The development of smart farming and precision agriculture must accelerate rapidly and learn lessons from smart city projects if it is to meet the challenge set by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has stated: “The way farmers produce their food must radically change in order to feed the growing world population in the future.”
In a report to be published next month, Beecham Research will look at this challenge and also highlight the importance of harnessing new technologies to address climate change and help optimise the use of energy and natural resources.
“The challenges for farming and the food supply chain are daunting,” says Saverio Romeo, principal analyst at Beecham Research who will be chairing a panel session on smart farming at next week’s World Agri-Tech Investment Summit, in London.
“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that in order to keep pace with population growth, food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050; but also estimates that agriculture worldwide is currently responsible for a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and for using some 70 percent of the world’s fresh water.”
Despite a growing level of exciting research and new smart farming projects, Romeo says that emerging Machine to Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have been slow to be adopted in agriculture compared to other industries. “The reasons for this are primarily cost – only large farms can afford the investment and the industry is, by nature, conservative,” says Romeo.
“While governments around the world are stimulating adoption of new technologies through subsidies and projects, more needs to be done to support smaller farms. There also needs to be a shared vision by all stakeholders along with their governments and policy makers to bring together the needs of agriculture with business opportunities.”
Precision agriculture or smart farming makes use of GPS services, M2M/IoT technologies, sensors and big data to optimise crop yields. Decision support systems, backed up by data – including weather conditions and forecasts, machine status, crop information and animal health – can provide real time information at a level of granularity not previously possible.
But post-harvest, Beecham Research also sees sensor-based technologies and decision support systems playing another vital role in the post-farm gate supply chain. Applications include the detection of food fraud, identifying and dealing with bacterial and other contamination, mitigating spoilage and food waste, and meeting the growing need for traceability from farm to the consumer.
“Farming and the supply chain, in all its forms, must embrace the smart vision if we are to feed the growing population and address climate change and environmental issues,” says Dr Therese Cory, Senior Analyst at Beecham Research. “This means involving multiple stakeholders ranging from big business, finance and government through engineering, machinery and chemical companies, to food retailers, industry associations and suppliers of specialist expertise.”
While smart farming is still in its infancy and currently lags behind smart cities and other smart industries, the benefit is that we can learn lessons from other large scale ‘smart’ project rollouts, such as smart metering projects.
“We have no choice but to invest in the use of precision agriculture and smart farming because of the urgency of the problems the world faces,” concludes Dr Cory.
“This means that despite a slow start, future growth in this area will be huge in comparison to other industries where M2M and IoT are already established.”