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Technology is transforming crop protection, event hears

Attitudes to innovation in farming sector are changing as new technology delivers greater benefits

By reducing inputs, improving resource management, minimizing land impacts, and lowering costs, precision ag technologies are now increasingly delivering on the promise of sustainability for farmers and their operations, according to speakers at the recent Agribusiness Intelligence Crop Science Forum & Awards 2019.

The next wave of innovation in precision agriculture, which involves technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, drones and other robots, has an increasing emphasis on crop protection, delegates learned.

In the US, surveys show the rapid uptake of a wide variety of precision agriculture services. In Europe, potential savings in pesticide use of up to 80% are being emphasised as a key benefit from adopting precision agriculture.

However, while all the major crop protection companies are now involved, early expectations for the technology have not always been fulfilled. This situation is evolving, however.

John Rauber, head of Washington Affairs at John Deere, told the event that while innovation in agriculture is not a new development, there has been a change in mindset in the sector. In the past, too often technology was seen as an add-on, but now it is essential, he explained.

“Historically, our story has focused on bigger, faster, stronger equipment. Today, our customers need that and more, day in and day out, year in and year out, throughout the farming cycle. The business of farming presents complex decisions and variables. From water and soil to weather and pests, from money and staffing to markets and planning, our customers have specific outcomes in mind,” he said.

This increased complexity means providing a greater range of dynamic farming tools and solutions. “Growers count on technologies like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which provides repeatable sub-inch accuracy across the farming cycle. Real-time data to know what’s happening and make sound, timely decisions. Communication technologies that connect team members, customers, vendors, advisors, and machines. And sensors that help monitor machines, jobs, weather, field conditions, and agronomics,” Rauber said.

 There are also significant cost-saving benefits to the farmer as well: “Technologies like these bring value. For example, US research shows that data-driven decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting can increase corn farm profitability by $5 to $100 per acre, and a recent six-month pilot study found precision agriculture improved overall crop productivity by 15%.”

One major drawback though in the field can be poor-quality broadband provision. “Fast, reliable connectivity is critical. Coverage in key agricultural areas is poor, while streaming data is becoming more critical,” Rauber concluded.

But it is not just North America and Brazil that is adopting Digital Farming techniques. In China, for example, XAG is deploying its smart agriculture solutions, company vice-president and co-founder Justin Gong told the Forum.

“We are now servicing almost 6.4 million farmers across 21 million hectares of Chinese farmland,” he revealed.

The solutions deployed by XAG include field mapping, drones, robotics and intelligent spraying systems specifically designed to help minimise the impact of crop protection inputs on farm.

For further information, please see details below of the new Agrow Special Report on Digital Farming and Robotics: https://agribusinessintelligence.informa.com/products-and-services/more-services/special-reports-and-studies/agrow-digital-farming-and-robotics-2019

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