Using Digital Solutions to Improve Farm Efficiency

The rapid growth in the global population has significantly increased pressure on the agriculture sector. It has been projected that the world’s population will reach approximately 9.7 billion by 2050. Climatic change, increases in labor, and raw material costs have also substantially impacted the production in the agricultural field.

Image Credit: KoSSSmoSSS/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: KoSSSmoSSS/Shutterstock.com

In recent years, digital applications have paved the way in agriculture. “Digital Farming” includes any platform or application that processes data provided by crop advisors or growers and supports agronomic decision-making.

Farming With and Without Digitalization

To improve agricultural yields, farmers make decisions regarding the use of fertilizers based on rough measurements, experience, and recommendations. Once the decision is made and applied, the results can only be found during harvest. A digitalized agricultural system gathers varied data from different sources, including weather information, and processes them to provide optimal solutions.

Digital solutions could be implemented with greater accuracy through advanced technologies, such as robotics, and farmers can assess the impact of their decisions in real time. This farming system makes agriculture more productive, stable, and optimizes resource use. Furthermore, this system provides a platform to share information across all organizations to explore new opportunities. Digitalization enables closer collaborations and improved communication between producers, distributors, and retailers. 

How Digitalization Improves Farm Efficiency

Technologies such as sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI), communication networks, Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS), robotics, and several advanced machines are used in digital farming. It also applies the principles of the Internet of Things (IoT). Each of these technologies brings something valuable to the farming industry. For instance, they support data collection, management, and processing and provide guidance and recommendations for better farming. 

Digitalization also creates a divide between farms with access to cutting-edge technologies and those without access. To prevent such divisions, industry leaders, policymakers, and technology providers must work with both large-scale and small-scale stakeholders and provide adequate training, resources, and facilities to bridge the gap. 

By implementing this vision, the European agricultural sector has promoted digitalization and improved the sustainability and profitability of farming businesses. Digitalization has also helped address the issues related to climate change and food security. 

The key ways how digital solutions improve farm output are addressed below:

Farm Efficiency

The inefficient agricultural supply chain leads to the wastage of massive amounts of food products worldwide. Automation in farming can significantly decrease food wastage labor costs, and accelerate operational speed. Smart farming bots and autonomous vehicles can be used for efficient harvesting. Autonomous seeding and weeding vehicles use AI technology for the optimal use of pesticides in agricultural fields. 

The linking of the IoT-enabled soil and weather sensors with irrigation systems, such as Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI), helps determine the atmospheric condition and assess the amount of water required by a plant for its maximum growth. This system reduces water usage without affecting plant growth.

IoT has also been used for efficient livestock management. Here, IoT-enabled sensors are used to monitor humidity and temperature levels at farms, and this information is used to maintain the health of the livestock. Furthermore, infrared devices are used to scan livestock feeds, and their nutrition content can be directly viewed on smartphones. 

Recently, drones have gained much attention for field monitoring. One of the key advantages of drones is that they are a substantially cheaper alternative to aerial helicopter analysis of farms. Drones can perform efficient monitoring and analytics and provide information regarding the soil conditions and field damage to the farmer. Compared to traditional methods, drone usage has enabled optimal decision-making at a reduced cost.

Implementation of digital technology in a business requires much more than just purchasing expensive software and machinery. Workers must be provided with adequate training to achieve the maximum benefits of digitalization.

Farm Resilience

The unpredictable and volatile temperature changes significantly affect agriculture production and the supply chain. For instance, access to years of harvest data in the cloud enables optimal future decision-making. Cloud applications are used in farm management systems to share important data across the value chain.

Big data analytics can process vast amounts of data related to changes in weather, consumer demand, and inventory levels to balance supply and demand in the agricultural supply chain. E-commerce platforms have bridged the gap between farmers and the retail market. Since these digital platforms keep farmers abreast with pricing information, they can efficiently control the supply chain.

Several studies have pointed out that the agriculture sector is one of the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Digital technologies are used to improve sustainability across the agricultural supply chain. IoT-enabled sensors can accurately monitor GHG levels in cattle farms and implement necessary precautionary measures.

Farming Transparency

Unaltered information regarding carbon emissions and ethical practices that are accessible across the supply chain promotes trust and business transparency. Blockchain technology has immensely contributed to the agriculture sector in improving sustainability.

Agricultural Digitalization in Europe

Digitalization of the agricultural sector has potentially revolutionized the industry. It has promoted sustainability and efficiency. The combination of IoT real-time data along with geospatial data enabled farmers to practice precision farming. This has ultimately resulted in higher yield, profitability, reduced food wastage, and optimal use of natural resources.

Digitalization has helped the European agricultural sector to stay competitive in the global market by providing innovative solutions and generating new business opportunities. However, there is a need to develop a common data-sharing platform that can be accessed by varied stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

In the European agricultural sector, Cloud, AI, Edge, and IoT technologies have gained significant momentum. However, certain challenges exist in implementing these technologies, including data privacy, the need for reliable connectivity, ownership concerns, and the high cost of adopting these technologies.

Sources

  • The Digitalization of the European Agricultural Sector. (2023) [Online] Available at: digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/digitalisation-agriculture
  • Digital Agriculture. (2023) [Online] Available at: http://breakthrough.unglobalcompact.org/disruptive-technologies/digital-agriculture/
  • Javaid, S. (2022) 3 ways digital transformation improves agriculture. [Online] Available at: https://research.aimultiple.com/digital-transformation-in-agriculture/
  • Javaid, M. et al. (2022) Enhancing smart farming through the applications of Agriculture 4.0 technologies. International Journal of Intelligent Networks, 3, pp.150-164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijin.2022.09.004
  • Subramanian, A. (2021) Harnessing digital technology to improve agricultural productivity? PLOS ONE, 16(6), e0253377. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253377
  • Goedde, L. et al. (2021) How digital tools can help transform African agri-food systems. [Online] Available at:  https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/agriculture/our-insights/how-digital-tools-can-help-transform-african-agri-food-systems

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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