Author: Stacey Cole, Vice President, Agribusiness Banking
Labor shortages and rising costs continue to put agricultural producers at risk, but new technology enhancements could help farmers meet today’s challenges.
From seed cultivation to field preparation and harvest, let’s explore how technology could change the agricultural landscape in the years to come.
According to the National Agricultural Statistical Service’s (NASS) Farm Labor Survey, the number of self-employed and family farm workers has declined by 73% since 1950. At the same time, the number of hired farm hands fell 52%. The result is a nearly insurmountable labor shortage.
Fortunately, autonomous farming could soon fill labor gaps by automating tasks that typically require human hands. At a recent consumer electronics show, John Deere unveiled a new autonomous tractor. While currently in testing, this self-driving unit could eventually bring in the harvest without a human driver.
Drones are another advancement relieving farmers of labor-intensive tasks. Drones can play a number of roles in the field, from mapping the terrain and taking soil samples to spraying pesticides and monitoring ground conditions and plant health.
Not to be outdone by flying machines and self-driving tractors, robots are also entering agriculture. Seed-sowing robots may someday take over what can be one of the most labor-intensive tasks in farming. Closely resembling a miniature tractor, a washing-machine sized prototype is already being tested to plant fields one row at a time.
While an industry filled with autonomous machines may still lie some years in the future, other technology is already improving the agriculture industry. A growing list of AgTech innovations now help farmers better manage the impact of climate-related conditions and pests, while encouraging more targeted management.
For example, simple handheld devices can measure soil carbon levels across fields. Data is then used to determine soil conditions and to make better decisions about management. Variable rate irrigation employs technology to apply different levels of water to specific areas of a field through center pivots.
Laser scarecrows, developed by researchers from the University of Rhode Island, are keeping crops safer. The device taps into an avian sensitivity to green light by sending a laser up to 600 feet across a field. The digital device is safe for humans and crops, but startles birds away from sensitive vegetation. In addition, pest control companies claim laser scarecrows can prevent up to 90% of crop losses by targeting insects harmful to plants.
Technology now plays a major role in grading and inspecting harvests. Computerized scanners are capable of determining crop quantity and quality. By eliminating the need for manual examinations, tools like these are particularly useful for produce yields where physical handling of agricultural products can easily lead to damaged goods.
Livestock farmers are also benefiting from AgTech innovations. Automated dairy installations detect cows and perform milkings, eliminating the need for human intervention, while new acoustic pulse technology (APT) can treat bovine mastitis without the use of antibiotics.
Across the industry, AgTech is transforming the way we approach agriculture, making farming more sustainable, efficient and profitable. By embracing new technologies, farmers can increase their yields, reduce waste and improve the quality of their products.
Stacey has worked at FNBO since 2006. She grew up on a diversified family agricultural operation in northeast Nebraska. After graduating from Creighton University with her MBA, she joined the Executive Development Program at the Bank. Stacey then returned to her agricultural roots by joining the FNBO’s Agribusiness Banking team, where she works with ag producers in cattle, swine, grain, feed and food processing, and other agribusiness sectors.
The articles in this blog are for informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations. When making decisions about your financial situation, consult a financial professional for advice. Articles are not regularly updated, and information may become outdated.