Increasing Agricultural Productivity with New Technology
One of the world's oldest businesses must embrace a digital, connectivity-driven revolution to combat rising demand and several disruptive pressures.
FREMONT, CA: Agriculture has experienced a sea change in 50 years. Farm equipment has increased in size, speed, and productivity due to technological advancements, allowing for more efficient cultivation of more land. Additionally, seed, irrigation, and fertilizers have increased significantly, assisting farmers in rising yields. Agriculture is now in the midst of another revolution powered by data and connection. Artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, linked sensors, and other developing technologies have the potential to significantly raise yields, optimize water and other input efficiencies, and promote sustainability and resilience in crop production and animal husbandry.
Agriculture must adopt a digital transformation enabled by connectivity to confront challenges that threaten to destabilize the business further. Nonetheless, agriculture remains less digitalized than a large number of other industries internationally. Historically, advances were primarily mechanical, manifesting themselves in more powerful and efficient machinery, and genetic, manifesting themselves in more productive seed and fertilizers. To achieve the next productivity jump, significantly more advanced digital tools are required to achieve the next productivity jump. Some already exist to assist farmers in using resources more efficiently and sustainably, while others are in development. These new technologies can improve decision-making by enabling more effective risk and variability management, optimizing yields, and improving economics. When used in animal husbandry, they can enhance cattle welfare, answering growing concerns about animal welfare.
In recent years, many farmers have begun to examine data on critical elements such as soil, crops, livestock, and weather. However, few have had access to modern digital technologies that could transform this data into valuable insights. Almost all farmwork in less developed countries is manual, requiring little or no technology or equipment.
Even in the United States, a connectivity pioneer, only about a quarter of farms use connected equipment or devices to access data. That technology isn't exactly cutting-edge, running on legacy 2G or 3G networks that telcos are planning to phase out or on extremely low-band IoT networks that are complicated and expensive to set up. In either scenario, those networks can only support a limited number of devices and lack the performance required to unleash the value of more advanced and complex use cases.
Nonetheless, current IoT technologies operating on 3G and 4G cellular networks are frequently sufficient to support more straightforward use cases such as improved agricultural and livestock monitoring. However, because hardware costs were high in the past, the business case for integrating IoT in agriculture did not hold up. Today, device and hardware costs are fast declinings, and multiple vendors already provide solutions at a price point that anticipate a return on investment within the first year.
However, these simpler technologies are insufficient to access the total potential value of connectivity for agriculture. To accomplish this, the sector must fully leverage digital applications and analytics, which demand low latency, high bandwidth, high resilience, and support for a high density of devices, which advanced and frontier connectivity technologies such as LPWAN, 5G, and LEO satellites provide.
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