With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there is a monumental crisis brewing. Frankly, if agricultural businesses don’t start investing in more sustainable practices, there simply won’t be enough food for all of us in 30 years. To maintain food security, the sector needs to stop thinking with its stomach and start thinking with its head and intelligent agronomy, coupled with some major technological advancements, could be the key in that regard.
What is intelligent agronomy?
In laymen terms, agronomy simply refers to the study of crops and soil, with agronomists working to devise new methods to improve how soil is used to grow food and fibre crops specifically. Agronomy research generally centres around things such as soil fertility and crop rotation, but intelligent agronomy, as the name suggests, looks towards using more advanced means to create greater sustainability.
In Australia, the agricultural sector is estimated to be worth $100 billion by 2030 and that is primarily because the government have invested so much into what they are referring to the sector’s “sustainable growth.” Those ambitious plans, however, have been hampered by drought and growers have been forced to devise new sustainable agricultural solutions to keep that growth on track.
Protected cropping – This refers to crops being grown indoors in a controlled environment. The protected crying industry alone is thought to be worth $1.8 billion a year, with systems that use automated methods to remove labour costs and dramatically increase ROI as a result.
Hydroponics – Whilst the name itself might sound complicated, hydroponics simply means using materials other than soil to grow crops, instead, relying on minerals and nutrients to do all of the heavy lifting. These sustainable systems typically use far less water than conventional farming practices, which will prove particularly important if the drought the country is currently experiencing continues to linger.
Autonomous farmers – It might have once been thought of as the stuff of science fiction, but robotic drones and devices have already been developed and trialled for agricultural purposes. From mechanical weeding machines to drones scanning fields for improved farm management and even automatic harvesters.
AI – Artificial intelligence is the one major technological advance that many farmers are afraid of, as they fear it will eventually render them irrelevant. For now, however, it is simply an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to do everything from measure ph levels to differentiate between plant-based diseases and apply solutions accordingly.
Many of these technologically advanced solutions are years away from being ‘mainstream’, of course, but thanks to affordable online tech outlets such as RS Components, there are many avenues to explore when it comes to preparing yourself for the inevitable disruption.
The ecological footprint
Perhaps the greatest shade cast at the agricultural sector in recent years has been based around the negative impact it has on the environment. Intelligent agronomy significantly reduces the impact of farming on the environment by either reducing or better-utilisingfertilisers and pesticides. The practices also mean fewer greenhouse gases being emitted.
Most importantly though, it’s the implementation of smart sensor networks that will really change the game, as they will allow farming spaces to be continually monitored and run that much more efficiently. Farmers will be updated constantly on the state of their crops and what their crops need at any given time so materials will never be wasted.
The bottom line
It’s not only the environment that will benefit from intelligent agronomy but profits too. Australia’s farmers earned the country $44.8 billion in 2017 in exports alone, so it’s already a major industry, but with greater efficiency, come greater rewards.
Whilst the technology required will mean a large initial investment, there will be fewer resources being used and less risk when it comes to knowing when and where to plant and maintain crops. There are challenges to overcome, of course, with the high cost of adoption and the questions about ‘who owns the data’ among them, but overall, smart farming (specifically intelligent agronomy) represents an incredible opportunity for Australian farmers.