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As the global human population continues to grow towards a predicted high of 11.2 billion by the end of the century – according to United Nations (UN) estimates – specialist internet of things (IoT) analysts at Beecham Research have compiled a report urging the agricultural sector to do more to adopt smart farming technology to ensure sustainable food production can keep pace.
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Beecham’s latest report, entitled Smart farming: The sustainable way to food, highlighted the importance of harnessing new technologies across the value chain, from technology providers and farm equipment suppliers to government policy-makers and producers in the field.
“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Programme has noted that global production of food, feed and fibre will need to increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population,” said report co-author and Beecham chief research officer Saverio Romeo.
“This means that to optimise crop yields and reduce waste, the agriculture and farming industries will need to rely heavily on IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies moving forward.
“GPS services, sensors and big data will all become essential farming tools in the coming years and are clearly set to revolutionise agriculture,” he added.
Beecham uses the umbrella term “precision agriculture” to collectively describe these innovations, many of which are already in use in well-developed farming economies, as previously explored by Computer Weekly.
While agriculture will always face unpredictable challenges, such as day-to-day weather events and longer-term climate change, giving producers more precise insight into their day-to-day work can lead to higher crop yields from the same or smaller resources, and more reliable production enabling better demand management, among other things, said Beecham.
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“Precision agriculture cannot solve all the problems [but] can help farmers control aspects of farming better and optimise results, as well as provide real-time information at a level of granularity not previously possible,” said report co-author Therese Cory.
“This enables better, more accurate decisions to be made and results in less waste and maximum efficiency in operations. This particularly matters in an industry where margins can be tight, and savings of a few percent can amount to a great deal of money and precious resources,” she said.
Beecham said it also saw sensor-based technology and decision support systems coming to play a role in the post-harvest supply chain leading to the consumer, through detecting fraud, dealing with contamination, mitigating spoilage and food waste, and guaranteeing traceability from farm to plate.
“Precision agriculture can help reduce significant losses in farming, solve problems of data collection and monitoring, and reduce the impacts of climate change,” concluded Romeo. “In the long term, 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.”