The farm isn’t traditionally the first place you think of when discussing modern technology. Typically associated with mechanical equipment, animals, and manual labour, this is a far cry from Silicon Valley! But, we’ve been doing some digging and discovered some fantastic applications of technology. And no, we’re not talking about playing Farmville on your iPad! We spoke to real farmers who are implementing telematics, GPS, and biotechnology across their land.
These farmers are using mobile technology to monitor crops and manage yields. It’s helping farmers produce more crops, improve efficiency, and improve profits. This is no longer a manual labour economy, it’s a highly technical sector. With that in mind, today we’re highlighting some of the coolest pieces of technology used on modern farms. They are real life examples in place around the world. Let’s take a deeper look.
Self-driving tractors – We’ve all seen the mainstream coverage surrounding self-driving cars. Even Google are jumping on the bandwagon and building autonomous vehicles. There is plenty of debate among all corners about the practicality, and indeed necessity, of these inventions. Meanwhile, on the farm, self-driving tractors have been in operation for years. Granted, there are fewer obstacles and less traffic to deal with. Still, the technology is developing at a rapid rate. These tractors react to the ground beneath them and sense restrictive boundaries.
Telematics – Again, farm vehicles appear well ahead of the motoring industry. Electronic diagnostics and telematics are now used regularly on modern farm equipment. A quick look on http://farm.autotrader.co.uk shows plenty of used equipment with this technology on board. The telematics here are allowing farmers to monitor and control their equipment more effectively. The vehicles and equipment can immediately detect problems and relay information to the farmers. More impressively, they can ‘talk’ to other pieces of equipment and share information.
GPS collars – GPS is used extensively on farms in many different capacities. One such application is to track livestock. By fitting a GPS collar to cattle and sheep, farmers can monitor the movements of their animals. It means the livestock are free to roam large areas of land, safe in the knowledge that they can be located. farmers can keep track of wandering or escaped animals, making the herding process much easier.
Smartphone irrigation – Farmers are taking advantage of tablets and smartphones in an interesting and novel way. By using dedicated farming apps, they can monitor and control the irrigation on their land. It means that they can reduce wasted water and electricity. Sensors monitor the moisture levels in the ground and track predicted rainfall. All of this information is tracked to their smartphones where levels are adjusted with a click of a button.
Crop sensors – Crop sensors are far from a large-scale rollout. In fact, farmers are just beginning to experiment with the technology. It has proven very useful on a select few trial farms and could see a bigger application in years to come. Essentially, farmers use small monitoring equipment to test the healthy growth of crops. It will suggest the exact amount of fertiliser needed for each strain. Again, it will allow farmers to reduce wasted fertiliser which has hazardous effects on the environment.
Precise documentation and data – To keep track of crops on their land, farmers use a yield map. It is a detailed account of where and when crops yield best. It details the best conditions, records how much is produced, and many other supporting factors. Technology is making this process much easier. Apps and software allow farmers to input this information and form a digital yield map that constantly updates itself. It is precise, accurate, and helps farmers improve productivity. In the future, this will update itself in real time as crop sensors become more common.
Biotech and genetic engineering – GM crops are – by far – the most controversial farm topic. While some are staunchly against the idea of ‘playing God’ with crops, there’s no doubt about the benefits. Higher yields, better taste, and better productivity are all a result of genetic engineering. The most common form of genetic engineering is rearing crops that are herbicide and insect resistant. Currently, farmers are experimenting with drought resistant technology. It will dramatically increase yields in harsh, dry environments.
Ultrasound for meat quality – Ultrasounds have long been associated with pregnancy. They are even used on farms to monitor pregnant cows and sheep. However, you may not know that the same machines are used to assess meat quality. By using an ultrasound scanner, farmers can detect the lean meat from the dense meat. Using this information, the farmer can improve his quality of meat, and indeed the entire herd.
Farm apps – We already touched upon the irrigation apps used by farmers. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of apps exist to help farmers with their administration, productivity, and output. They can use apps to track and monitor their grain storage and distribution. There are apps dedicated to agricultural news and market tips. Farmers use these on a daily basis to monitor prices and make crucial adaptations to their land. Administration apps help them keep their books in order and taxes in check without an expensive accountant service too. All-in-all, apps are changing and improving the way farmers work every day.
Cameras – Cameras aren’t a new technology, but according to farmers, they have suddenly been embraced in a big way. The rise in CCTV installation is astonishing. A mixture of cheaper prices and higher crime rates have forced farmers to take action. It’s also a good way to keep an eye on the animals while you’re back in the house. Yet, it’s not just security and monitoring. Farmers are also attaching live camera feeds to their vehicles and equipment. Attaching a camera to the back of a combine harvester or tractor gives them a safer driving experience.
The farm is an unlikely place to look for new technology, but there’s a surprising array of forward thinking ideas here. Agriculture is a giant industry, and one that is firmly moving forward.