and other key factors at the 2,500-acre Crafton Farms in Portland, TN.
Technology is changing the world, and farming is catching up. The introduction of everything from automated farm equipment to a wide array of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that measure soil moisture and drones that keep track of crops have changed the business of agriculture. Some experts even call this movement "Agriculture 4.0"--a term used by the World Government Summit.
A digital farm is more efficient and sustainable than its counterparts of the past. On a smart, digital farm, crops are likely grown using precision agriculture, tractors might be self-driving, the harvest could be determined by digital imagery of the fields, and the farmer is typically working with an agronomist to provide technology know-how.
Some of the places leading the revolution include:
- At Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, the Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE) is constantly assessing better ways to farm to increase yields and improve efficiency, with sensors collecting 1.4 petabytes of data daily.
- Land O'Lakes is sending out technology specialists from its subsidiary, WinField United, to show co-ops such as Crafton Farms in Tennessee better ways of farming.
- Indoor farms such as Plenty in San Francisco and Jones Food in Europe are farming on vertical racks in massive indoor facilities that significantly reduce the carbon footprint needed to grow food.
Feeding 9 billion people
With more than 9 billion people predicted to populate the planet by 2050, finding better and smarter ways to grow food is essential.
Patrick Smoker, department head and senior director of IT for the colleges of Agriculture, Information Technology and Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University, said, "Our bottom line really is to feed the world. To do that, to feed an estimated nine billion people by 2050, we have to significantly increase our productivity in terms of food generation."
At Purdue, that means finding solutions that increase productivity for farmers.
"Like in many other vertical markets, technology plays a big role," Smoker said. "These technologies, if you think about if you're measuring any observable trait of a plant, we call that phenomics, how do you do that? You do it with sensors of all types. You do it with everything from handheld devices that measure the color in a plant to UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that fly over and take LIDAR and hyperspectral images because those spectrums of color provide information."
The role of big data in farming
At Purdue, on a 1,408-acre research farm, IoT sensors assess what the plants are revealing by their molecular responses and how it impacts growth and color.
"Our job is to understand what every input, whether that's water, fertilization, the soil types, etc., whatever input there is, we need to know what its impact has on the plant, both in terms of nutritional value because we've got to increase the nutritional value of the same amount of biomass than we have now if we're gonna feed the world," Smoker said.
He added, "If you put all that together in two specific areas, there's the farm management side, which uses technology to help farmers make informed decisions and management decisions in terms of producing high yields with low input, all the way to research, which means you're collecting, analyzing, visualizing, modeling, and all the compute that has to be behind that.
"We're talking about big data, connected to everything, just like our consumer market. Our refrigerators, our light bulbs, etc., are all connected today, and the same is true for farm implements and even the plants themselves will one day be connected in some way in terms of embedded sensors or telling their story through imagery or any other one of a thousand different phenomic observations. That's the whole of what we're trying to do, and the technology plays many roles in that," Smoker said.
One of the first things Purdue had to do was install Wi-Fi connectivity across the 1,408 acres of fields in order to collect the data. So Purdue worked with Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to understand the challenges and figure out how to engineer a solution at that scale.
But it was necessary to have the Wi-Fi in place for vehicles with sensors, such as ACRE's PhenoRover. "We're working on that being autonomous, but right now it's a manned vehicle and you're collecting all that data, and if we want to send that real time to compute resources, as an example, you gotta have connectivity to do that," Smoker explained.
"And so imagine a machine running over rows and taking in all that data and then pushing it somewhere, the compute happens automatically, creates us a stream of data and it goes through all its algorithms, its data transformation and at the end, the researcher has visualized data or modeled data waiting for them...so it's really about timeliness of data
By Teena Maddox on December 12, 2018