What is ag tech?
Ag tech refers to the use of technology — especially software, machine learning and data — to optimize food production and help reduce the effects of variables like weather. Some examples of ag tech include:
- Automation, such as autonomous tractors, planters and other equipment.
- Precision agriculture tools, which use data to create yield maps and modeling capabilities to provide farmers with more information they can use to maximize inputs and reduce their farm’s environmental footprint.
- Robotics, which helps create efficiencies on dairies and in animal feed plants.
- Aerial imagery via satellites and drones that offer farmers a more holistic view of their farms and the ability to check on the health of their livestock and crops from a distance.
- Sensors that gauge crop stress and soil moisture levels, improving irrigation efficiency.
Technological advances provide opportunities for farmers to maximize on-farm productivity, efficiency and sustainability, but abundant choices and the rapid pace of change in the industry have created barriers to farmers adopting these advances. Key barriers to adoption include lack of information available to farmers from unbiased sources, lack of farmer awareness about technology products and the expense of implementing new technology.
According to a 2022 global farmer survey conducted by AgriWebb, 65% of U.S. farmers believe tech adoption is vital to their future success. In the U.S., technologies that are being readily adopted include digital record keeping (81.3%), accounting and finance (75.4%), animal management (55.4%), business planning and management (41.5%) and grazing management (40%).
Why is it important?
The soy checkoff’s mission is to create value for U.S. soybean farmers. On-farm technology has shown great potential to increase farmers’ profitability. Additionally, consumers and U.S. soybean supply chain partners are choosing products certified as being sustainably produced. Many of the on-farm technologies available to farmers today play a valuable role in meeting these demands for sustainability through more precise use of inputs and targeted crop and field management. Technology and data collection methods provide soybean farmers a way to demonstrate continuous improvement toward meeting sustainability metrics.
What is happening now?
With increased demand for food and fiber to feed and clothe a continuously expanding world population, adoption of ag technologies that can help meet that demand is vital. Incorporating new technologies into farming practices will help farmers increase production efficiencies and reduce their environmental footprint and their overall economic and environmental sustainability. As technology in ag continues to evolve, here are a few areas that are sure to see continued innovation in the near future:
- Collaboration and Integration: Data will continue to become more accessible and important. This will ultimately help farmers establish a deeper understanding of and more adequately track their inputs, products and processes used to produce a crop.
- Biofertilizers: The use of natural fertilizers that contain living microbes will continue to expand. These microbes enhance plant nutrition by either mobilizing or increasing nutrient availability in soil. Fixing the nutrient availability helps stimulate plant growth, leading to increased yields. Biofertilizers also reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides while enhancing the sustainability and health of the soil.
- Supply Chain Transparency: To increase a commodity’s transparency across the supply chain, technologies are allowing farmers to track production decisions, inputs and product quality attributes and share that information with supply chain customers to verify production history and certify sustainability.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML): The utilization of AI and ML within agriculture is creating some of the most advanced innovations available today. These technologies are focused on increasing productivity, enhancing efficiency and improving sustainability.
- The availability of information technology, GPS-based equipment and management software to enhance agricultural operations is growing rapidly.
- The knowledge and adoption of these innovations allow soybean farmers to increase productivity and sustainability.
- Technological advancements make it possible for farmers to capture data on nearly every aspect of their operation unlike ever before. However, many farmers are skeptical of big data because of potential ownership rights and obligations, managing the sheer quantity of data and, to some extent, inherent privacy concerns that have created distrust across the technology landscape.
- Rapid change in advancements and offerings of on-farm information technologies and lack of compatibility among many brands make selecting the appropriate technology mix confusing.
- The lack of independent analysis of on-farm information technologies results in U.S. soybean farmers being dependent on performance information from providers.
- The soy checkoff is currently exploring ways to provide farmers with unbiased assessments of on-farm technology to help them invest in technology best suited for their operation and to use the corresponding data to make continuous improvements.