In the last 10 years, the world’s population has increased in size by 1.7 billion, bringing the total to 7.7 billion people. By 2050, it’s projected to be closer to 17.7 billion. For some perspective, in 1800, the population was just 1 billion.
Of course, humans are consumers and the more people on the planet, the higher the demand is for resources, in particular food. Historically, the human race has been largely self-sustainable but hunter-gatherer societies eventually gave way to the agricultural revolution.
This revolution – propelled by technologies like the horse-drawn seed press – increased crop production and farming efficiency. The increase was unprecedented and allowed populations to far exceed earlier peaks.
Now, hundreds of years later, with the world population continuing to grow, environmental instability peaking, and global hunger up from years past, humans have to find new solutions to sustainability. Just as technology led the way during the agricultural revolution, technology is leading the way today…although the innovations are slightly more advanced than horse-drawn carriages.
Robotics and Machines
Robots aren’t new to the agricultural scene. In fact, back in 2017, Hands Free Hectare completed its first fully autonomous harvest, resulting in 5 tonnes of barley. Two years later and with another successful harvest in the books, the farm has expanded to cover 35-hectares.
Hands Free Hectare isn’t the only agricultural operation using machines. In fact, according to a recent report by ING, the number of robots in the European food industry is currently well over 30,000 and the number of robots per 10,000 employees rose from 62 in 2013 to 84 in 2017.
So, what are these robots doing? Everything from weeding and shooting seeds to spraying crops and monitoring plants’ health. As you might imagine, this shift from man to machine is based on efficiency.
Because robots and other machinery rely on sophisticated and complex systems, with controls and connecting automation cables, they’re simply more reliable. They repeat the same action time and again – they can even make ‘decisions’ as to whether it meets the criteria it’s programmed to recognised. Not only that, they tend to gather pace more quickly, ensure affordability and reliability, and – lucky for us humans – are helping eliminate safety issues from the more dangerous jobs in the food industry.
No matter how advanced our society gets, we can’t change the principles of farming. With that being said, one of the pillars of farming is precision. For a fruitful harvest, dozens of individual variables have to be taken into account. These include (but certainly aren’t limited to) weather conditions, the soil, pests, and diseases.
Around the world, these variables quite literally determine the profitability of a harvest. Insects could destroy months of work, as could an unexpected draught. But, with sensors and data processing, farmers can now get information about the weather, the soil, pests, and diseases in real-time, allowing them to react immediately.
Perhaps the best application of these sensors is with irrigation.
Startups like Weenat are ahead of the curve, having already installed over 3,000 sensors around the world, allowing farmers to better manage their water usage, prevent health and climate risks, and make any necessary adjustments to the crops from sowing through to harvesting.
Like all other technology being developed for use in the agricultural industry, the goal is to increase production to feed more people more food around the world. While it’s impossible to predict what effect this technology will have, there’s no doubt that the applications of robots, machines, and sensors will continue to evolve and that innovations will continue to change how we look at food production.