How farming is innovating for the future
Posted on 25 Feb 2023
“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Farming is constantly changing, adapting and creating new opportunities. Farmers from around the world and adopting new technologies to create a sustainable industry tuned for today’s climate and weather. Whereas in previous years, technology focussed on machinery and creating more resilient and higher yield crops, the new technologies focus on the reduction of carbon emissions and new ways of utilizing existing resources.
In response to the growing global water crisis, this innovation reduces the need for fresh water and enables the growth of crops in hot, arid regions, using seawater and solar energy. Countries such as Australia, Colombia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Somaliland are creating ‘cool houses’ by using the evaporation of seawater to humidify and cool the air in enclosed areas, and then using solar energy to distill the seawater for irrigation. The evaporation happens by either using the natural wind in a certain area, or the assistance of fans.
The largest example is Sundrop Farms in Australia, situated at the top of the Spencer Gulf where the sea meets the outback. There is no agriculture in the region owing to the low rainfall and excessive temperatures. It covers 20 hectares and employs 300 people, producing 17,000 tons of tomatoes annually - 15% of the country’s overall production. Utilizing this technique reduces fresh water consumption for a crop ten-fold, as well as creating higher crop yields. The by-product of concentrated seawater is then either processed further to create salt and other minerals, or released back into the sea.
This technique was developed partially in response to the growing lack of water in certain areas, which has the global effect of reducing forestation, and hence CO2 capture.
As with many sustainable innovations in farming, knowledge of the prevailing weather conditions, past, present and future can play an important role in planning production and energy usage. The OpenWeather Solar Radiation API can be used to provide users with current, forecast and historical solar radiation data for any coordinates on the globe.
Electric vehicles are not just found on the public roads and occasional race track, but also in fields around the world. Autonomous and semi-autonomous electric vehicles are now being manufactured that bring a number of benefits:
Filling pesticide sprayer tanks automatically has the effect of protecting the machinery operator from potential long-term health risks.
Electrified vehicles can be made more compact than their fossil-fuel counterparts, coupled with flexible balasting, enabling the farmer to reduce the effects of soil compaction, giving healthier and higher-yield crops.
The environment is protected from both noise and emissions that the traditional large diesel engines produced. Electrification also reduces maintenance costs, and brings higher levels of reliability at critical times in the growing season.
Built-in cameras and software allow autonomous vehicles to work in ‘row crops’, for example applying plant protection products to fruit tree orchards.
In addition to land based equipment, drone technology is being developed to perform a number of tasks that would otherwise not be possible. A small, autonomous drone sprayer can be used to scan weeds from the air, and then automatically target them with a limited amount of spray. This focused spraying reduces both the financial and environmental costs. Larger agricultural drones that are over 9m wide and are powered by 18 rotors are also being manufactured that can be fitted with a number of attachments to provide the farmer with a useful utility vehicle.
Precision agriculture - Forestry
Forestry has been seen to be the last area of agriculture to adopt digital technologies. This area had still used some of the fundamental ideas laid down by Hans Carl von Carlowitz who, over 300 years ago, was one of the first to comprehensively write about a sustainable forestry industry. At the time, as a result of deforestation in Saxony at around 1700, there was a lack of trees to supply the then emerging mining industry. This resulted in a lack of the vital timber needed for pit supports, forcing some mines into bankruptcy, and effecting the general economic prosperity of the region. The ideas of Hans Carl von Carlowitz were revolutionary at the time, though did not bring the nuanced and targeted approach that is now possible.
The forestry industry is introducing a wide range of emerging technologies, such as drones, laser scanning (lidar), and soil sensors. These technologies are creating a new way of thinking about forest management - moving away from the traditional, non-targeted approach to one that can analyze specific elements of a complex forest, and create targeted management plans.
Plantation forestry in areas such as South America, South Africa, and Australasia were the first to start using the precision technique. These forests were in many ways similar to other areas of agriculture, and used monocultures, selectively bred tree species, and a relatively high degree of automation to create what was sometimes called ‘tree farms’.
The technique has brought higher yields, and attracted institutional investors who have noticed the new-found profitability from the sector, and have expanded their portfolios into areas outside North America.
Environmental sustainability has also improved within the sector - with higher profitability levels for managed forests, there is less pressure to develop natural forests, ensuring the survival of countless species who rely on the ecosystem that a forest provides.
OpenWeather provides precision farming solutions:
Our Agro API that leverages the processing of large amounts of satellite and climate data, providing satellite imagery, vegetation indices and weather data as well as analytical reports and crop monitoring. These solutions can also be utilized by other industry sectors such as insurance and banking as they can be used as a farm rating tool.
Agro Dashboard: a visual service that monitors field states over the year. The service operates with satellite imagery and weather data along with advanced machine learning technologies.
Crop Map: provides analytical reports and detailed datasets for crop monitoring that include:
Crop map (soy, corn, wheat, etc.)
Recognised field boundaries
Vegetation indices statistics by each recognised field
Climate data for regions and particular field
Agro Analytics: Reports that can be customized that include overviews of the conditions of the observed crops, distribution on the map of the type of crops and their condition, vegetation statistics, etc. Data can be stratified and aggregated by any criterion, for instance, by crops, by regions, by years.
In our next article, we will investigate some of the innovative technologies and techniques that precision forestry is using, and how understanding the weather plays just as important a role in forestry as in most other forms of agriculture.
OpenWeather, Agriculture and the Weather
The growing need to build an environmentally and financially sustainable farming system is increasingly dependent on having accurate and detailed information about one of the fundamental elements of successful agriculture - the weather. OpenWeather supplies a comprehensive range of products that provide historic, current and forecast weather data, that can be used for a wide range of applications and scenarios.
For example, our Accumulated Parameters product is an API that can be incorporated into a wide variety of applications to give accumulated temperature and accumulated precipitation.
At OpenWeather, we create highly recognisable weather products, aimed at the needs of our customers, that make working with weather data effective and straightforward.
The wide variety of these products work across a multitude of enterprises, and include a vast range of forecasts including minute forecast, observation and historic information for any global location. Our industry-standard, fast, reliable APIs streamline flexible integration with enterprise systems. Our pricing and licensing is transparent.
For more information on how to gain access to our OpenWeather products, please email us.