In farming, it has long been said that the only certainty is uncertainty. Any one of a number of variables can spell the difference between a successful and profitable growing season and a disaster.
These variables include the weather, commodity market values, and shifting government agricultural support policies. All of these are subject to change — and in highly unpredictable ways.
Furthermore, even when all of the above align perfectly to make for a bountiful growing season, other negative agents can step in when least expected. Examples of the latter are a sudden infestation of insects, such as when a plague of locusts suddenly ate large portions of the grains crops of East Africa last year. In addition to bugs, plant diseases like rust, smut, root rot or blight can appear suddenly and destroy production.
Farmers have been enduring these risks for thousands of years, but today technology is giving food growers an edge against once inevitable forces like no other time in history.
For example, weather prediction has been refined to a fine art by meteorologists. Growers can take advantage of that with special weather apps designed for farmers that help them get in synch with weather trends. Thus, the chances of being ruined by weather events are significantly mitigated.
Perhaps of even greater value are four key technologies: IoT (Internet of Things), big data, cloud computing and analytics. How do these development benefit agriculture?
First, IoT is leveraged to enable data collection. This is accomplished by using sensors placed in farm equipment to get real-time data on all aspects of the operation. IoT-enabled sensors also collect data directly from field sites to gather information on soil conditions and plant health.
Second, with this data in hand, the analysis process — assisted by AI and machine learning — can provide invaluable insights about where greater efficiencies can be found and where disastrous problems can be headed off before they happen.
Third, patterns and insights enable farmers to incorporate innovative methods and strategies to bolster production. This means making the best advantage of soil qualities, and actions such as reducing fertilizer where it is less needed and increasing it where it is more needed.
Reducing unpredictability via technology translates to more successful growing seasons and an overall reduction in global food insecurity.