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article imageDigital transformation of farming the Swiss way

By Tim Sandle     Aug 29, 2017 in Environment
Farming is undergoing a steady digital transformation. One country where cutting edge agricultural technology is emerging is in Switzerland, with innovations like milking robots, and driverless vehicles.
The reason why Switzerland is a hotbed of agricultural technology is due to the encouragement from the Swiss economics ministry. The government department has called on farmers to embrace a “digital revolution”, and using the next five years to mark a turning point in agricultural practices. Some of the innovations being developed will be of interest to those involved with the agricultural sector around the world. Three innovations have been specifically highlighted by the Swiss government as leading the charge towards future farming practices.
Send in the drones
Highlighted by the website, some of the developments include the use of drones equipped with cameras. The sophistication of the cameras allows the aerial craft to detect disease or to estimate the precise nutritional needs of large-scale crops. Here the company Gamaya has used drones in Switzerland to gather data which is then subject to big data analytics. The analysis is at the level of crop, variety and region. This then allows farmers to vary nutrients, addressing patterns of disease and to target land use more efficiently.
READ MORE: Sustainable agriculture's tractor of the future unveiled
Hydroponic lettuce
Another area of innovation in Switzerland has been with running trials to grow hydroponic lettuce. Here the crop is grown in a soil-free environment fed by a cloud of organic nutrients. Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. The method devised does not require sophisticated equipment; simple fluorescent lighting or specialized T5 fluorescent lamps are sufficient for growing any lettuces or greens within hydroponic environments.
Autonomous robot farmers
The third innovation is with solar-powered robots that can target individual weeds and reduce pesticide use. Here the Swiss have pioneered a device called Ecrobotix. This robot is described by its developers as the first ever completely autonomous machine for the ecological and economical weeding of row crops, meadows and intercropping cultures. The advantages of an autonomous, solar-powered device are that it can work up to 12 hours per day, without any human involvement, and it leads to a reduction in the level of herbicide required.
There are many other examples, such as intelligent sensors, bio-surveillance, and data-sharing. These digital innovations show how connected, digital technologies can be used to transform business models of farming. For readers interested in the digital transformation of farming, and for a different perspective from different country, one place rich in new ideas is Zambia where young farmers in the Kazungula, Mungwi and Choma areas are putting in place radical new approaches.
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