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article imageEssential Science: Improving agriculture with new AgriTech

By Tim Sandle     Oct 21, 2019 in Science
AgriTech and associated financial solutions are revolutionizing agriculture, helping to secure the food supply and boost agricultural economics. This week’s Essential Science surveys some of the innovations.
The degradation of soils across farmlands puts farms, crops and food supply at risk. As an example, the USDA estimates the total annual cost of erosion from agriculture in the United States at $44 billion – approximately $247 per acre of cropland and pasture.
Further to the situation in the U.S., soil is eroding 10 times faster than it is able to be naturally replenished in the United States – an estimated rate of nearly 1.7 billion tons of lost farmland annually, based on a Cornell study (published in the Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability). Fields that are dying or dead cannot answer our escalating food production needs.
A field in England  located close to Watford  Hertfordshire.
A field in England, located close to Watford, Hertfordshire.
As things stand, many traditional financial products fail to meet the needs of farmers who are attempting to embrace new ways to rebuild soil capacity and improve the resilience and profitability of their operation.
The end products with much AgriTech are better productivity on the farm, and therefore improved farm profits; increasing sustainability and also meeting customer and regulatory demands for healthier, nutritious food from safer, more transparent supply chains.
Drone technology
File photo: A drone flying over a farm
File photo: A drone flying over a farm
Flickr user Lima Pix (CC BY 2.0)
Drone technology is adding agriculture in many ways. As an example, farmland coverage from unmanned aerial system (UAS) fleets from Chinese agricultural drone maker XAG is assisting with Xinjiang’s cotton defoliation operation in 2019. The vast majority of China’s cotton crop is grown in this region.
In relation to this, Xinjiang’s cotton crop is increasingly harvested mechanically, and machines now account for 30 percent of the harvest.
In addition to ground level machines, drones are a “harvest aid” that overcome the need for tedious labor. Furthermore, drones are less destructive than heavy machinery typically required to distribute adequate spray coverage. In terms of coverage, over 1,500 drone pilots,1,000 crop protection teams and 3,000 drones have been spraying cotton fields in China from late August and into the autumn.
Ag Fintech
The Revolut card pictured alongside the app in action.
The Revolut card pictured alongside the app in action.
Revolut / Business Insider
To address this, many farmers are turning to AgriTech products and other solutions. One example is Ag Fintech startup Growers Edge, who are partnering with the Delta Institute to create financial products that provide new capital opportunities for farmers who want to implement innovative soil health improvement solutions.
The new Growers Edge program will incentivize a combination of methods such as diversified crop rotation and livestock integration to improve soil health and break farmers out of unprofitable management systems.
Hence by utilizing the powerful Growers Edge fintech analytics platform, the company will be able to provide updated risk metrics to farmers, as well as offering financial products and services to farms that invest in improving or rebuilding their soil.
This approach is part of the emerging field of agricultural informatics, which is a new concept arising following the rapid development in ICT and the Internet. This type of e-agriculture, combines the advances in agricultural informatics, agricultural development and entrepreneurship to provide better agricultural services, enhanced technology dissemination and information delivery.
Location technology
Meet Vespucci  the first of a new constellation of GPS satellites
Meet Vespucci, the first of a new constellation of GPS satellites
Lockheed Martin
GPS and other location technology is helping to improve agriculture. An example from Kazakhstan, as an example, is where navigation technologies to help to direct tractors in straight lines to maximize field use, to the use of sophisticated analysis for soil samples. The examination of soil samples allows for appropriate micronutrients to be used.
Big data
California Agricultural Statistics Review 2015-2016
Big data analytics is helping to improve the reliability of crop growing. Examples include, Zenvus, a Nigerian precision farming startup that measures and analyzes soil data for temperature and nutrients. A second example is with UjuziKilimo, which deploys big data analytics to provide data to farmers about weather and agricultural trends, seeking to improve productivity. A further example is SunCulture, a form that manufacturers drip irrigation kits that use solar energy to pump water from any source, assisting with irrigation.
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we learned how climate change is impacting on the planet in different ways and threaten many species. Trends also indicate that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.
The week before we examined new research that shows how the humble aspirin could help to reduce the adverse impact of air pollution upon the lungs. The effects were assessed against different forms of air pollution, across a 28-day period.
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