Agriculture has existed for countless years and evolved throughout the ages, so it should come as no surprise that many of today’s farmers are looking to new forms of tech and AI to help them grow crops. Currently, the agriculture industry is worth roughly an estimated £4 trillion, but with limited access to water and quality land becoming an issue, coupled with an ever-increasing population, farmers need to think outside the box about how they wish to improve their methods. It’s hoped that new tech can assist with creating healthy crops, keep pests at bay, track soil conditions, and simply reduce a heavy workload.
Precision agriculture through the use of AI
Precision agriculture is one of the latest farming buzzwords to appear in recent years, which is all about harnessing AI to assist with several different factors, including:
- Weather conditions and temperatures
- How much water is being used
- Soil conditions
- The best areas to plant new crops
- Detecting diseases or pests that can affect plants
- Targeting weeds and applying the correct herbicides
There are other ways in which AI is helping the agriculture industry and farmers to be more efficient, specifically with the use of new, updated farm vehicles. The LEXION combine harvester from CLAAS, for instance, uses an AI operating system called Cemos Automatic to assist with choosing the best settings according to field conditions and load weight when harvesting. It can also automatically perform tasks for threshing, cleaning, and separation. Many of CLAAS’ new farming vehicles are integrated with touchscreen displays and highly advanced database management systems.
Drones are taking to the sky
As we’ve discussed, the use of unmanned aerial drones is now becoming commonplace in many farms. Farmers, like Colin Raynor, own 700 acres of land and have discovered that drones are simply the best and quickest way to spot weeds and pests in the crops before it’s too late to act. Some drones are even fitted with a tank and spraying system in order to drop pesticides in hard-to-reach spots. UK laws surrounding drones are complicated, especially since they were used to disrupt planes taking off at Gatwick airport in December 2018. Raynor believes drones would save hundreds of hours of manual labour and spot problems better than a human.
Upcoming innovations aimed to help UK farmers
Due to a £22 million government grant in the UK, farmers have a lot of fascinating, new projects to be excited about. The aims are to lower pollution, cut down on waste, and find ways to produce more food in an economical and sustainable manner. Although it won’t be an easy challenge, considering it’s been estimated that 60% more food will be required around the world by 2050, many of these funded projects are key to establishing a better agricultural future.
“This is a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy, investing in ground-breaking projects, creating highly skilled jobs and providing a cleaner, greener future for generations to come,” said science minister Chris Skidmore. “Agri-tech can help us address the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry, such as eradicating crop pests and diseases for arable farmers without harming the wider environment. In 2018 we saw the total value of agri-tech investment worldwide skyrocket to $17 billion (£13.6 billion) – an increase of 40% on the previous year,” added farming minister Robert Goodwill.
Some of the innovations helped by the funding include:
- Rootwave – will use electricity to kill weeds, instead of potentially damaging crops via chemicals
- Tuberscan – will create an underground scanning system and radar tech to monitor when potato crops are perfect to harvest. This aims to reduce food waste by not picking underripe or overripe potatoes
- aiScope – will aim to permanently destroy a common cereal weed called Blackgrass, which currently costs farmers up to £580 million every year