If there was ever a single top-of-mind issue for farmers, it could arguably be the challenge to consistently get the most out of their crops. Those were much simpler days. Now, there are pressing concerns above the need to just produce high yields, namely how to address agriculture-related issues surrounding population growth, food security, and global climate change. Needless to say, the pressure for farmers to deliver has never been greater.
Fortunately, innovations in agricultural technology or ag-tech have stepped in to help farmers overcome the potentially adverse effects of extreme weather conditions and a greater global demand for food. Technology is providing hope to farmers around the world through cutting-edge methods and tools designed to increase productivity and create sustainable agriculture. Here are seven examples.
Aerial spectral imaging
From the ground, there is only so much that the eye can see. But now, farmers can have eyes in the sky to help them manage year-round crop production more efficiently. For example, aerial spectral imaging for agriculture is enabling farmers to analyze water stress, identify pests, optimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and estimate crop yield—all through technology centered on manned aircraft equipped with specialized camera systems that capture images at specific wavelengths.
No-till or zero-tillage farming
No-till farming involves preparing land for farming without the use of mechanical equipment. This innovative method has plenty of upsides, namely reducing the amount of soil erosion and water run-off. Not only does this help maintain the health and integrity of the soil, but it also conserves water.
Farming operations also benefit from a reduction in labor and lower fuel expenses. Likewise, benefits to the environment are significant, namely a reduction in global warming footprint and decreased carbon emission levels, specifically for carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Overall, no-till farming helps retain moisture and nutrients in the soil, resulting in farmlands that are more fertile and more conducive to high crop yield.
Fertilizer deep placement
Farmers traditionally applied fertilizer to crops by hand. A modern-day update to this method is called fertilizer deep placement (FDP), which is designed to increase crop yield while reducing fertilizer use. Placing fertilizer deeper beneath the soil—approximately seven to 10 centimeters below—reduces the amount of nitrogen that can be lost during runoff.
Nitrogen fertilizers can significantly improve crop yields, but if too much of it is applied to a field, excess runoff can contaminate nearby water and land. To prevent this potentially hazardous effect, ag-tech innovators have developed what’s known as nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) traits, which let farmers use a smaller amount of nitrogen fertilizer without affecting yield.
Breeding for heat stress tolerance
Due to the effects of global warming, farms and crops are increasingly at risk from heat waves and overall hotter temperatures. To overcome this challenge, agricultural scientists have developed genetic traits that not only strengthen a crop’s resistance to heat but also increases its yield—even in hot conditions.
An excellent way to maximize unused open areas, rooftop farms deliver immediate environmental benefits: making efficient use of limited space in urban areas, feeding a growing urban population, preventing potential sewage problems due to stormwater runoff, pest control, and energy conservation.
Farming by smartphone
More and more, farmers are using smartphones to manage operational costs and crop yield, not to mention improve overall productivity. Whether they have an iPhone or Android device, farmers have integrated this powerful mini-computers into their daily farming routine, benefiting from immediate access to a wealth of information at their fingertips. Apps are available that help maintains optimum soil quality, monitor weather patterns more accurately, ensure the correct mixture of pesticides and other chemicals, keep track of man-hours on any given job, and much more.
Today, agriculture comes under increasing strain from modern challenges that are unprecedented in terms of scale and complexity. By adopting new methodologies and tools, farmers have a better chance at coping with these difficulties.