Agritech marches forward towards a post pandemic future

Tech tools for farmers can range from software for soil analysis, monitoring and promoting effective plant and crop growth to collecting field maps and processing satellite images of land and crops.

"Developing a more diverse set of crop solutions is essential to the success of growers, consumers, and the well being of the planet," said Adam Litle, CEO of Sound Agriculture.

Sound Agriculture says their plant breeding platform quickly evolves traits in plants/crops to improve the nutrition, taste and sustainability of food without gene modification. The company claims that faster plant breeding can increase our food systems' agility when faced with supply shocks.

According to Jonathan Henry, Managing Director of John Deere, UK and Ireland, the future farmer continues to turn to connected-devices to manage the field.

"Farmers are using telematics and connected machines to anticipate faults in machinery, maintain entire fleets and manage production," said Henry.

John Deere's agritech farm service, Connected Support gives farmers, dealers and operators real-time information about their John Deere machinery operations and performance.

"Farmers might work with a dealer that manages the maintenance of the machinery on their behalf, or a large farming enterprise might operate their support centre," said Henry.

According to Henry, the company implemented social distancing measures and used remote access technology to deliver socially distanced training on new harvest machinery.

"You could deliver live training without being in the operator cab using remote display access," said Henry.

"Timing is everything in farming, so being able to plan and anticipate issues is critical," said Henry. "If you've got one week to sow a specific crop and your planting system breaks down, that has real consequences for yield."

Through the technology, Henry said that they could use data to understand patterns and identify signals that predict faults so farmers can anticipate the issue and fix it before it causes downtime.

"This year saw the biggest spring sowing campaign in the last 20 years in the UK. The extreme weather over the winter meant farmers couldn't get winter crops into the ground," said Henry.

"Bear in mind that 50% of the typical arable farm in the UK would be winter cropping. As such, they had to get an insane volume of planting done in the spring. Lockdown measures coincided with a critical time for farmers. There were huge volumes of machines in the field. Keeping them up and going to complete the task at hand was vital."

The connected revolution during Covid-19

"The pandemic has definitely increased adoption of connected support," said Henry. "Home-based Technicians could easily continue doing remote diagnostics as long as they had an internet connection. Very often, they could diagnose the problem remotely or anticipate an issue using expert alerts so it could be fixed during pre-planned downtime."

Henry says that locating machines, which is not a small task on a farm, was easier so engineers could go straight to the spot in a socially distanced manner.

"Engineers could arrive prepared with the right parts and knowledge about what they were fixing so everything could be accomplished in one trip," said Henry.

For the future of tech in agriculture, Henry believes that farming and agriculture are on a journey from automation to autonomy, but it doesn't stop at an autonomous machine.

"A tractor or a sowing system moving around the field is only part of the puzzle. The next phase is about how, without an experienced operator, you optimise for, and deal with, the possible scenarios that a farmer might have to manage in the field."

"Today, our large agritech machines are, in effect, autonomous. The operator is there to deal with the unknowns like steering around things that the GPS didn't pick up," said Henry. "For example, if a pipe burst during sowing, that requires sensors that identify the situation, automation that will fix it and models that deliver the best practice decision making in that situation."

Henry adds that agriculture has become more advanced than the average consumer of its products realises.

"After healthcare, agriculture is where big data and digital can unlock the greatest amount of economic headroom than any other industry. And that is where tech companies can help farmers."

Source: Forbes