It’s no secret that here at Machines4u Magazine, we’re big fans of the agriculture sector’s nimble and forward-thinking approach to technology. AgTech and precision agriculture is a never-ending source of inspiration for those interested in farming, technology, world hunger, and climate change. While governments near and far flip-flop between world poverty and climate change policies, farmers and engineers are getting on with the job of bolstering the world’s food supply; and repairing the damage to the planet while they’re at it. High fives, farmers!
Some of the most exciting technological advances of the last few years have come from the agriculture sector, and each of them is aimed at making farming more efficient, less heavy on finite resource usage, and more viable for farmers. Here are just a few of the recent innovations for farmers.
Eyes on fields
Motion-activated field cameras, such as those on the market from Selecta can help farmers to monitor their properties and livestock more effectively than ever before. These camouflaged devices are fully kitted-out to survive the elements, and are able to run entirely on batteries; saving money and time on installation. Starting at only $209, these affordable cameras can monitor cattle, detect and record intruders, and even run at night with a no-glow night vision capability (so as not to tip off would-be intruders, or wary nocturnal beasties). On the next pricing rung, farmers can purchase the WiFi model, which feeds footage back to any smartphone; making it easier to monitor their investment on the go, at any time of the day or night.
Computer-mixed feed mills
Feeding livestock, and ensuring that they receive the optimal mixture of nutrients is a delicate and time-consuming process. The advent of automated feed mixers, such as those by GEA are simplifying this process and freeing up time for farmers in the dairy industry. GEA’s MixFeeder (as the name suggests) mixes feed for group feeding of dairy cows; guaranteeing the correct rations and mixes of feed, as well as programmed feeding schedules. This not only saves time—which alone would make the feeding system a worthwhile investment—it also ensures that cattle are getting the most out of feedings, which has knock-on benefits for their health and milk production.
Soil monitoring systems are not exactly a new invention, however there are constantly advances in technology which make these systems smarter and more accurate in their reporting. Nowadays, these relatively simple-to-install systems gather data around soil moisture and even nutrient density, then collate the relevant info into a real-time, readable report which farmers can access from their computers or smartphones. The systems are even able to provide advice on when to water crops, and to what extent. This kind of technology can have a huge impact on soil health, crop health and yield, as well as allowing farms to save money on irrigation and fertilisation. Advanced systems will even incorporate weather patterns and predictions into their reports, giving up-to-the-minute information on incoming weather, and thus saving farmers from needlessly watering or fertilising crops (thus avoiding costly runoff).
Remote controlled tractors
Tractors are one of the biggest investments that a farm owner can make, and can little do without, in the case of crop farming. Another time-consuming activity, ploughing fields and harvesting with tractors can be a burden in labour costs. As science fiction concepts rapidly become real-life solutions, self-driving tractors join a long line of innovations which save on time and money for farmers. Some of the most well-known brands are already testing driverless tractors, which will not only harvest crops, but provide feedback on crop health and harvesting information in real-time to farmers by (you guessed it) smartphone. While we’ve been hearing about driverless tractors and cars for some time now, their takeover is imminent. The cost savings in efficiency and labour alone are set to see them become an indispensable part of farming equipment in the next few years.
eBay for grain
Brokerage fees for grain growers are a cost which many would like to see done away with. The traditional and cumbersome process of buying and selling grain is expensive and slow. One firm has identified this gap in the market, and developed FarmLead to fill it. A online marketplace, much like eBay, connects grain growers with buyers around the world and allows each party to make educated selling/purchasing decisions based on transparent pricing data. Once again, smartphones are the gateway to this innovation, allowing farmers and buyers to make deals on the go, without the time pressures and constraints of the traditional over-the-phone brokerage method.
Testimonials from happy clients demonstrate the appetite for this marketplace, and its clear benefit to buyers and sellers:
“I’m tired of having to go through negotiations on the phone. Using FarmLead gives me time to review the offer and do a little math, review some numbers on my end and not rush my decision,” says Dan, a grain seller from Saskatchewan.
The internet of cows
We’ve all heard of the Internet of Things (or IoT), and we here at Machines4u Magazine have covered off its advance into the world of agriculture thoroughly. Now that we’re all comfortable with the phrase, the clever folk at BovControl have introduced the next phenomenon in IoT, with a witty little catchphrase—the Internet of Cows. Not only is it fun to say, it’s giving farmers some serious advantage in the realm of cattle health and monitoring.
With a philosophy founded in ending world hunger, BovControl are making inroads by increasing the efficiency of cattle farming. Offering detailed and real-time monitoring of herd health, and providing recommendations around this information, the BovControl technology gives farmers an insight into each of their beasts, including their weight, current medications, birthdate and vaccinations. This close monitoring of health not only allows farmers to make crucial decisions and provide effective treatment for any at-risk animals, but can also assist in the selling process by presenting potential buyers with detailed and accurate information about the condition of the herd.
With an expected shortfall in food production for the world’s growing population approaching, AgTech advances like these are the best hope for tackling this problem and keeping some 7+ billion people fed. Furthermore, the increased soil health achieved as a result of these innovations means that we may yet defeat the dreaded loss of arable land which threatens the world’s food production. With farmers and technology engineers fighting the good fight, and making serious inroads, hope for the future of agriculture, and world hunger, are looking bright.