We won't spend too much time belaboring some obvious points when it comes to feeding future Earth. Basically, we're pretty well screwed. Estimates from just a few years ago said we would need to increase agricultural production by 70 percent to feed nine billion people. A more recent estimate says we can expect closer to 10 billion mouths to feed by mid-century. You do the math (mainly because our MBAs flunked their pre-algebra classes).
These Indian subsistence farmers know just what to do: Pull out their smartphones and take their picture. The farmers then upload the images with GPS locations to a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) app named Plantix. The app identifies the crop type in the image and spits out a diagnosis of a disease, pest or nutrient deficiency. Plantix also aids farmers by recommending targeted biological or chemical treatments for ailing plants, reducing the volume of agrochemicals in groundwater and waterways that can result from overuse or incorrect application of herbicides and pesticides.
Deere & Co has announced that is acquiring the maker of LettuceBot, Blue River Technology, to increase its machine learning capabilities across farm equipment. Deere said it is paying $305 million to acquire the Sunnyvale, California-based agtech company, which uses computer vision, robotics, and machine learning for agricultural spraying and weeding equipment, such as its lettuce farming robot. The LettuceBot, which is towed by a human-driven tractor, is able to identify plants in need of fertiliser, pesticides, or other "inputs" used to manage crops, and take action. Blue River said that LettuceBot covers 10 percent of the United States lettuce crop, with the machine capable of handling 1 million plants per hour. The agtech company claims results are a 5 to 10 percent increase in yield, as well as up to 90 percent reduction in the amount of chemicals used on farms.
The Victorian government has announced a AU$15 million investment to enhance agricultural technology (agtech) for the state's farmers. A trial will begin in regions surrounding Maffra, Birchip, Serpentine, and Tatura from July 1, during which Internet of Things (IoT) networks will be installed for farmer and public access, the state government said. The funding will also be used for on-farm robotics, wireless technology, biotechnology adoption, and virtual fencing. Hundreds of farms will have sensors and devices installed to monitor and control farm operations. Data will then be uploaded through nodes, gateways, and servers for analysis which will allow farmers to view the results in real time.
Data is shaping almost every area of our lives. There are now hundreds of companies offering everything from farm management and precision tools to bots and drones. Some tractors have computing power that would have turned Nasa's moon-landing mission green with envy. What started in farm equipment is moving into the field – at least in the developed world. More and more data is available as farmers use sensors for soil sampling and mobile apps, cameras and drones to monitor pests and diseases.