Everything you need to know about Agriculture 4.0

The world is turning more and more towards technology and adapting its ways, while farming too is being digitised, whereby changing the “business of agriculture”.

agriculture 4.0 drone
Agriculture 4.0 enables the scientists to understand the impact of every input, whether that's water, fertilization or the soil types on the plant. © Herney Gomez

Is Agriculture 4.0 the answer to future food security? Let’s take a look. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. reported that by the year of 2050, global population is likely to touch 9.1 billion, which means that earth will harbour that many mouths to feed and for this the food production of the world needs to increase by seventy percent from the present scale.

Feeding this mass will require automated tractors, IoT sensors to lead precision farming. In other words digitalisation of agriculture or Agriculture 4.0, as some experts say, seems to “quantify agriculture in vast new ways”. For example, in Tennessee, where farmers’ history dates back to mid-1800s, the modern age farmers are incorporating precision farming, drones and satellite imagery to boost yield and lower costs.

The world is turning more and more towards technology and adapting its ways, while farming too is being digitalized, whereby changing the business of agriculture. Here is a list of places that are leading the revolution, as mentioned by Teena Maddox, senior editor at TechRepublic:

  • At Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, the Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE) is constantly assessing better ways to farm to increase yields and improve efficiency, with sensors collecting 1.4 petabytes of data daily.
  • Land O’Lakes is sending out technology specialists from its subsidiary, WinField United, to show co-ops such as Crafton Farms in Tennessee better ways of farming.
  • Indoor farms such as Plenty in San Francisco and Jones Food in Europe are farming on vertical racks in massive indoor facilities that significantly reduce the carbon footprint needed to grow food.

When it is about feeding over 9 billion people, as per prediction, the Head of Department and Senior Director of IT in colleges of Agriculture, Information Technology and Veterinary Medicine at the Purdue University, Patrick Smoker, said: “Our bottom line really is to feed the world. To do that, to feed an estimated nine billion people by 2050, we have to significantly increase our productivity in terms of food generation. Like in many other vertical markets, technology plays a big role. These technologies, if you think about if you’re measuring any observable trait of a plant, we call that phenomics, how do you do that? You do it with sensors of all types. You do it with everything from handheld devices that measure the color in a plant to UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that fly over and take LIDAR and hyperspectral images because those spectrums of color provide information.”

How does Agriculture 4.0 work?

1. Data plays an import role in Agriculture 4.0: It enables the scientists to understand the impact of every input, whether that’s water, fertilization or the soil types on the plant. While, Smoker added: “If you put all that together in two specific areas, there’s the farm management side, which uses technology to help farmers make informed decisions and management decisions in terms of producing high yields with low input, all the way to research, which means you’re collecting, analyzing, visualizing, modeling, and all the compute that has to be behind that”.

2. Drones as well as satellite images help to “improve cost efficiency”: For example, “WinField United’s Answer Plot system” harvests data from “200 specific fields around the US” and consolidates them to provide data about the best hybrid crops “in a given area”. WinField and Land O’Lakes’ Senior Technology Manager, Andrew Laney informed that with the help of satellite image farmers can identify areas that need immediate attention due to damage or any other issues, which saves the farmer his land inspection time.

In Agricultural 4.0, problem detection is the first step to find out if it is worth spending on repairing the land damage or not, and as Laney said: “If we know a field is not going to meet production costs, we can pull back a little bit on spending and tailor that to whatever we think the field is going to make”.

3. Precision agriculture chapter in Agriculture 4.0 uses crop modelling: All the farmers need to do is to simply feed in data in software, including soil type, quantity of fertiliser used, and crop plantation date, and the system runs them through an algorithm to inform the farmer about different expected growth stage period along with “expected yield” figures.

While, Laney added further: “One of the technologies that pretty much most farmers use now that was kind of foreign 15-20 years ago was grid sampling. Soil sampling on a grid instead of going out and taking one sample of a hundred acre field, and that representing what fertilizer you should put down. Now they’ll take a GPS and they’ll put a grid on the field and they’ll pull from individual points. So, you’ll have roughly 30 to 40 samples on a hundred acre field”.

4. IoT is another useful instrument of Agriculture 4.0: Talking about the use of IoT in digital agriculture, the Purdue Agronomy Center’s Superintendent, Jim Beaty said: “We use a lot of sensors in the field. So we’ll record the typical things that a weather station at an airport might record, like air temperature, wind speed, rainfall, but we also record the amount of solar energy that we’re receiving from the sun because the sun is the engine of photosynthesis. We’ll come out and record the photosynthetic activity of individual plants. We want to create plants that are very efficient in capturing that solar energy and turning it into traits that we’re interested in.”

What are the benefits of Agriculture 4.0?

With the help of drone, the manual labour is reduced as Beaty added: “I could have a lot of people out there taking notes every day or once a week, but if I use instruments to help me identify how plants are growing and surviving and how healthy they are, I can use a recording device to do that.”

There are multiple options available for data harvesting like a selfie stick can be as much useful as any drone or “an unmanned aerial vehicle”. One can fix “recording devices on a wheeled device” or even use satellite imageries. However, Agriculture 4.0 can survive only by enticing the farmers who are likely to respond to it knowing that the technology offers increased crop yields and reduces costs. While, Beaty explained: “You always have to have yield, but a lot of the traits that we may be looking for may be value-added traits.”

And Smoker too echoed saying: “We have to show value. Although any given farmer may be resistant to change because he’s got a known practice that produces a known result, the value proposition there is lowering their costs of inputs, increasing their outputs, decreasing labor, or increasing the value of their product.” Several African countries have embraced Agriculture 4.0 and results are very encouraging. Will all the Middle East follow the same path?

To be continued…