The agriculture industry has been going through a gradual transformation in the past 50 years. In recent years, this change has taken a radical turn at the back of new generation technologies. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, analytics, connected sensors, drones, GPS, and robots work at the core of emerging agriculture technologies. The new generation of agricultural technologies allows businesses to be more profitable, efficient, safer, and environmental-friendly.
Agriculture technology (also known as agtech and agritech) has experienced investment major growth. The smart agriculture market is estimated to grow from USD 13.8 billion in 2020 to USD 22.0 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 9.8%.
Table of contents
- Why there is a need for innovation in agriculture and farming?
- What are the new emerging agriculture technologies?
Why there is a need for innovation in agriculture and farming?
- The global population is on track to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Resulting to require 70% increase in calories demand.
- The cost of agriculture production inputs are constantly rising.
- Global water supply is expected to fall 40% short of meeting global water needs by 2030.
- Energy, labor, and nutrient costs are already affecting profit margins across the agriculture industry.
- Need to comply with climate change, ethical and sustainable farming practices, higher standard of animal well-being and reduce chemical and water usage.
- Consumer preferences for transparency and sustainability.
- One in seven people facing starvation on earth.
What are the new emerging agriculture technologies?
Precision agriculture is a method to assess and manage soil. It helps to ensure optimum crop health and productivity. It supports identifying variations with heterogeneous fields to allow farmers to utilize resources and increase yield efficiently. Resources include seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, machinery, etc.
This technology combines real-time data about local weather, soil, crops, ambient air, labor costs, equipment availability to predict guidance around crop rotation, plantation timelines, harvest cycles, and soil management. It is enabled using apps, IoT sensors, drones, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.
Examples of precision agriculture companies:
- CIBO: Founded by Flagship Pioneering. It provides software that enables the simulation of any agricultural system in the world. You can create virtually any farm field anywhere. The system enables you to gain insights to improve sustainability, reduce waste, improve time to market, and promote optimum land utilization.
- Tata Kisan Kendra (TTK): An initiative by Tata Chemicals Limited (TCL) to introduce and educate farmers in India around precision farming. It focuses on techniques and tools that use remote sensing, satellite imagery, and data analysis to improve yields.
AgDrones (Agricultural Drones)
In recent years, the usage of agricultural drones (also known as Unmanned Ariel Vehicles) is increasing by agronomists, agriengineers, crop insurers, researchers, and farmers.
AgDrones aims to streamline operations through effective decision-making using data analysis, optimize agricultural operations, enhance crop production, and monitor effectiveness.
Agricultural drones help in a variety of uses: mapping, surveying, crop-dusting, spraying, planting, and irrigation.
Examples of agriculture drone companies:
- DJI: One of the leading global brands of various commercial and consumer drones. It is owned by equipment manufacturer Shenzhen DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd. They offer a range of advanced agricultural drones: AGRAS T20 (for insects and weed control), Phantom 4 RTK (for better field mapping), and P4 Multispectral (for crop health inspections). In addition, they provide management solutions for various types of crops.
- senseFly eBee SQ: This agdrone is a popular choice among solution providers. It can cover 500 acres in a single charge and has logged more than 300,000 missions. It comes bundled with an advanced software for flight planning, flight management, ground station support, and image processing.
Vertical Farming is the method of producing food on vertically stacked layers. It aids in maximizing production output in a limited space.
These systems are built-in facilities such as a skyscraper, tunnels, shipping containers, old mine shafts, or repurposed warehouse.
These facilities function through Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) techniques (hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics) to artificially control temperature, light, humidity, pests, and gases.
The purpose of vertical farming are:
- To play a role in meeting future global food production demands
- Allow crops to grow around the year due to a controlled environment
- Use significantly less water
- Allow more organic yields due to low exposure to chemicals and disease-causing agents
Vertical farming examples:
- AeroFarms: Owns and maintains four farming facilities in and around Newark, New Jersey. One of their sustainable vertical farm setups is in an old steel factory. Their system is 75 times more productive than a usual farm of the same size. Their facilities use soil-less systems, 95% less water, and only non-GMO seeds. Their system does not involve pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides use.
- IKEA’s Malmö store: IKEA is growing a variety of greens inside a container-based indoor CEA system. It produces ingredients for salads served in their restaurant. This is initiated in collaboration with Bonbio and Urban Crop Solutions.
Closed Ecological Systems
Closed Ecological Systems are artificial self-sustained ecosystems. In these systems, waste produced by one species is used by one or more species. Carbon dioxide, feces, and urine gets converted into oxygen, food, and water, respectively. These systems also help build life support systems for space travel, space stations, or space habitats.
