February 15, 2018 Sustainable Farming Written by Megan Ray Nichols
Precision agriculture
Farming has a reputation for being a simple life

in which you can live off the land and escape from the trappings of modern society. While that is true in some cases, for many farmers, the job is anything but simple. Profit margins are often slim, and environmental issues constantly present new challenges.

On a larger scale, the planet’s population continues to grow, and the threat of climate change looms ever larger. As this happens, the world’s farmers will become even more important than they are now. How can farmers meet the many challenges they face?

Increasingly, as in so many other factors, they’re turning to technology. The advanced technology can help farmers increase their productivity and profits, and support them in using more sustainable farming practices, too.

Increased crop yield

To make money, a farm, of course, needs to produce crops. That doesn’t always come easily, as inclement weather, pests and other issues continuously threaten crop yields. Farmers are now using sensors, imaging technology and data analysis to keep a closer eye on the welfare of their fields in a practice known as precision agriculture.

Farmers can place sensors all over the farms. Sensors in the soil can detect moisture and nitrogen levels. Drones can use cameras to look for damage from pests, and sensors in the water can detect contaminant levels in ponds and irrigation systems.

All this data goes into an app, and the farmer can use it to figure out exactly how much water to give crops, what nutrients to add to the soil, where to look for pests and when to dredge ponds to remove pollutants and non-degradable material.

Decreased resource use

Precision agriculture takes much of the guesswork out of farming. The precise measurements data analysis provides can help farm workers from overusing resources, which saves them money. Using less water, fertilizer and other resources is also a plus for the environment.

Technology can help farm workers use their most valuable resource more efficiently — time. Historical and current data can help them predict rain patterns, so they know when to spend time watering and when to focus on other things. Robotics can also take care of repetitive tasks, freeing up more time to either work on the business or improve work-life balance.

For example, in 2016, New Holland introduced a self-driving tractor. It allows farmers to pre-program GPS routes and features four cameras so you can monitor progress, as well as sensors that provide information about fuel levels, seeding rates and more.

Improved indoor farming

Indoor farming is often energy-intensive and expensive, making it neither environmentally friendly nor lucrative. Advances in indoor growing technologies are now helping farmers grow a wider variety of crops, grow crops no matter the climate and weather and use their space more efficiently.

LEDs, for instance, have recently provided an alternative to energy-hungry full-spectrum fluorescent lights. With the right combination of LEDs, farmers can grow indoor crops faster than they ever could before. They can also program smart lights to turn on and off to achieve optimal amounts of light and dark. Indoor farming also has the potential to allow farmers to reduce water use.

Extra income

Some farmers have also begun cashing in on a different kind of farming. As the renewable energy industry booms, developers are paying farmers top dollar to install solar panels and wind turbines on their land. Other farmers are selling crops such as corn and switchgrass, as well as organic waste, as biofuel.

You don’t have to sell biofuel or lease out your land, though, to take advantage of the recent technological advances in renewable energy. Farms have been using wind power for years, and with the improved efficiency and affordability of wind and other clean energy resources, farmers can now get even more out of them.

As with seemingly every other sector of the economy, technology is beginning to play a more prominent role in agriculture. Those who take advantage of this green technology now will likely see their profits and yields increase, and their environmental footprint shrink.


This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
nicholsheadshotMegan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys discussing scientific discoveries and exploring the world around her. Follow her on twitter @nicholsrmegan.