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Though agriculture is the oldest industry in the history of
mankind, it’s never sat still for a minute. Countless leaps forward in
technology and farming techniques have made agricultural businesses much more
efficient and cost-effective, and even to this day new tools are emerging to stimulate
exciting changes, and warp the face of agricultural jobs, especially
agricultural engineer jobs. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how some
of these technologies are changing the way farms around the world operate, and
what this will mean for the future.

 

Advanced Sensors

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With the emergence of cloud technology, swathes of
agricultural entrepreneurs and engineers have been developing more advanced
sensors for use on farms. These assist farmers by opening the possibility of
real-time monitoring of the state of crops, livestock, and machinery. Air and
soil sensors are the basis of what many are calling “smart farms”, and are
already being used widely. Equipment telematics have made farms more efficient,
as tractors and similar vehicles have become able to warn mechanics if a maintenance
problem is imminent. Collars with GPS and new biometric technology have given
farmers real-time insights into the location and health of livestock. Perhaps
the most impressive technology to emerge has been sophisticated crop sensors. These
are now able to send information to fertiliser equipment, and inform them of
the correct amount of fertiliser needed. Using infrared light, static crop sensors
and drones are capable of judging the health of crops across large fields,
which helps farmers identify diseases and other issues before they get out of
hand. These kinds of sensors are being adopted by more and more farms, and are
expected to lay the foundations for many more exciting developments.

 

Automation

 

Automation and AI has become a bigger and bigger talking
point in recent years, and it’s quickly making waves in the world of agriculture,
particularly in advanced swath control. Building on the foundation of earlier GPS
tech, emerging swath control technology will help farmers save money on seed,
minerals, herbicides and fertiliser, by reducing the number of overlapping
inputs. With the ability to pre-compute the shape of the field where inputs are
due to be used, and gain information on the productivity of different areas of
the field, tractors and automated machinery can work according to variable
inputs. Agricultural robots, the most well-known symbol of farming automation,
are also being seen on more and more fields. These are able to automate routine
Agricultural processes, such as ploughing, fruit picking, harvesting, soil maintenance,
and so on. Though this represents a threat to certain manual agricultural jobs,
it also encourages more candidates to develop themselves in the science and
engineering sectors of agriculture. What industry analysts are calling “precision
agriculture” is also quickly on its way. This is a method of managing farms
based on the observation of intra-field variations. Using sophisticated sensors
combined with satellite imagery, farmers around the world will soon be able to
optimise their returns on inputs, all the while preserving their resources on a
greater scale than was ever possible before. Furthermore, an advanced perception
of crop variability, and increasingly accurate geo-located weather data, will soon
be fine-tuning automated decision-making on farms, and new planting techniques
to support it. Some engineers have even been talking about the possibility of “farm
swarms”, which will be just as sci-fi as they sound! These swarms will be
groups of dozens or even hundreds of robots with advanced sensors, working to
study, cultivate, and harvest crops with almost no human intervention.

 

Engineering

 

New engineering concepts will soon be opening the way for
agricultural businesses to adopt new techniques, and extend the whole sector
into areas of the economy it’s never touched before. Closed ecological systems
became viable recently, and are slowly being developed to the limits of their
amazing potential. These are ecosystems that don’t need an exchange of matter
outside the ecosystem to sustain themselves. Theoretically, these kinds of
systems could turn waste products into food, water, and even oxygen, in order
to support essential organisms that inhabit the system. Small closed ecosystems
already exist, but as the technology surrounding them develops, they’re able to
scale more and more. Vertical farming is also taking off in some developed
countries. An extension of urban farming, vertical farms will be used to
cultivate crops and livestock in either purpose-built or mixed-use skyscrapers
in city settings. Similar to glasshouses, these vertical farms would augment the
effect of the sun’s rays through energy-efficient lighting. There are many
advantages to vertical farms, such as protection from the weather, reduced
transport costs, and year-around food production.

 

Genetics

 

Scarily soon, the agricultural industry will have widespread
access to technologies that will allow us to create completely new species of
animals and crops which will better address our physiological needs. Already
scientifically viable, genetically designed food will be different from GMOs, as
it will be made from nothing, rather than manipulating the genes of existing foods.
Perhaps the most amazing genetic technology which is poised to affect the
agricultural sector is in vitro meat. Sometimes called cultured meat, or
colloquially “tube steak”, in vitro meat is a meat product grown from stem
cells – biologically identical to the meat found in stores, although it has
never been a part of a living animal. While there are many projects underway
which are growing in vitro meat in lab conditions, there’s never been a piece
of in vitro meat released for human consumption, although the first cell-cultured
burger was tasted in 2013. The process is slow and expensive now, but many of the
scientists heading these projects believe that once it’s standardised, lab-grown
meat and fish will help to reduce food shortage and methane pollution around
the world.

 

There you have some of the most exciting developments
happening in the world of agriculture. With so much new technology hitting the
market, and scientific inceptions popping up all the time, it’s mind-boggling
to think of the pace at which agriculture is changing, and even more so to visualise
farms just a few decades from now!

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