Sensors, Food, Automation and Engineering – Four Drivers of Change

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by Marlene

Agricultural Technology We live in an era of rapid change. Technical innovations are developing at a rate that is either amazing or terrifying, depending on a person’s perspective, and sometimes the changes may seem both amazing and terrifying at the same time. The smartphone, for example, is now a nearly universal concept, but had yet to be invented barely a decade ago.

As technology continues to develop at a mind-bending speed, it is likely that the changes we experience in the coming decades will dwarf changes seen in the past few decades. According to a policy paper published by Policy Horizons Canada, four drivers of change that will affect agricultural industries in the coming years are sensors, food, automation and engineering.

Irrigation Sensors Sensors

The use of sensors has become an increasingly common practice in machinery and manufacturing. Modern motor vehicles, for example, are equipped with dozens of sensors that monitor everything from braking to engine performance to emissions. The value of sensors is that, when properly designed and functioning, they provide reliable and instant feedback to a control system. Sensors help to prevent unintended damage to equipment while also providing an opportunity for increased efficiency.

Agricultural operations may benefit from emerging sensor technology in other ways. Sensors can be used to monitor irrigation to be sure that crops are being efficiently irrigated, but without wasting water, says Farm Industry News. This is particularly important now to producers who are facing water restrictions and drought conditions, but may benefit a growing number of producers in the coming years. Plant sensors that monitor crop temperatures, like those reported on by the Texas Farm Bureau, also help producers decide when a field needs to be watered. These two sensor technologies alone could prove invaluable to agricultural operations that are striving to make more efficient use of scarce and – in places – dwindling water resources.

Stem CellsFood

Developments in synthetic biology may result in new crops that have specific, engineered traits. Possibilities include crops that are resistant to pests, drought or salt. These engineered crops could be especially important for agricultural producers who are facing chronic drought or are otherwise working with land that is not arable.

Science doesn’t stop with crop improvements, though, and research has also been under way for several years to develop in vitro meat. As sci-fi as it may sound, scientists have actually had some success growing animal muscle tissue from stem cells in a laboratory, reports Science in the News, a blog from Harvard University. The technology still requires further refining and development before in vitro meat is commercially available at a supermarket, however, and early indications are that it may also be more expensive than animal meat. As the technology evolves, though, it could quickly become more affordable and simple to create, introducing a new avenue for helping produce meat products.

Automation

Nearly everything is being automated now, from phone systems to self-driving cars. A growing number of automation technologies may also be coming to a farm near you in the near future.

Building on related technologies like sensors and drones, swarm robotics could transform agriculture as dramatically as did the tractor, reports PBS Learning Media. Flying drones may soon be able to efficiently monitor crops and provide real-time information about the health of plants, including an assessment as to whether additional irrigation is needed or whether it is time to apply fertilizer, says Policy Horizons Canada. This analytic data, if integrated with automated sprayers and tractors, could allow agricultural producers to operate more efficiently than at any time in history, perhaps even opening the door to automated harvesting as a viable option for an increasing number of crops.

Vertical FarmingEngineering

Engineering advances also promise to be a driver of change in the coming years. Developments like closed ecological systems, synthetic biology and vertical farming are all likely to have a significant impact on the way we understand food and crop production, reports Horizons.

Closed ecological systems refer to systems that are designed to convert waste material into water, food or oxygen to support other lifeforms within a system. These zero-waste systems are already being experimented with on a limited scale today, but with additional research, the underlying concepts could be scales up to larger operations or lead to implementations to reduce waste.

Synthetic biology is a specialized field that expands on biotechnology to create engineered, biological systems. These synthetic systems may be used to produce food or energy, as well as to improve the environment or human health.

Vertical farming is a concept that expands on the urban agriculture trend that is growing more common today. Vertical farming makes use of vertical structures in cities like skyscrapers to facilitate year-round, indoor crop production. Some of the advantages of this approach include reduced transportation costs, protection from adverse weather, and food security and autonomy for urban communities.

L & M Manufacturing produces and sells a full range of innovative and proven products for our agricultural customers today, and promises to continue to be on the cutting edge of the technologies of tomorrow. Learn more about our products online now and see how our cutting-edge technologies can improve your operation or call us today at 800-676-3747 with any questions or to place an order.