Agriculture has been slower than some other major industries to see disruption through new technology. But the opportunities in this area are fast being realised and there has been a lot of recent investment and start-up activity in agri-tech.
Unlike the highly controlled production environments in food manufacturing, crop production is less reliable, as production conditions are largely dictated by nature and are difficult to control. In addition to this, growers are under increasing pressure to keep costs down, increase levels of output through intensification (increasing yield per unit area), whilst simultaneously minimising environmental damage. Clearly, this poses great supply chain challenges. But technology can provide solutions to such challenges. One solution is combining Farming with precision agriculture.
Smart Farming refers to the use of information and communication technology in cyber-physical farm management. Technology such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics and artificial intelligence is expanding the possibilities that Smart Farming brings to growers.
Precision agriculture is an agricultural system based on farm management practices occurring at the right place, at the right time and with the right intensity.
One example of robotic precision agriculture comes from Small Robot Company, a UK agri-tech start up, offering a “farming as a service” (FaaS) model. This model is based on a series of small robots, each with different capabilities and a different role to play in the system. One collects accurate and up-to-date crop information at individual plant level. Another analyses this data and gives instructions to a further two robots, based on advice from leading agronomists and the UK Government’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
A third robot fertilises the crop and controls weeds, either through a micro-spray of chemicals, burning or crushing. A fourth robot has a robotic drill to plant seeds and records where the seeds have been planted. Under this system, attention is given to plants on a targeted basis. This system reduces chemical waste and environmental pollution from untargeted spraying and reduces soil compaction resulting from traditional large, heavy machinery, improving plant growth and therefore yield.