The paddocks, plains and orchards that make up the landscapes of our agricultural industries are not the sorts of places you’d expect to find agile, modern technology. They’re places shrouded in age-old tradition and folklore, linking us back to times passed. This is, at the very least, the lay-person’s’ perspective.
In reality, it is increasingly common to find cutting edge technology introduced into these agricultural landscapes. Traditional processes are being simplified, streamlined, and transformed into repeatable, capturable data to be managed by software programs. Corners of the sector hope that this technology could revitalise the industry, and bring with it the incentive for innovation.
Old Business, New Technology
When you think about a farm, you’re probably thinking about dirt, cows and food.
Everything that is grown or kept for an agricultural business (if it is to be successful commercially), must be tracked and managed.
This means being able to estimate your output (eg; how much your crops will yield), how much space you will need for this output, and how much labour you will require to maintain this output. Digital software and erp solutions combine multiple functions into one package. This allows agricultural businesses to track work across the business, using multiple platforms so that multiple users can see data at once.
Computers can perform all sorts of otherwise difficult tasks for agricultural business.
In 2016, university students in the US developed a GPS tracking system with integrated soil testing. This pinpointed areas of degraded soil quality, meaning that producers could avoid losing money by not planting valuable crops in those areas.
In contrast, they could also choose to focus on rehabilitating the areas with worse soil quality, with the view to increasing their overall quality and yield. Without this smart technology, a business would have to rely on manual soil testing, which is subject to human error (inability to accurately pinpoint locations, incorrect sample labelling procedures) and takes a great deal of time and resources. Software technology has the ability to passively complete tasks so that agricultural businesses – and farmers – can spend more time doing the things they’re good at.
A Quick Pick
Digital technologies can also help alleviate ongoing labour costs for agricultural businesses. Tech companies and researchers are rapidly developing robotic technology which helps harvest produce. For businesses, this means consistent, year-round work can be completed around-the-clock, for the price of an initial investment. This could also resolve some issues surrounding poorly paid (often undocumented) workers, whose exploitation in the agricultural sector is well-documented.
Automated pickers could also alleviate another perennial problem; the seasonal shortfalls in workers and farmhands. Produce pickers are often low-paid, and work with the seasons, with an abundance of work available in the active growing season. During these peak times, businesses can often struggle to complete the harvest of all their produce, which can lead to spoilage. The implementation of automated picking in these cases would save time, product and money.
The ongoing uptake of digital technologies is gradually revolutionising the way that agricultural businesses conduct their daily operations. The flow-through effects of this are visible in increased connectivity with the supply chain, the market, and with the consumer. Those more-connected agricultural businesses are successful businesses, because they are more aware of the market that they operate in, and they are able to adapt to changes in that market more quickly. There is nothing archaic or quaint about these businesses; they’re modern, and they’re hoping to survive and thrive in the 21st century by adopting and adapting to digital technologies.