5 ways technology will change farming in 2019 and beyond
With complicated socio-economic forces at play and a growing global population, the farming industry is under immense pressure to produce even greater yields than ever before. Professor Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, outlines the five trends he believes will shake things up in the future.
1. Robots look set to solve global labour shortages
Labour availability in many developed countries is being affected by a range of socio-economic and political issues. With some 64,000 fruit pickers employed in the UK alone, many farmers are concerned about accessing this labour source following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
And it isn’t just the UK that’s worried: with the US facing similar issues with Trump’s Mexico/US border wall, and farmers in Japan averaging an age of 69, labour shortages are a problem the world over. The answer? Robots that pick fruit and vegetables. They’re already being developed to pick strawberries in the UK and Spain, and apples in the US.
2. Autonomous tractors will be ever-more widely used
The intelligent tractor looks set to transform the agricultural industry. According to a report by Cisco, there’s an estimated $14.4 trillion in value at stake with the IoT, while the global autonomous tractors market size is projected to reach $4,389.8 million by 2025.
Whether or not we see lighter-weight vehicles enter the market, as some predict, is up for debate. To plough soil, a machine needs to be pretty powerful and move fairly quickly, so I’m not sure how a light-weight autonomous vehicle would work. What’s certain is that the tractors of the future will be a lot more intelligent than tractors of today – and artificial intelligence is the technology that will drive this transformational change.
3. Autonomous tractors are here to stay – but autonomous vehicles more generally will be used across the industry
There’s a whole range of applications for autonomous vehicles in farming – they can pick fruit and vegetables, they can replace human pickers’ punnets and trays, they can transport other robots and they can measure the growth rates of crops. They’re a great enabler when it comes to farming and we’ll see them being used more widely in the future.
4. Technological innovation in agriculture isn’t all that new – but demand is definitely growing
Agricultural milking robots have been used in the dairy sector for a while – the technology was invented in the late 1990s. But demand for innovation has definitely ramped up in recent years, particularly given the squeeze on food margins. And with the global food market worth $12 trillion, there really is massive opportunity for manufacturers wanting to innovate and drive productivity. As a result, we’re now seeing big global investments – from private equity firms, banks and governments – around the world.
5. One piece of technology isn’t the answer – it’s all about a joined-up approach
Different technology brings different benefits: autonomous tractors offer accuracy and precision but can be slow-moving, while robots gather huge amounts of data but across a limited geographical area. The future will see these technologies converge, and will see farmers fuse various data sources and state-of-the-art data analytics to grow, monitor and harvest crops at a quicker rate than ever before.