Precision Agriculture: A Slow March Towards the Future

Precision Agriculture

Despite the decades-old promise of revolutionising farming with precision agriculture, the widespread adoption of its advanced technologies remains sluggish, according to Eric Schmid of Harvest Public Media.

Pablo Sobron, founder of Impossible Sensing, reflects on the transition from using these technologies in Martian soil analysis to enhancing Earth’s agricultural practices. While tractors and planters have evolved to autonomously navigate and optimise seed and fertiliser distribution using GPS, the crucial development of sensors for detailed soil and plant analysis lags behind.

Although promising, new precision tools like Sobron’s laser sensor and geospatial data from drones or satellites will likely take years to be adopted across thousands, let alone millions, of farming acres. The introduction of these tools can help farmers grow more food with less fertiliser and chemical inputs, but the full cost and environmental benefits will only be realised when scaled across millions of acres.

The US government, recognising the potential for reducing excessive fertiliser use that contributes to environmental pollution, is investing in research to refine these technologies. However, farmers like Bill Leigh express caution, emphasising the financial risks associated with rapidly adopting unproven technologies. “Experimentation is a risk,” said Bill Leigh, who farms about 2,200 acres of corn and soybeans with his brother in Marshall County, Illinois.

Since starting in the early 1980s, Leigh has gradually introduced more precision tools to his arsenal of equipment, helping him more efficiently plant seeds and apply fertiliser, herbicides, and fungicides. This cautious approach underscores the broader challenge of aligning technological advancements with practical, profitable farming practices.

Recent trends in precision agriculture highlight the growing importance of satellite technology, IoT, AI, and robotics.

Satellite technology, for instance, allows farmers to analyse large areas in real time, enabling immediate responses to localised issues such as fertilisation and irrigation. IoT devices, equipped with multiple sensors, gather and transmit real-time data on soil temperature, humidity, livestock, and crops, facilitating remote farm monitoring and enhancing decision-making processes.

AI and machine learning further enhance data analysis, improving prediction accuracy and operational efficiency. Additionally, agricultural robots are being developed to assist with tasks such as fruit picking, planting, and weeding, thereby addressing the labour shortage in farming​

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