Conventional agriculture is facing a major challenge: to provide enough food for ourselves and our livestock well into the future, agriculture must become more efficient. Intensification is not the only solution to this dilemma. There is not much more new land left on earth for further agricultural development: in total, FAO experts calculate merely four percent additional acreage. Furthermore, agricultural machinery cannot become infinitely larger, and even seed and crop protection can only heighten yields up to a certain degree. In order to further increase the efficiency of conventional agriculture and also ensure the optimal productivity of soils in the long-term, we must use our resources more intelligently. This applies to the precious natural assets, such as water and soil, but also to things such as fertilizers or crop protection.
The networked farm is one remedy that will help us achieve this. The concept is derived from the idea of the Internet of Things: the consumer market is currently talking a lot about Home Automation, and there are already apps that allow us to remotely control our homes’ lighting, heating or window shutters. In this sense, agriculture has already developed even further. For quite some time, GPS has made it possible to have self-controlled farm machines rolling over the fields. At the same time, these machines generate yield maps or maps that represent the varying plant health in a plot. All of this already exists, and it is often grouped under the term Precision Farming. Generally speaking, we can assume that the decisions which farmers have to make in their daily operations become easier and better as a measure of how much of this precision data they have at their disposal.
The resulting advantages are numerous: today’s farmers are, for example, able to combine special seeds with integrated plant protection measures to achieve better harvests. Cross-linking the information to conclude which seed thrives best with which plant-protection product and in which specific soil and climate – this is smarter agriculture or Smart Farming. So the next step is to combine current and historical weather data with satellite-based biomass and chlorophyll measurements as well as yield data. When added to special breed characteristics, the result can be an optimally customized crop management plan. This integrated approach is so much better than the currently existing stand-alone solutions: we call it Decision Farming. And many experts believe that it will revolutionize agriculture even further.
Stakeholders should work together in a solution oriented fashion to provide an information platform that the farmer can adapt to his needs.
One aspect will be of particular importance: the goal of this development is not to relinquish the farmer. On the contrary, we must always look at things from his perspective, and we may not deny the knowledge that is often passed down from one generation to the next. Nonetheless, it will be of great support if the farmer can obtain decision-making aids that are tailored specifically to him or herself. The farmer can then fulfill this role more responsibly than ever because there is a database to back decisions. And anyone who has the will to improve processes will benefit from these systems.
Another important question to address is how we want to organize these services. The fact is, an increasing amount of data is being generated: the farm equipment, the satellite, the weather station – all of these items generate data that should be automatically integrated into the networked farm. The question is, how can we prepare this enormous amount of data in a way that it is of use to us? This is the task of the service providers.
Connecting Technologies and Services
Only the automated processing of data, and their combination and interpretation, opens up their full benefits. Today, there are many platform solutions available that support the idea of hosting and combining the varying data sources in order to create a deeper understanding of what happens on the field. However, what we experience is a general lack of pre-processed content at the disposal of the farmers, so that they can easily analyze and just begin working with it.
Furthermore, the industry focused more on creating an enormous amount of platforms, aiming to attract farmers with their various digital farming solutions. But currently, farmers who are already using available technology in precision farming complain that it feels like they ought to use a dozen stand-alone solutions in parallel because providers weren’t able to integrate the solutions to increase usability. A lot of farmers seem to be aware of this phenomenon, and they are therefore reluctant to embrace the new technologies that were actually developed to help them make better decisions for their businesses. Instead, data maintenance and updating often make digital farming become too inefficient for farmers. Therefore, I urge the stakeholders to invest more into connecting technologies and services, so that farmers can truly benefit from digitized agriculture.
a certain degree of transparency is needed to explain to farmers what
is going to happen with their data. In this context, I also would like
to encourage farmers to proactively inquire about how a potential
provider manages data security before they entrust their farm data to
this service. Furthermore, farmers should keep in mind that only
cloud-based systems are able to handle the sheer amount of data that is
available and to easily secure their personal farm data from loss due to
hardware failure. At least in the European market and in North America,
the trust of farmers is vital today, as it is with users and customers
No matter how we approach these developments, our industry should not overly invest itself in competitiveness. We should not block other services off but rather focus on openness and interoperability; the ultimate goal is to offer farmers as many options as possible, so that they can continue to feed the world and help ensure food security well into the future. The realization of the networked farm is a big challenge, but by working hand in hand, it will also be a huge accomplishment.
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After earning a degree in geography, young entrepreneur Clemens Delatrée worked as a crop analyst with a remote sensing company and, subsequently, in corporate consultancy. He is a co-founder and CEO of the digital agriservice provider "green spin". This startup specializes in the evaluation and consolidation of global satellite, weather and other spatial data. The company characterizes agricultural sites based on their yield potential and provides this information to a wide customer base, ranging from farmers to industrial companies.