Their purpose is to help scientists understand:
- How plants grow in various scenarios (on Earth and outside)
- Reduce usage of natural resources (fossil fuels)
- Convert wild ecosystems for human use
There are three types of closed ecological systems:
- Man-made closed ecological systems
- Aquarium and bottle garden ecospheres
Closed Ecological Systems examples:
- Biosphere 2: It is the largest (3.14 acres) closed ecological system ever created. It is located in Arizona, USA. This research facility is created to replicate Earth’s ecosystem. To demonstrate how human life can be maintained in outer space. It features rainforest, ocean with coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, fog desert, anthropogenic biomes, agriculture system, and human habitat.
- MELiSSA: An European Space Agency’s project. This initiative was started in the 1980s. Its plant was inaugurated in Barcelona, Spain in 2009 by the UAB School of Engineering. Its purpose is to build a sustainable life support system on Moon or Mars. And overcome challenges on Earth such as water provision, food production, and waste recycling.
Traditional methods are not sustainable to meet the growing meat demand of the two-third world population in the next 40 years globally.
Cultured meat (also known as in-vitro meat, healthy meat, slaughter-free meat, vat-grown meat, lab-grown meat, cell-based meat, clean meat, cultivated meat, and synthetic meat) is a solution to this problem.
In its production process, muscular cells are harvested from living cows and nurtured to help multiply tissues. It is the same muscle tissue that comes from a cow.
In 2013, Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University introduced a burger patty grown prototype through cell-based research. Since then it has gained global media attention.
Examples of cultured meat companies:
- SuperMeat: A Tel Aviv, Israel startup that creates high-quality chicken meat. It is grown through cellular technology in a sustainable and slaughter-free system. They launched ‘The Chicken’ a laboratory restaurant where anyone can enjoy scientifically cultured meat. They plan to sell cultured poultry products at prices similar to traditional poultry products by 2022.
- Eat Just: A California, USA-based company that focuses on producing plant-based alternatives to normal egg products. In 2020, they received regulatory approval in Singapore for their lab-grown meat. Soon they started selling their meat at a restaurant named ‘1880’ and it became the ‘world’s first commercial sale of cell-cultured meat’.
Floating farms (also known as floating agriculture) are farmlands that follow a method to grow crops in areas flooded for longer periods.
The foundational bed is created with rotten vegetation (like hyacinth plants) that acts as compost. The land being able to float over water makes it suitable for agricultural purposes within waterlogged areas. In this method, cropping and harvesting timelines are shorter as compared to traditional dryland farming.
The low requirement of pesticides helps produce organic food that can fetch premium prices in the market.
Floating farm examples:
The state of Bangladesh
For nine months in a year, three-quarters of farmland in Bangladesh is flooded. This affects more than a million people who are forced to move due to rising water levels.
The floating farm technique (also referred to as hydroponics) helps support the livelihood of local communities. Generally, each block of floating land is 8-10 meters long and a few meters wide. In Bangladesh, this technique is also known as baira, geto, dhap, and bed.
Smart Floating Farms
A commercially viable offshore farming system developed by Javier F. Ponce (Forward Thinking Architecture) and Jakub Dycha.
Smart floating farms feature:
- A rooftop housed with solar panels for renewable energy generation
- A middle level with a hydroponics crop production facility
- A ground floor with an aquaculture system for fish and other species
According to the creators:
- Each farm will produce eight tons of vegetables and 1.7 tons of fish every year
- Achieve breakeven cost of development in 10 years.
- It is a replicable modular model that aims to bring sustainable water-bound farms to densely populated cities like New York, Chicago, Karachi, Shenzhen, and Jakarta.
A system that uses IoT sensors, cloud, and GPS-enabled devices, to help ranchers can track cattle over a large area.
Its benefits include:
- Precise animal identification
- Heat detection to improve conception and insemination
- Disease tracking
- Track head patterns
- Mastitis detection
- Manage rations
- Animal stress levels
- 24×7 monitoring
- Prevent animal theft
- Reduce manual labor
- Waterproof and weatherproof technology
- Cheap implementation cost
- Inactivity detection
- Easy connectivity to cloud
- Help make informed decisions
Examples of cattle tracking companies:
A California, USA-based company that produces low-cost cattle tracking system that includes sensors, gateways, and cloud software.
Collars are placed on cattle, gateways are placed on poles between 5-20 mile intervals depending on the land type. Gateways can be linked to satellites to connect with the internet. A single station can manage millions of messages every day through secure uplink management.
A Tennessee, USA-based company with a research and development center in Islamabad, Pakistan. Their offerings include routers that can track data from sensors within two miles, cow neck collars, monitoring software, and mobile alerts and recommendation system.
