With world population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and meat diets on the rise, the impact of irrigation on blue water resources (i.e. ground and surface water) will become unstainable—unless we reconsider the current form of irrigation altogether: the average water footprint of a beef calorie is 7 to 8 times higher than it is for vegetables or pulses.
With global population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, meeting the growing demand for food represents one of the main challenges of our time. Considering the mostly negative impact of climate change and increasingly pronounced resource constraints, much will depend on the capacity of the agricultural sector to improve productivity, thus producing more with less. Smart farming might provide some of the answers to this challenge.
Robotics and agricultural engineers at the Harper Adams University (UK) have been using open-source code to programme a fleet of connected autonomous vehicles and implements to carry out a variety of farming tasks—from sowing and fertilizing through weeding and field condition analysis, and beyond to the harvest. The underlying project named “Hands Free Hectare” resulted in the fully automated growing, tending and reaping of 4.5 metric tons of spring barley on a farm near the English village of Edgemont.
Smallholder farming represents a crucial component of the global food production system. Competition from international conglomerates, rural flight, ecological changes and the fragmentation of landholdings leave many smallholder farmers vulnerable. Digitalization can help these smallholder farmers to improve productivity, while at the same time having the potential to bringing social, economic and environmental benefits.
‘Farming 4.0 – moving towards connected & sustainable agriculture in Europe: What can digital technologies & advanced farm machines deliver?’ was the theme of this year’s summit of the European Agricultural Machinery Industry Association (CEMA) that took place in Brussels on 12 October 2017. Among the showcases was the Internet of Food & Farm 2020 (IoF2020) project, which aims to augment the use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the European food and farming chains.
Agriculture 4.0 is a smart farming concept where farm holdings are turned into intelligent webs of connected agricultural equipment, including mobile and non-mobile machinery (e.g. tractors and combine harvesters), and implements (slurry and fertilizers sprayers, ploughs, etc.).
At the global level, about one third or 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption are lost or wasted annually. In industrialized countries, over 40% of this wastage occurs at retail/consumer level. Smart labelling systems, which provide a visual indicator showing to consumers if a product is fresh or spoiled, can help increase food safety while having the potential to significantly lower food wastage.
In smart farming, automation has always been a step ahead of data analytics – GPS-guided tractors or milking robots provide benefits in terms of comfort, time-saving, seeding or harvesting accuracy. When it comes to reaping the benefits of sensor data collection, however, things are more arduous.
ICT-enabled livestock farming technologies have long been on the shelves. Unlike dairy or beef farming, however, uptake in the pig industry, which represents more than half (55%) of the meat produced in the EU, has remained modest.
While high-speed wireless internet is becoming a reality for most, many farmers still grapple with sluggish connections to the world wide web. Although cellular telecommunication networks are relatively easy set up in comparison to physical ones, such as fiber optics, reliable broadband internet access remains lacking in many peripheral regions, making this one of the biggest hurdles in the way of the smart farming revolution.