A collection of research pieces has underlined the point that agricultural practices must develop and become increasingly efficient.
The World Bank, for instance, has forecasted that those around the world will be required to produce 50 per cent more food by 2050 to match how much the global population is expected to increase to by that point. PwC has acknowledged from analysing expert views that agricultural consumption will need to actually increase by around 70 per cent by that year as it projects the world’s population to hit 9 billion people by then.
Many developments aim to help the agricultural industry with this demand; in particular the advancement of drones and autonomous vehicles. Here, we look at how each can prove a huge helping hand to farmers in the years to come.
The case for autonomous farm vehicles
There appears to be a very bright future ahead for autonomous vehicles. In fact, a comprehensive report by Business Insider Intelligence has forecast that there will be close to 10 million cars available which will have either semi-autonomous or fully autonomous capabilities. From a more general perspective, management consulting firm Bain has estimated that the global opportunity for assistive and autonomous technologies for the business-to-business market will be somewhere in the range of $22 to $26 billion per year by 2025.
Those involved in the agricultural industry have already be shown how autonomous vehicles can help with their work. For instance, a team of agricultural engineers from the Harper Adams University in Shropshire have set about creating an autonomous tractor which can perform tasks like the drilling, seeding and spraying of land while being steered by a farmer who is positioned not behind the vehicle’s wheel but in a control room. The same team — made up of Johnathan Gill, Kit Franklin and Martin Abell — are also looking into how an automated combine harvester can be used to then harvest the same field.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Mr Franklin pointed out: “These small autonomous machines will in turn facilitate high resolution precision farming, where different areas of the field, and possibly even individual plants can be treated separately, optimising and potentially reducing inputs being used in field agriculture.
“The tractor driver won't be physically in the tractor driving up and down a field. Instead, they will be a fleet manager and agricultural analysts, looking after a number of farming robots and meticulously monitoring the development of their crops.”
There has also already been the development of a vine-pruning robot by inventor Christophe Millot in France’s Burgundy region. Developed as a counter to a shortage in farm labour, the latest-generation model of the four-wheeled gadget is made up of six cameras, two arms and a tablet computer found inside the robot. These features combine in a way that the machine can learn as it goes about its task so to trim grass around each vine with a cut every five seconds.
The case for farming drones
There’s a very lucrative market for drones too. Global market revenue from the sales of such gadgets expected to increase by 34 per cent to reach over £4.8 million in 2017. US technology research experts Gartner has also predicted that drone production figures will jump by 39 per cent this year compared to the numbers recorded in 2016.
Here’s a few areas where drones can assist those in agriculture:
Planting and looking after produce can be a less stressful experience. This is thanks to systems which have been created by start-up companies that can achieve an uptake rate of 75 per cent and reduce the costs of planting by as much as 85 per cent. The idea is that the technology sees drones shooting pods with seeds as well as plant nutrients into the soil, enabling plants to receive the nutrients they need to sustain life.
Both crop monitoring and crop spraying can be improved with the use of drone technology.
Time-series animations set up in drones can help with crop monitoring, for instance, as the gadgets can display the exact development of a crop and also detail any inefficiencies with production. These kinds of insights would have previously only been gained by satellite imagery — while very advanced, this technique could only be used once a day. Monitoring through drones can be used whenever a farmer wishes.
Drones can also be effectively used for crop spraying, as they can scan a farm’s ground and then spray the necessary amount of liquid once it has modulated the distance from the ground. What’s more, coverage will be achieved while the amount of chemicals penetrated into groundwater will be reduced.
By fitting remote sensing equipment like multispectral, hyperspectral or thermal sensing systems to drones, wasting water around a farm can be avoided. The idea is that the technology will quickly and easily identify the driest sections of a field and then allow farmers to allocate their water resources more economically.
A point about insuring farm equipment
Land owners and farmers should ensure they have taken out adequate farm insurance  from a leading insurance broker like Lycetts, regardless of whether you decide to introduce farming drones and autonomous farm vehicles to your agriculture practices or stand by tried-and-tested methods. Doing so will provide peace of mind, as options are available to provide cover for everything from buildings and produce to machinery and office contents.