Spray drones, the science of sustainability and the digital agriculture market are some of the hot topics in precision agriculture.
⋅ BY AMANDA HUBER ⋅
You open an app and snap a picture of a weed. The app helps you identify the weed and recommends control measures. Your phone beeps and a message pops up telling you the center pivot in field three has finished it’s route. By then, your spray drone has finished its current pass and is redocking — time to refill the tank and change the battery so it can spray the next map section. At one time, these things sounded futuristic, but this day is here.
What has become possibly the most valuable commodity in these technological advances is all of the data being produced by farmers every day.
The Digital Agriculture Market
Brenda Ortiz, Alabama Cooperative Extension System precision agriculture specialist, says the global digital agriculture marketplace is projected to reach $22 billion by 2026.
“What’s driving digital agriculture market growth are advancements and innovations in technology, affordability, connectivity and access, availability and changes in government policies,” she says. “North America is the largest and most mature market in relation to digital agriculture, followed by Europe with Asia-Pacific projected to be the fastest-growing market.”
What has changed is who and how data is produced. Ortiz says in the past, it was Extension agents and university researchers who collected and produced agricultural data and provided it to farmers in a one-way interaction.
“How is agriculture done today? We are all producing and using data,” she says. “We all share the data in real time. Farmers can set up their own tests on the farm because you have the equipment and capability of collecting and analyzing the data now.
“In this system, everyone is generating data and collecting and exchanging data. This phenomenon is growing exponentially.”
Make Adjustments In Real Time
Ortiz says with the amount of technology now on farming equipment, tractors are being used not only to implement practices in real time, but also to collect data and analyze the quality of the operation.
“A lot of times, we just look at yield, but we also need to look at quality. Technology allows you to collect and adjust what you are doing in real time, which is important,” she says.
“Yield monitors, variable-rate controllers and GPS all complement each other. If you have a variable-rate controller and a yield map created from yield monitors, you can create a prescription map for the variable-rate application of seed, nutrients or water during the upcoming season.
“Based on those maps, or other data layers like drone images, farmers can change the rate of an input across a field. This reduces overuse of resources on areas that perhaps don’t need them and increases resources on other parts of the field where the yield potential is higher,” Ortiz says.
Consumer Demand For Sustainability
There are a lot of things facing those of us in agriculture that we will need to use technology to help solve, Ortiz says. “Consumers are demanding sustainable practices at the farm level and at the processing plants. This is something that can’t wait five years to learn about and implement,” she says. “And it is not possible to solve these big challenges individually.”
That’s why groups like Field-to-Market: The Alliance For Sustainable Agriculture, which is a consortium of organizations, is working on some of the most urgent challenges facing our industry by forging collaborations and translating science into action, Ortiz says.
“We must work together in partnership with organizations such as the Peanut Sustainability Initiative and the U.S. Cotton Protocol to show the many ways farmers are better utilizing resources and being good stewards of the land they farm.”
To support these efforts to share data, Ortiz says companies are working to streamline data collection needed to document, track and trace management and sustainability efforts. An example is John Deere’s Fieldprint Platform.
Streamlining Collection And Communication
“The combination of the Fieldprint Platform’s sustainability metrics with John Deere’s precision technology platform will equip farmers with a powerful tool for measuring and advancing their stewardship and impact,” says Brandon Hunnicutt, chairman of Field to Market’s board of directors.
Although it may be consumers’ demands to know how their food is grown driving this data collection, everyone involved may be able to use the data for different purposes.
“Farmers know the data collected through technology on their farming equipment is providing them with more knowledge that leads to overall efficiency and sustainability,” Ortiz says. It may also drive Extension and university research efforts, equipment improvements and future technological advances. That’s an example of the interconnectedness of today’s digital agriculture markets.
Ag Drone Market
Another area exploding in growth is the use of drones, not only to monitor crops but also to implement management within the season.
Ortiz says the growth of this market can be attributed to the availability of software solutions to aid field survey and data analysis and increase in venture funding for the development of drones.
“The ag drone market is expected to grow 36% by 2025, producing more than 425,000 units by then,” she says.
Because of his interest in working with drones, Alabama Cooperative Extension System weed specialist Steve Li has become one of the foremost experts in the Southeast in drone usage.
“Drones have the potential to make a positive impact on the environment through targeted input applications, reduction of environmental impact and reduced waste,” Li says.
“When it comes to row-crop farming, growers have to deal with a lot of in-field variations,” he says. “Those variations mean that yield is usually not equal across the field. Growers have a few good sections, as well as some troublesome areas.”
Use Drones To Monitor And Manage The Crop
Li says new drone technologies will enable producers to pinpoint not-so-productive areas and also divert the expensive inputs to be able to use fertilizer and seeds more precisely.
“Spray drones make it easy for growers with small acreage, slopes or challenging field shapes to make field applications without taking a boom sprayer in the field or contracting a crop duster,” Li says.
Ortiz says the high adoption rate for drones and aerial data collection tools in agriculture is because of exemptions in operations by the U.S. Federal Aviation Association.
“Worldwide, the global agricultural drone market is expected to reach $5.7 billion by 2025, growing at a rate of 36% during the forecast period,” she says.
For the foreseeable future in agriculture, expect the digital agriculture market, the collection and use of sustainability data and the usage of drones for monitoring and managing agricultural crops to increase in importance and value. PG