necessary measures to dodge them. The result is efficient farming that keeps revenue rolling in. 

Robotics and Automation

Another revolution brought to agriculture is the incorporation of robotics and task automation powered by advanced artificial intelligence, machine learning, and locomotion. 

Even though farming involves a slew of delicate tasks associated with saplings and crop planting, agricultural businesses frequently take up this challenge and leverage robotics and automation systems to automate and streamline repetitive tasks such as applying pesticides and fertilisers, weeding and seeding, crop monitoring, pruning, and thinning, etc. Limiting reliance on manual efforts helps farmers avoid back-breaking labour-intensive repetitive chores and focus more on logistic tasks.

Agricultural Biotechnology

Another most talked-about innovation in agriculture is the use of biotechnology. It involves leveraging a range of tools and technologies – genetic engineering, biomarkers, molecular diagnostics, tissue culture, etc., to improve crop productivity, traits, and sustainability.

For example, one of the key challenges in farming is controlling pests. While agrochemicals can be an easy remedy, it doesn’t align with sustainability goals. Agricultural biotechnology, by introducing genetic modification in living organisms, can help identify and insert pest-resistance genes into the crop.

Through genetic engineering and advanced novel biotech processes such as CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing techniques, transgenic crops with traits such as drought resistance, high yield production, improved nutrient content, etc., are now being produced for commercial purposes.

Furthermore, agricultural biotechnology, in tandem with AI and ML, facilitates gene selection recommendations. It does so by enabling faster and more effective analysis of a massive trove of genomic data, thus helping pinpoint biomarkers that include desirable crop traits.

Challenges with Implementing Agricultural Technology Innovations

Agricultural technology holds immense potential to pave the way for sustainable development. However, adopting high-end technologies comes with some challenges:

  • High Up-front Acquisition Costs: Acquisition and implementation costs for advanced agricultural technologies pose significant challenges to farmers grappling with limited resources and capital. In addition, operational costs from system maintenance and upgrade hiring technical support to ensure the tools operate optimally is a variant of huge investment and can be prohibitive for many farmers.
  • Data Sharing and Ownership Issues: Challenges associated with sharing production and farm data can be prohibitive for many farms when it comes to adopting AI in agriculture. This is because farmers are often found to be reluctant to share their farm data due to privacy and data security issues. Concerns about losing control over farm data further complicate this issue. In addition, the lack of transparency and clear policies and data standardisation framework makes the adoption of AI even more challenging.
  • Limited Access: limited access to advanced technologies for farmers in rural areas impedes widespread adoption and benefits realisation.
  • Interoperability Issues: Interoperability challenges between various tools and technologies often lead to integration issues in data sharing and management.
Patsy Todd