Farm production expenses in the U.S. average $109,359 per year per farm
while less than 1 in 4 of the farms produce gross revenues in excess of $50,000.”
–Emmet Cole, Big Ag & Agribotics
The marketplace for these emerging technologies is further forecast by WinterGreen Research to expand the agricultural robot market size from “$817M in 2013 to an anticipated $16.3B by 2020. As the report adds: “‘hefty growth for a nascent market.” Indeed!
Some insight into such an exponential leap in market size is offered by METASCAN. With robotics as the key to new-age farm work, other high-tech allies will collaborate with farm robots to accelerate productivity and to cut deeply into escalating labor costs or farm overhead or the soaring prices for seeds, herbicides and fertilizer.
As WinterGreen Research concludes: “Agricultural robots are but part of an overall trend toward a more automated process for every type of human endeavor. Robots are being used more widely than expected in a variety of sectors, and the trend is likely to continue with robotics becoming as ubiquitous as computer technology over the next 15 years.”
Although the METASCAN report covers a raft of budding technologies in lots of industries, here are five from agriculture that will make an impact on the new world of farming that’s hurtling our way over the next five to six years.
METASCAN appends to most of these overview pieces a timeline as to the steps forward, most of which read: “Scientifically viable in 2015; mainstream in 2018; and financially viable in 2019.”
The prime movers in the agricultural revolution are robots. Because of the demands for increased productivity or lack of sufficient labor or a quest for an easier work life and career, robots are the farm machine of choice.
Farming has the potential to become far more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly on existing farmland, given the prospects for greater automation using AI, robotics and sensors.
Digitally connected robot farmhands, communicating with drones, as well receiving commands from satellites, ground-based sensors, or from farmhouse data centers, tablets or Smartphones, will be the lords of the fields and orchards.
Automated tractors and sprayers could apply water, seeds, pesticides and nutrients in more targeted and timely ways.
This precision could be further enhanced through nano-material-based, slow-release pesticides and insecticides.
“Robotic pickers will continue to emerge and, in time, be able to harvest more types of crops. Automated agriculture could make indoor agriculture more viable in regions where the impact of climate change is degrading arable land, food supply and reliability.”
Farming management based on observing (and responding to) intra-field variations. With satellite imagery and advanced sensors, farmers can optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources at ever larger scales.
Further understanding of crop variability, geolocated weather data and precise sensors should allow improved automated decision-making and complementary planting techniques.
Crop sensors: terrestrial and airborne
Food-related information for monitoring regulations and markets could be enhanced through implanted chips, sensors and bioinformatics. We may be able to trace food production as well as the path of food-borne diseases to a much higher degree.
Markets, consumers and governments could have much more detailed knowledge of where food comes from, who produced it, how, and with what by-products.
Instead of prescribing field fertilization before application, high-resolution crop sensors inform application equipment of correct amounts needed. Optical sensors or drones are able to identify crop health across the field (for example, by using infra-red light).
By 2028, synthetic biology will have the potential to produce different kinds of food, including meat and drinks at lower costs than today. By manipulating genes, brand-new foods can be created with new properties or flavors.
The bio-production industry is expected to reach $100B by 2020 alone. This technology, which uses glass or plastic vats (bioreactors), and needs only sun or sugar, algae and nutrients, can be located anywhere.
LED indoor crop technology
“Light recipes” for indoor crops and any-season-farming technology.
Green Sense Farms (GSF), a Chicago-area commercial grower, has developed one of the largest indoor commercial farms using LED grow lights tailored to their specific crops.
This innovative farming model allows them to harvest 20-25 times a year by using “light recipe” optimized for their produce, using 85 percent less energy. The result will be an increase in crop yields and reduced operating costs while providing consumers with fresh vegetables throughout the year.
The advent of LED technology has enabled the fine tuning of light recipes optimized to the needs of specific crops. Plants’ sensitivity to light is very different from the human eye, so plants use certain wavelengths of light more efficiently and respond in a different way to different sets of wavelengths.
Extreme weather patterns across the globe have devastated crops, creating higher food prices, and as consumers become more conscious of how their food is produced, it is becoming more difficult for farmers to keep up with urban growth. This is driving innovation of new farming technologies that allow plants to grow without sunlight in indoor environments close to or within cities.
This method also eliminates the need for harmful pesticides, fertilizers or preservatives, resulting in produce that is organically grown and virtually chemical free.