The next wave of innovation in precision agriculture, which involves technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, drones, and other robots, has an increasing emphasis on crop protection.">

Cultivating the future: How technology is transforming crop protection

20:17 PM | November 27, 2019 | Alan Bullion, Agribusiness Intelligence

Precision agriculture dates back to the mid-1990s and has since morphed into big data and now digital farming, although these terms are often used interchangeably, delegates were informed at the Agribusiness Intelligence Crop Science Forum & Awards 2019. The next wave of innovation in precision agriculture, which involves technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, drones, and other robots, has an increasing emphasis on crop protection.

Precision agriculture is a strategy that gathers, processes, and analyses temporal, spatial, and individual data and combines them with other information to support management decisions for improved resource-use efficiency, productivity, quality, profitability, and sustainability of agricultural production.

In the US, surveys show the rapid uptake of a wide variety of precision agriculture services. In Europe, potential savings in pesticide use of up to 80% are being emphasized as a key benefit from adopting precision agriculture. 

Transformation in agriculture is not new, said John Rauber, head of Washington affairs at John Deere explained. In the past, too often technology was seen as an add-on, but now it is essential, he explained. “Historically, our story has focused on bigger, faster, stronger equipment. Today, our customers need that and more, day in and day out, year in and year out, throughout the farming cycle. The business of farming presents complex decisions and variables. From water and soil to weather and pests, from money and staffing to markets and planning, our customers have specific outcomes in mind,” Rauber said.

This increased complexity means providing a greater range of dynamic farming tools and solutions. “Drawing on our deep understanding of growers’ operations and our enduring commitment to innovation, we use technology to make farming easier, smarter, and more precise,” he added. “Growers count on technologies like Global Positioning Systems [GPS], which provides repeatable sub-inch accuracy across the farming cycle. Real-time data to know what’s happening and make sound, timely decisions. Communication technologies that connect team members, customers, vendors, advisors, and machines. And sensors that help monitor machines, jobs, weather, field conditions, and agronomics.”

And there are significant cost-saving benefits to the farmer as well. “Technologies like these bring value. For example, US research shows that data-driven decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting can increase corn farm profitability by $5 to $100 per acre, and a recent six-month pilot study found precision agriculture improved overall crop productivity by 15%.”

One major drawback though in the field can be poor-quality broadband provision. “Fast, reliable connectivity is critical. Coverage in key agricultural areas is poor, while streaming data is becoming more critical,” Rauber concluded. 

But it is not just North America and Brazil that is adopting digital farming techniques. In China, for example, XAG is deploying its smart agriculture solutions, company vice-president and co-founder Justin Gong told the Forum.

“We are now servicing almost 6.4 million farmers across 21 million hectares of Chinese farmland,” he said. The solutions deployed by XAG include field mapping, drones, robotics, and intelligent spraying systems specifically designed to help minimize the impact of crop protection inputs on farm. 

By reducing inputs, improving resource management, minimizing land impacts, and lowering costs, precision ag technologies are now increasingly delivering on the promise of sustainability for the farmer.

For further information, please see our Agrow Special Report on Digital Farming and Robotics: