The agriculture sector has been grappling with multiple challenges for a long time. From climate change to weed and pest control, and post harvest issues such as consumer demand to packaging, it’s been a very rough ride for the sector. But finally it appears that there could be a solution in sight for most of these issues – in the name of big data.
Big data is already revolutionizing the medicine and engineering industries and has completely changed retail. It increasingly looks like the next stop could be our farms.
There’s some evidence to suggest this. For instance, sensors on fields are already being used to collect granular data points on soil conditions, fertilizer requirements, pest infestations, and water availability among other factors. We’ve also seen more and more GPS units on combines, tractors, and trucks that are being used to determine optimum use of heavy equipment on farms. And more recently, venture capitalists have been spending millions of dollars on agriculture focused data analytics companies. Just a few months ago, several well-known investors dropped $40 million into the Farmers Business network, an agricultural data analytics startup.
The Farmers Business Network is expected to use the money to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles or drones to patrol fields and collect data on crop ripeness and potential problems. They will also be investing in RFID technology that would allow them to collect a constant stream of data as a product moves through the value chain, from the farm to the recycle bin. Through RFID, individual plants can be monitored for growth rate and nutrient content. And at its best, the technology can also help farmers even out cash flow and hedge against losses.
It’s just the beginning though. Currently, the market for these precision farming tools (such as yield monitoring, crop scouting, field mapping, and weather forecasting software) is still very small. But that market is expected to grow 14% in the U.S.A. by 2022. Once these technologies are fully adopted, researchers believe that we could witness an increase in farm productivity never seen since mechanization.
On the consumer end, things will be even much better. Package sensors will be used that automatically detect gases when food starts to go bad. Algorithms will also be formulated to provide you with recipes for whatever you have in the pantry, meaning that very little food, if any, will go to waste.