Their system provides improved reproduction rates, early disease detection, operational efficiency, better profit margins, stress management, and feed optimization. They have 1,000+ implementations and 12,000+ on their waitlist.
Agricultural robots help improve production efficiency for farmers. Their market share is expected to reach USD 11.5+ billion by 2025. They help automate repetitive tasks that are performed by farmers at a slow pace.
They facilitate higher quality production, reduce production costs, and decrease manual labor. They are used for harvesting, picking, weed control, cloud seeding, seed plantation, monitoring, soil assessment, mowing, pruning, spraying, thinning, phenotyping, sorting, and packaging.
Examples of agricultural robots:
- Ecorobotix: A lightweight solar-powered robot with arms, an advanced camera system, and GPS connectivity. It targets and sprays weeds with precision, resulting in 90% less herbicide usage. It makes the process 30% cheaper than traditional methods.
- Berry 5: Produced by Harvest CROO Robotics LLC, a startup in Florida, USA. Berry 5 is a mature strawberry harvesting robot that holds the leaves, identifies ripe strawberries, picks, and packs. It is faster than manual labor. It picks one plant in eight seconds.
- Scout System: An autonomous set of a drone, station, and software developed by American Robotics. It analyzes the crops to gather data that can be used throughout the production lifecycle. It features pilotless operation, self-charging, self-planning, and data analysis.
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (artificially raising aquatic animals like fish, snails, etc.) and hydroponics (soil-less plant production).
In this process, plants are grown in a systematic bed, and fish are kept in tanks. The water that contains aquatic animal waste is infused into the plant growth bed. This helps utilize natural bacteria to reduce ammonia into nitrites and nitrates. Plants absorb these materials to grow while filtering the wastewater. This clean and oxygenated water is sent back to the tanks and repeats the process.
Its benefits include:
- Low water usage
- All-season food growth
- Low weeds usage
- Faster vegetable growth
- Inexpensive to set up and maintain
- Enhanced food security
Many players are providing a multitude of aquaponics solutions ranging from DIY to industrial scale. Some of the key players globally include AmHydro, EcoPonics, Aquaponic Lynx, Argus Control Systems, BetterGrow Hydro, Colorado Aquaponics, ECF Farmsystems, Endless Food Systems, General Hydroponics, GreenTech Agro, Hydrodynamics International, Hydrofarm, The Urban Farming Company, LivinGreen, Verticulture, Upward Farms, Nelson & Pade Aquaponics, Pegasus Agriculture, PentairAES, Perth Aquaponics, and UrbanFarmers.
Engineered Minichromosomes are small structures within cells that contain very little genetic material but can store a large quantity of information.
Traditional gene modification is a slow process. Minichromosome technology helps add a large number of genes in a much shorter footprint, enabling quick changes. Minichromosome technology does not alter plants genes in any way. This helps in faster regulatory approvals and implementation by the farmers.
These minichromosomes can be transferred quickly from one unit to another. And increase crops’ nutritional value.
By genetically modifying plant genomes we can:
- Meet growing crop demand
- Reduce diseases
- Enable plantation closer together
- Improve crop’s drought-tolerance
- Improve nitrogen usage
Companies involved in the advancement of engineered minichromosome:
- Chromatin and Syngenta Biotechnology collaborated to develop minichromosomes technology for producing corn cotton, soybean, and canola.
- Monsanto, Bayer, and BASF are also involved in advancing this technology.
Harvest Quality Vision (HQV)
An artificial intelligence-based technology that can identify various factors about a harvested produce within seconds. It collects hundreds of data points for each piece of crop or fruit within seconds.
Data points are gathered to determine fruit/crop size as per optimal conditions (with 3 mm of accuracy) and provide insights on storage based on crop conditions.
It helps in enhancing efficiencies in all levels such as production, transport, receiving, storage, packing, marketing, and sales. It alerts if there are any deficiencies from the acceptable standards.
Example of Harvest Quality Vision technology-based company:
Croptracker is a leading farm management software company that specializes in the cloud-based assessment of fruits and vegetables. Their harvest quality vision solution offers instant empirical analysis. They offer an on-demand tablet system and fixed portal installation.
This system was developed by Dragonfly IT, Inc. in 2006 when founder and CEO Matthew Deir was asked by an apple growers’ association to help develop a solution to a major agriculture problem: chemical tracking.
More evolving emerging agriculture technologies
- Bee vectoring
- Laser scarecrows
- Equipment telematics
- Livestock biometrics
- Synthetic biology
- Algae feedstock
That wraps up our list of emerging agriculture technologies. I hope you found it interesting and useful. Did we miss any important ones? Do you have any insights to share? Or suggestions to improve the information above?
Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Explore more emerging technologies with our graphical series – Future Forward.