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Smart Farming

Why digital adoption is every farmer's next best investment

The ‘digital’ phenomenon within agriculture is improving business outcomes, however, the adoption has varied in momentum throughout the sector. Farmers are mechanics, chemists, biologists and with digitalisation, potentially tech savvy. From cow collars collecting data to drones that can identify and spray weeds, these latest innovations are making noise outside of the sector.

According to William Blair & Co 2013, in the 1950’s the average mid-western farmer fed 15 people. In 1990, they fed 100 and by 2020, the figure will be more than 200. Could digital advancement be the next answer to boosting productivity in agriculture? By 2030, we will be in a ‘perfect storm’ with a predicted population of 8.5 billion. We need to be producing 50 percent more food, 50 percent more energy, and 30 percent more fresh water. One company that thinks AI can help is Microsoft.

Farming is an industry that has variables like no other and farmers only get one chance at making one good investment a year. Taking the guesswork out of farming by integrating precision and digital technology, the threats of disease, drought and market fluctuations become more manageable. The world is getting warmer and the population is rising, can current farming systems meet societal needs without digital adoption? To date, farmers have required machinery, seed, chemical, fertiliser and soil to grow a crop, now growers should see digital as a tool they can’t afford to farm without.


“Digital agronomy tools need to be easy to use, affordable and support interoperability of data between digital tools” – Dr Matthew Smith, Director of Business Development, Microsoft


From satellite to soil to seed to crop, one of the solutions could lie in digital agronomy. Precision farming over-promised in many cases and left farmers feeling a lack of confidence in new trends. There is now tech available to farmers and agri-businesses that are digitally transforming day to day management of farms, not to mention saving money and enabling smarter farming.

Using Normalised Difference Vegetation Index

An example of this is shown below where one farmer used NDVI data and saved one field from major irrigation errors. By using optical imagery to monitor irrigation effectiveness, an error was detected early in the growing season (top left image). Action was taken and three weeks later, the live green vegetation had significantly improved, but there was still a substantial difference in crop area affected (top right image). Due to early identification, the bottom two images display the chlorophyll levels increasing towards the vegetative growth stages of the crop.



Image source: Contour platform from service provider RHIZA


Digital is driving efficiency, and in order to grow with the challenges of farming today, digital adoption is key. These three reasons summarise why farmers should adopt digital innovations on their farm:

  1. Save input costs – farm in a more precise way using variable rate fertiliser and smarter seed planning. Sustainability can be achieved by scouting apps identifying pests, weeds and diseases enabling correct prescriptions to be drawn up.
  2. Increase yields – find out what’s going on above and below the soil. Soil zoning led one farm in Ukraine to a 66.7% sunflower yield increase by focusing on the deficiencies. Get an idea of what your crops may yield or even what growth stage they are at
  3. Have eyes on every hectare of your farm and business - Switch from paper to electronic storage of drilling dates and applications which can help in turn with compliant reporting. Make better data driven decisions and focus on the areas of your farm that need it


Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Start unlocking the value of your Farm’s data today. 


Rachel works for AgSpace, who deliver market-leading digital solutions to agri-businesses, to help their customers make more informed decisions. Visit her blog here.

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