Sustainable agriculture is fast-becoming a reality with advanced technology and custom software are now available to farmers; transforming farms into truly intelligent, sustainable production environments.

After crop selection and the application of genetic-modification, the third “green revolution” is upon us: smart farming, or innovative farming based on the use of precise, technological tools, from the internet to sensors, geolocators, drones and other robots. In a nutshell, it means using computers and networked technology in the farming industry to reach production goals while supporting sustainable agriculture. Numerous experts maintain that only through the increasingly widespread implementation of smart farming will agriculture be able to successfully respond to the challenges identified by the FAO in 2009. Namely, a 70% increase in food production to feed the global population, which is set to increase by 2.3 billion people by 2050. 

Big data and computers in the fields

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Innovative farming can be seen as an offshoot of mathematics. Day after day, farmers face a series of variables, from climate change to nature of the soil’s composition, which they must analyse to be sure getting the best yields. Given this premise, we can better understand the role which big data and computers have to play in modern, innovative farming. That is: precisely measuring all the variables and processing the data collected, making life simpler for the farmer. This is all intended to make the tasks at hand simpler, improve yields, cut costs and move towards increasingly sustainable agriculture. One of the first examples of smart farming was in 2001, with the introduction of GPS technology on tractors. Transmitting data about the position of the vehicle allowed farmers to cultivate land more uniformly (not passing multiple times over the same point) and save up to 40% of the fuel previously used. 

Even the Internet of Things (which allows objects to be constantly connected to the web and to each other) is proving to be essential to changing the course of agriculture. “Farmers could gather information from (connected) automobiles which pass close to their plots of land and so get a real-time snapshot of the weather there. If it’s raining, the car’s windshield wipers are activated, and if it’s raining really hard, they’re running at full speed. Based on this data, we could programme irrigation”, the researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands suggest.

Today’s hurdles aren’t technological

Information technology is no longer a hurdle to the adoption of smart farming practices. Nevertheless, this new way of understanding and implementing agriculture isn’t as widespread as it could be. While in the United States up 80% of farmers use some sort of “smart” technology, in Europe the percentage is only 24%, according to the statistics issued by the Agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI)

To increase the popularity of smart farming in Europe and encourage farmers to adopt smart technology, Smart-AKISwas created, a thematic network financed by nearly 2 million euros from the Horizon 2020 project from the European Community (EC). “The purpose of the project is to reduce the distance between the fields on one hand and research into, identification of and development of new smart technologies which respond to farmers’ needs on the other”, explained the project’s leaders. To do so, Smart-AKIS allows various professional figures linked to agriculture to create a communication and collaboration network, in addition to a list of “smart” solutions. Other EC financing is testimony to the importance of computers and communication technology in agriculture: 30 million euros have been apportioned to the Internet of Food and Farm 2020 project, created to promote the Internet of Things in the European agricultural context.