When we think about entrepreneurship, we usually think about running digital businesses to help out restaurants, shops, and a wide variety of other businesses. and rarely we think about farmers and the entrepreneurial help they can get.
Long gone are the days of isolated farms. Today, farmers even in the most remote locations can keep in touch and be up-to-date thanks to the latest advancements in mobile technology.
Companies specialized to make farming more efficient and more tech-oriented also managed to create more individualized, data-driven farming plans and coaching, creating new international standards, pushing both the limits of modern farming and technology.
So, how can you help farmers in the digital age?
Let’s take a look.
The Smallholder Crisis
Smaller farms are in crisis pretty much all over the world. They have to win battles against floods, droughts, plant diseases, and plummeting yields. For many of these farms, giving individual advice on how to adapt to these challenges can literally make or break their efforts. The problem is, smallholder remote farmers don’t really have access to one-on-one coaching and counseling to improve profitability and the well-being of their communities and families.
As hinted before, mobile communication tech can be one way to fix the issue. By reaching a large number of farmers who are becoming ever more connected all over a given country, entrepreneurs in the niche can scale up both training and the digital commitment it takes to hammer out such a program.
Farm Plan Initiative
Establishing a connection with these farmers online is one thing. Creating a meaningful partnership between remote farms and your company is another. To support farmers on their sustainability journey, developing longer-terms farming plans that could improve yields and can make overall farm operation more-cost effective.
These plans could be simple documents, or could be a feature of an interactive mobile application, or a part of a go-to web app.
On these platforms, every farmer can learn about the latest trends, look at statistical data, weather forecasts, and as said above, also check out their individual stats, and instructions for future operations as a part of the coaching partnership.
To accommodate varying levels of literacy, adding pictographs can be a good idea, as it will create a solid base for guiding all farmers in implementing the best practices (like pruning and replanting to increase climate resilience).
Every Farm is Different
As also already mentioned above, one of the key factors in making these farming plans work is having a highly individualized approach. Every plan should be 100% data-driven, based on the data the farmers give themselves.
In this niche, having a “one-size-fits-all” mindset can lead to catastrophic consequences.
That being said, coaching and planning apps for farmers should be tailored exactly to their needs, addressing such things as investment capacity, current farm conditions, profit-and-loss ratios and more.
It also goes without saying that agricultural specialists and scientists should also be heavily involved on the app development and also later on, to help farmers overcome non-anticipated challenges if they happen.
And in such a rapidly changing niche like agriculture, they are bound to happen and farmers are well aware of that.
Remote-Sensing Tech for Better Yields
These products would make farm plans more precise, and not to mention, more scalable as well. When we’re talking about remote sensing, we’re thinking about radar, drone, or satellite tech that can “sense” or spot things (like sickly trees) at larger distances. This could pretty much transform the way most entrepreneurs currently prepare plans for their partners.
Today, most coaches will still visit most farms and lands to collect samples and record information manually. However, with precision in agricultural digital technology, the same info can be easily gathered more precisely and a lot faster. And most importantly, it can happen at a larger scale.
What about bolder technologies that don’t necessarily cater to farmers in crisis? Some experts are currently working to improve and automate processes in larger farms. Automating harvesting is only one of those technologies that’s currently being developed.
As agricultural engineer at Wageningen University, Eldert Van Henten said, humans are still better at picking ripe produce than robots, but that doesn’t mean it will be like that forever. Automated machines that would identify the plant and would avoid cutting the main stem are the future, according to experts like Van Henten, and as he put it, the key lies in fast and reliable software.
Such delicate tech will feature deep learning, as it will need to interpret every single piece of info from the color camera first (that identifies the plants).
Another crucial factor when it comes to (automated) harvesting is timing. Picking the plants too early is wasteful because you miss out on additional growth, but picking too late can decrease storage time drastically. Engineers and developers are tackling this problem by experimenting with sensors that they attach to fruits and vegetables to detect their size, pigment levels (primarily chlorophyll and anthocyanin). Then, the sensors feed the data into a sophisticated algorithm that establishes a development state, calculating when the time is the best for picking, and alerting farmers via smartphones.
Pests and diseases are responsible for eliminating 20 to 40% of global crop years in any given year, even despite the two million tonnes of pesticide that’s used against them annually, on average.
Experts argue that intelligent robots and drones with the before-mentioned sensory tech could spot problems and would allow better chemical application and faster pest removal.
Also, modern tech that can autonomously eliminate pests and could target agrichemicals can cut farming costs, lower resistance, and potentially reduce collateral damage to wildlife.
Autonomous tech eliminates the need for spraying an entire field with pesticide. Instead, the necessary chemicals can be delivered only to the affected area and in the necessary quantity.
The Usage of Animal Trackers
Wearable devices that are designed to track human fitness and health can also be adapted in farming, more precisely, to monitor livestock health.
Smart collars have been around since 2010, with some of them monitoring fertility, track activity, alerting farmers about different things (like the readiness to mate).
On the same note, these smart collars can also help detect illnesses earlier.
Lastly, experts are considering using mini stress monitors and other smart devices on livestock to improve the animals’ lives, keeping them healthy.
Large harvesters and compact soil, along with the overuse of pesticides and other agrochemicals (nitrogen fertilizers, for example) are all bad for the environment, not to mention that they can also hurt the farmer’s bottom line.
Robotics and machines can help in this area as well. For example, the data gathered from drones can also be used to apply nitrogen fertilizer a lot more efficiently.
Also, other technologies like soil mapping can open up new possibilities for farmers to become even more efficient.
Sowing different crop varieties in a given field can help better match shifting soil properties. For example, farmers can seed deep-rooting wheat varieties in more sandy parts while plant more delicate options in areas with more water availability.
At the same time, growing several crops together can also lead to smarter agrochemical usage. As experts stated, mother nature is strongly against monoculture and that’s why farmers have to use copious amounts of herbicides and pesticides.
Such an approach would also challenge the very pillars of ageless agricultural wisdom that farmers should plant vast fields of a single crop to get the best yields.
The Future of Agriculture
Undoubtedly, there’s an ever-growing emphasis on carbon sustainability and sequestration initiatives. Nearly all the innovations mentioned above address this issue to some degree. As the demand for data increases,
Experts argue that automation and robotics technology will become even more widespread in the industry and digital technology will also be employed to help tackle other problems, like reducing food waste and so on.
The backbone technology that will ensure sustainability is well underway, and most of the advancements only need a wee bit more fine-tuning to change agriculture as we know it.
As you can see from all the existing programs and technologies above, agriculture is going through a revolutionizing change. Sustainability, cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and environmental friendliness are the main themes of this revolution.
Keeping track of best practices, easy-to-understand coaching, data-driven decisions, easy-to-use apps can truly make a difference.
Not just for farmers and their businesses. Not just for the entrepreneurs who help them. These advancements also help protect the intricate and fragile fabric of our planet and the flora and fauna on it.