Farming is entering a new era of technological change to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Central to these challenges is the need to secure future food and water provisions for a rapidly growing global population - estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. It is a challenge that must also address the associated issues of climate change and environmental protection.
These challenges will in part be met in this new era of progression through the application of revolutionary developments in information technology, innovative engineering practices and a defining integration of disciplines.
Precision Farming takes developments in engineering and associated technological innovation and opens up new dimensions of support and intervention, not only in the established disciplines of arable and livestock farming, but also in the emergent areas of urban and integrated farming. Geospatial technological developments facilitated by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), robotics, communications, sensory and other data acquisition technologies, coupled with the emergent concept of the Internet of Things (IoT), are representative of these technologies. Growth in urbanisation and the need for innovation and new enterprise to meet the challenges of food provision is also stimulating increasing attention to new technologies and engineering solutions.
Emphasis on increasing efficiency, productivity and innovative approaches to future food security needs, coupled with appropriate attention to environmental needs and pressures for reducing carbon footprint, are clearly adding to this new era of farming challenges. ‘Smart’, in the context of smart integrated farming, is a term that is now being applied to these evolving technological drivers.
However, ‘smart’ is not only about technology, it is also about smarter ways of doings things, improving processes and business activities based upon profound understanding of the constituent processes and connected systems. It is not only about big businesses, it is a platform that can assist businesses large and small. At a time of recession and with severe demands upon farmers to secure food supplies, assure quality, welfare, meet health and safety requirements and accommodate needs for environmental protect, energy conservation and carbon footprint, any developments that can assist the farmer should be entirely welcome.
When viewed in the context of other smart developments of the Internet-supported world, Precision Farming is now being seen as a vision for the future of farming that can accommodate both the needs and the challenges they present. It is a vision in which precision in processes assumes more significant dimensions and agriculture technologies and engineering practices are more effectively translated from research into practical exploitation to support the sustainability of primary production and supply chain functionality. It is also one in which on-farm data, information and knowledge is allowed to flow easily through the service, production and supply (SPS) chain to provide greater opportunities for optimisation and economic benefit. This is coupled with more effective animal welfare and wellbeing, and the facility for greater wealth-creation through technological integration along with more effective use of the existing Internet and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT).
The Food for Thought feature will address on a regular basis topical issues, developments and ideas directly concerning, or associated with, Precision Farming, and with a view to raising awareness and provoking thoughts on the future of farming.
The first of these 'Food for Thought' features concerns The Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) report 'Agricultural Engineering – a key discipline enabling agriculture to deliver global food security'. Although published earlier this year its recommendations are important, still current and likely to remain so for some time. If you have not already read the report and considered its recommendations then you could start by spending a little time considering the 'Food for Thought' introduction.