We are on the verge of the next farming revolution. Arguably the last analogue industry, farming is at last set to go digital. Robotics, artificial intelligence, drones, autonomous vehicles and blockchain: these are all elements of the ecosystem which will make up the Digital Farm.
There will be a period of co-existence and transition. However, ultimately we are looking at exponential – and radical – change. The Digital Transformation of Agriculture. The first definitive steps are underway. We are finally seeing this technology moving from field trial to field. It will be commercialised within three to five years and fields farmed by robots will be entirely normal within ten.
So, what will this digital future look like, how will it change the way a farm operates, and how will this journey map out?
The journey will start with robotics and automation. Small Robot Company is taking a no-till approach with its robots which will see tremendous environmental benefits. And it will also have a big impact on profit: even small farms will be viable. According to a profitability model for no-till robotics, as verified by Andersons farming consultants, profitability will rise by up to 40%.
But automation is only the very start. The real objective is digitisation. Robotics and automation will turn our fields, our crops and our soil into digital products. They will become ones and zeros; and coupled with artificial intelligence, we will be able to analyse and take action on this basis. This will enable huge amounts of data to be analysed and understood, and for each plant to be cared for individually.
Simply put, it’s about permaculture at scale. Farming is going to change forever. The challenge for farmers today is to adopt an open mind-set, so that they take the right decisions to embrace the future.
Photo caption: Harry digital planting robot recently won a prestigious Horizontal Innovation™ Award from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) to develop the prototype technology. Harry will accurately place seed individually in the ground at a uniform depth to within 2cm accuracy, creating a plant level map showing the location of each seed. By punch-planting rather than ploughing, Harry will also radically reduce soil run off and associated water pollution. With a three metre boom, Harry has an ‘arachnid’ design, enabling it to fold up compactly for transport by transit van.