2018 – the year technology will finally help all farmers, not just those who can afford it

By 2050 it is projected that the world’s total population will be 9.7 billion. That’s 2 billion more people than today and, in order to meet their living demands, we’ll need to increase current food production by over 70%. An intimidating thought made worse by the fact that there are 2 million fruit and vegetable farmers in Europe who are struggling to produce more food with the current tools, data and capabilities that they have. In short, farmers could save thousands of pounds if they could predict when their product will be ready to harvest.

It’s for this reason that precision agriculture – a farm management approach which uses information technology, satellite positioning data, remote sensing and in-situ data gathering to optimise yields and reduce environmental waste – has become such a hot topic for farmers, in particular for berry growers.

Today these growers face four key problems: 1. Identifying the right picking time for their crops (an action which instantly affects labour costs and product value); 2. the variance in their yields year to year; 3. predicting crop disease; and 4. Brexit and its implications on labour availability.

Precision agriculture may not have all the answers when it comes to labour availability, but it can certainly contribute solutions towards the remaining 3 issues as seen in a recent pilot project we ran with Berry Gardens and Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew.

Along a poly-tunnel and in 3 conditions (semi-permanent fleece, managed fleece and control), we installed eighteen Mothive devices in one of Berry Gardens farms in Kent, UK. Each device measured air temperature, soil moisture content, relative humidity and light intensity (also known as PAR irradiance) every 8 minutes in order to monitor the effects of management, weather and poly-tunnel conditions on strawberry yields.

The results pointed to a very promising future for precision agriculture and Mothive. With our devices installed we were able to accurately predict air temperature and relative humidity inside the poly-tunnel. This helps drive a customised irrigation schedule, ventilation management, disease prediction models and fleece management, all crucial to helping farmers optimise yield and increase product value (£/ton) when sold further along the supply chain. In fact, during this pilot we observed a 21% variance in total yield when different fleecing treatments were utilised.

In the future the Mothive platform will provide farmers with the recommendations and autonomous actuation platform to make sure they’re on the right side of this variance, with our machine learning algorithm also showing the best time to harvest their crops. This algorithm has been developed in collaboration with RBG Kew and it shows the potential of an in-situ data collection solution like Mothive’s (as opposed to other data sources such as satellite, weather station or non-networked handheld devices). Gone will be the days of farming based on general assumptions. Instead we’ll be able to provide a farm manager or agronomist with data and recommendations that automatically adapt to their local environment.

The encouraging news is that this future is not far off, a sentiment echoed by Jean Sebastian Leite, VP Asset Management Food & Agriculture at DLL Group:

Innovation in Agriculture is everywhere, from driverless tractors to crop sensors, from precision irrigation to drones. Technologies that have been developed to optimize farm inputs use, water consumption, animal well-being or lifestyle will be an ever growing part of the typical farm. This is also driven by the latest cloud and big data technologies, and purpose-built software. As farmers are challenged to increase yields on an annual basis or make land fertile, precision farming technology will become one of their most critical areas of attention.

The Netherlands is DLL’s home country and the world’s second largest food exporter, producing crop yields more than double the global average and almost completely eradicating the use of pesticides. The opportunity to see breakthrough technologies pushing the boundaries of the solutions we tailor to our customers every day has the potential to support the world outside in unparalleled ways.

At Mothive we’re now working with farmers in the UK and Portugal, and this year we’ll be looking to run further pilot programs in order to support additional crop varieties and to continually improve our predictive algorithms.

Our aim is to give farmers across the world the agronomy tools they need today to help our society tomorrow, and we firmly believe that precision agriculture will be at the heart of this. If you’re keen to contribute to our work, either as a pilot or a partner, then I would love to hear from you.