From the invention of hoes, scythes and ploughs to the introduction of tractors, innovation is at the heart of agriculture. Today, a number of digital technologies — from autonomous robots that pick fruit to subterranean farms — are helping transform the industry.
As technology develops, it’s only natural that the sector will change and adapt. Its within that context that research carried out at institutions such as Harper Adams University is becoming increasingly important.
Founded in 1901, the university is based around a 635-acre farm in Shropshire, England. It focuses on everything from food production to animal sciences, engineering and land management.
Simon Blackmore is head of robotic agriculture at Harper Adams University. His research interests include precision farming, agricultural robots and smart machines.
“As an agricultural engineer I’m looking at agriculture from the machinery point of view,” he told CNBC’s Lubna Takruri. “I believe with the opportunities that we’ve got in this new technology we’re going to get a new revolution in agriculture, in crop production, that is going to take advantage of these technologies.”
New skills and a better understanding of the technologies will be required, Blackmore added. “I still think it’s going to be people making decisions but it will certainly be supported by information intensive data, by artificial intelligence, by decision support systems. But, effectively, it comes down to people in the end.”
Acquired by Monsanto in 2013, the Climate Corporation provides the agriculture industry with a range of technologies that turn field data into information that farmers can use to improve efficiency, enhance yield potential and manage risk.
Mike Stern is head of the Climate Corporation. He sought to paint a picture of how agriculture will develop and change over the coming years. “The farm of the future, I think, could be very, very different from the farm of today,” he said.
“There is no doubt that there will be more automation on the farm,” he added. “There will be many, many more sensors measuring all sorts of different elements of how to manage a crop on a farm.”
Stern added that the Climate Corporation felt there was a “tremendous opportunity” to bring value to growers with digital tools.
“I have no doubt that these technologies are fundamentally going to change the way that we use our natural resources to produce food,” he said. “Even today, I am sure we can’t even articulate where these technologies will end up 10 years from now.”