How Innovations in Agtech Can Help Reduce Food Insecurity and Avoid Potential Distribution Issues
As the planet’s population grows, it will become more difficult to ensure that everyone has all the food they need to survive. Food insecurity is something that affects more than 38 million Americans every year.
The concept of farming may be as old as the modern human race, but new advances in agricultural tech are changing the way we approach it. How are new advances in agtech working to reduce food insecurity and avoid problems with food distribution?
The Push Toward Precision Agriculture
Agriculture has changed a lot in the last couple of centuries. We’ve upgraded from hand tools and livestock-drawn equipment to power tools and diesel-powered machinery, but there are still many variables that farmers can modify and control in order to ensure they make the most of their fields and improve their harvest yields. That is where precision agriculture comes in.
Precision agriculture uses new technologies as tools to increase both yields and profitability while reducing the number of more traditional tools — water, fertilizer, herbicides, etc. — that are necessary to achieve the same goals. This can come in a variety of forms:
- Drones that are capable of monitoring plant health, soil nutrition, moisture levels, and more. Many can complete these tasks autonomously, allowing farmers to shift their focus toward other tasks.
- Autonomous farming equipment that can plant, maintain, and harvest crops without the need for human operators.
- Laser leveling can help farmers apply irrigation more efficiently, preventing runoff and water waste.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but merely an example of the kind of impact that precision agriculture can have on the industry as a whole. Higher yields mean less food insecurity and more availability for people who may not otherwise have access to healthy food.
The Rise of Crop Treatment Drones
Drones are becoming such an important part of the agricultural experience that it’s worth mentioning them twice. Using these devices for crop treatment can help combat food insecurity in several ways.
“They’re a force multiplier,” said Arthur Erikson, CEO and co-founder of Hylio, a tech startup that specializes in crop-spraying drones. “Many countries around the world are suffering from farm labor shortages, which are only expected to worsen. Thanks to the autonomy of UAS (unmanned aerial systems), one operator can command many drones.”
These drones can also help prevent waste on the farm. “They’re more resource-efficient,” said Erikson. “Due to global supply chain issues — some linked to the pandemic, some not — crucial crop treatment chemicals are becoming harder to source and more expensive.” Farmers who may already be struggling to keep their heads above water are being forced to find ways to stretch what resources they have. “Using the drones, farmers can identify and then treat specific areas with issues instead of spraying the entire field with chemical products.”
Crop treatment drones are also more logistically flexible and are cheaper than other options. “Many agricultural areas in the world, especially in developing nations, are difficult to access and service with traditional, cumbersome machinery. Nimble drones are able to enter and treat fields that are on graded terrain or that are riddled with obstacles,” said Erikson.
According to Erikson, farmers looking for ways to reduce their equipment expenditures should also consider these drones. “Whereas a tractor would cost $300,000+, a fleet of three crop-spraying drones that can rival the production of that tractor can be bought for less than $100,000.”
Incorporating Blockchain in Agriculture
Blockchain is something that is usually associated with cryptocurrency, but at its core, it’s a secure system for record-keeping that can be updated in real-time. Data is recorded, permanently, once it is entered into the database. In addition to being useful for mining cryptocurrency, this sort of indelible record can be a valuable tool for things like food traceability and procurement. On average, companies have 42.79 procurement employees for every $1 billion spent.
The procurement sector of the agriculture industry collects massive amounts of data every single day. Blockchain gives these systems a solid foundation and makes it easier to turn those massive data stores into actionable information and projections.
Improving Agricultural Sustainability
Sustainability is a hot-button issue for most industries, but reducing waste and shrinking the agriculture industry’s carbon footprint can also help improve food security. Many armchair environmentalists may look down on the use of pesticides and other chemicals in farming. Still, as Erikson put it, “crop treatment chemicals are a tool just like anything else: When used properly, they are hugely beneficial to farmers and have little to no negative impact on the surrounding environment.
“The problem with these crop treatment chemicals is when producers apply them incorrectly — either knowingly or not — often in dosages that are too large. Overdosing can lead to a number of problems, including drift, damage to surrounding water sources and chemical-resistant weeds.”
This is where tools like drones can come in handy. “By using precision crop-spraying drones, the farmer can reduce chemical usage by 75% in many instances. Also, usage of automated drones and digitized farm data takes most of the user error out of the system, so the risk of accidental overdosing is significantly mitigated.”
The Agricultural Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is a broad umbrella term for a growing collection of networked devices designed to collect information, carry out tasks, and help make life easier. In an agricultural setting, IoT sensors are valuable for soil monitoring, keeping an eye on plant health, and even monitoring for pests or other problems that could negatively impact the crop and its yield.
As a bonus, these new technologies give farmers access to the information from these sensors and devices remotely, monitoring the fields and the crops within without worrying about having to make the trip out to each sensor or device to collect the data. When it comes to monitoring crops, this sort of advanced information can make it easier for farmers to address problems as they occur before they have a chance to damage the crops.
AI and Farming
This is just a sampling of the innovations in the agtech industry. With a growing population and the problem of food scarcity looming, farmers need all the help they can get.
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