By Naume Guveya
Forrest Gump, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blind Side, Slumdog Millionaire. What do all these movies have in common? They feature characters who overcome adversity to come out on top.
So maybe you are not Jamal Malik from the slums of Mumbai or Christopher Gardner, but as a farmer, you know that today’s farming landscape poses a lot of challenges that could break your business – from demanding physical environments that affect crop quality and yield to inefficient systems. Ensuring profitability and your operation’s sustainability is no easy feat.
Enter precision agriculture. This type of agriculture allows farmers to increase their operational efficiencies and land productivity. But what exactly is precision agriculture and how does it fit into the future of global food security?
What is precision agriculture?
Precision agriculture is a farm management approach that is based on identifying and managing variability in the fields, whether it’s related to growing crops or raising livestock. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the precision agriculture concept is to think of it as the various bits that make farming more controlled and accurate.
A key element of precision agriculture is the use of data to fine-tune farm operations, allowing farmers to potentially increase their operational efficiency, yields and profitability.
Precision agriculture relies on harnessing the power of information technology as well as other components such as software, automated hardware, robotics, sensors, drones (UAV tech), GPS-based soil sampling, control systems, and telematics.
Precision agriculture and food security
1.9 billion people are moderately or severely food insecure – that’s about 24% of the world population. But that’s not all, world hunger and food insecurity spiked during the pandemic, according to a UN report. In 2020, over 2.3 billion people suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity, indicating the growing need to address the food insecurity issue promptly.
While there are several possible solutions to increasing food security, improving existing agricultural practices and infrastructure remain two of the key ways to tackle the issue. This is where precision agriculture comes in; it can optimize agricultural processes, consequently playing a significant role in tackling world hunger and improving food security. Here’s how.
Reducing crop loss
Worldwide, between 26-40% of crop yield is lost to diseases, pests and weeds, yes weeds. Even more worrying is the fact that the threat of diseases and pests is increasing due to climate fluctuations. Without the use of good protection practices, crop losses could easily double.
To top it all, around 14% of all the world’s food is lost before it even reaches the market. Annual global food loss is valued at a whopping $400 billion. For some context, this is close to Israel’s GDP which currently stands at $402 billion.
All this food loss directly impacts people’s nutrition and food security, therefore, it follows that reduction of food loss along the supply chain is essential for reducing food insecurity.
Precision agriculture can help address food loss.
The Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) determined that uncontrolled weeds cost $43 billion in lost soybean and corn crops each year, and that is just in the U.S. and Canada. However, precision agriculture tech such as drones and AI-driven weeding robots enable farmers to:
- Increase the precision of chemical application
- Get alerts as soon as invasive weeds appear among crops
- Collect data for analysis to improve weed prevention
More applications of drone technology
Drones are one of the most common types of precision agriculture technologies. They have a lot of applications that allow farmers to monitor crops, detect problems and avoid losses, thus boosting food security.
Among their many applications, drones help farmers to monitor crops and soil conditions. Take drought-prone areas for instance. Drones equipped with thermal sensors can detect areas that require more moisture, enabling farmers to target specific parts of their fields before the lack of moisture threatens the crop.
This not only reduces water wastage – think of all the water that would have gone into watering parts of the field that don’t require any additional water – but the likelihood of crop loss as well.
The bottom line – precision agriculture helps to reduce food loss, and with it, food insecurity.
Unemployment, low income and poverty are some of the causes of food insecurity. By reducing crop production costs, precision agriculture can improve access to food for low-income families. Drones, machine learning modeling, AI robots, and integrated data analysis are all making it possible for farmers to cut their operational costs.
For example, AI sensors can detect weeds and spray them with precision. The accuracy of spraying drastically reduces the number of herbicides used in the field thus improving crop quality and bringing in some significant cost savings.
Blue River Technology’s See & Spray™ machine, which uses machine learning technology and vision processing, is a good example of how big the cost savings can be. The equipment’s precision technology is aiming to eliminate 80-90% of herbicide usage, cutting herbicide expenditure by the same amount. That’s some serious cost efficiency especially if you consider that growers in the U.S. alone spend approximately $6.6 billion on herbicides each year.
Furthermore, a study has shown that integrating AI into farming operations has decreased farming expenses by 30% in several countries.
Since precision farming has the potential to increase farm productivity and efficiency while reducing costs, it can drive food prices down and make it easier for disadvantaged families to increase their food security. Precision agriculture also promotes sustainability. This can contribute to long-term food production stability and stable food prices, both of which play a part in increasing food security.
Improved supply chain management
Studies have shown that supply chains affect food access and security. As such, it makes sense that good supply chains can improve food security.
In addition to closing the supply-demand disconnect and maintaining the stability of food supply, robust supply chain management can sustain food availability and improve people’s access to sufficient food.
As it happens, precision farming is connected to supply chain management. High-tech sensors, for instance, allow for the tracking of food from production, processing, storage, and all the way to the point of consumption. Precision agriculture technology informs the supply chain at all these points, helping to ensure that food is made available to people.
On a global scale, precision agriculture technologies make it easier for farmers to respond to evolving market conditions. There’s a lot of significance in this because the very same market conditions have a direct effect on both national and international policies related to food security.
Whether it’s optimizing resource use, minimizing crop losses, allowing for better and faster decision-making, or using data to forecast farming processes accurately, precision farming technologies are playing a big role in increasing food security and promoting sustainability.
The technologies require some investment, but their benefits undoubtedly outweigh the cost. What’s more, it will be exciting to see how advances in the technologies continue to shape both large- and small-scale farming as well as the fight against global hunger and food insecurity.
Do you think that precision agriculture has what it takes to address the big problem that is food insecurity? Share your thoughts!