The ever-increasing global population capacity will continue to drive the need for food. Agricultural land is being further developed and cultivated to meet this growing demand, but with traditional farming methods. This process is becoming less and less efficient. Due to environmental stress in view of water scarcity, inefficient land use, soil depletion, and greenhouse gas emissions, the demands on sustainable agriculture are rapidly increasing. 

Fortunately, new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation systems, and data visualisation tools have been adopted to create value and increase productivity in the farming sector. Agtech advancements and innovations can be critical drivers of sustainable and environment-friendly agricultural practices. 

Smart farming 

Smart farming is the use of modern technology to increase the efficiency of agricultural production. It includes using sensors, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data that can improve yields, decrease inputs costs, and reduce wastage. 

For example, the use of sensors can help farmers track the weather conditions in real-time and adjust their irrigation systems accordingly. The use of robotics can help with tasks such as crop mapping, weeding, and seeding. And finally, IoT can be used to connect all these different devices and systems to create a “smart farm”. 

Remote management of pests and diseases 

Pests and diseases are a major challenge for farmers as they can cause significant crop loss. Crop pests and diseases are one of the key causes of food insecurity, resulting in average yield losses of over 20 per cent for many vital crops. In the past, farmers had to rely on visual inspection to identify these problems. However, this is no longer the case with the advent of remote sensing technology. 

This technology uses sensors to collect data about the health of crops. The data is then analysed by algorithms that can detect pests and diseases at an early stage. Farmers can then use the information to take preventive measures or treat the problem areas. Additionally, with maps showing the location of these problem areas, they can target their pesticides and herbicides more efficiently, which reduces the number of chemicals used. 

Water management through controlled environment 

Water is a vital resource for agriculture, and it is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world. As a result, there is a need for more efficient water management in agriculture. 

One way to do this is through the use of a controlled environment called ‘hydroponic’ farming. In hydroponic farming, plants are grown in a water-based solution instead of in soil. This method of farming requires less water as the water is constantly recycled and reused. Additionally, it is possible to control the nutrient levels in the water, which results in healthier plants. 

The global hydroponics market size was valued at $2.1 billion in 2020. It is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.7 per cent from 2021 to 2028. Hydroponic farming is not only more efficient but also allows for year-round production as it can be done indoors. The same controlled environment is also suitable for growing fruit and vegetables. 

Refining on-field operations  

By collecting data on weather patterns, soil type, and crop health, these start-ups can provide farmers with valuable insights that can help them make informed decisions about their crops. This information can be used to improve irrigation systems, choose the best seeds for planting, and predict yields. 

In addition, this data can be used to develop yield maps. These maps show where the highest yields are achieved and identify areas that need improvement. Yield maps can also be used to track the progress of new farming practices or innovations. Such solutions can help farmers reduce their use of pesticides and fertilisers, which can have a negative impact on the environment. 

The bottom line 

Technological development and digitalisation shape feasible boundaries to increase resource use and efficiency. Smart agriculture reduces the negative environmental impacts of farming, increases resilience and soil health, and decreases costs for farmers. Methodologies are being developed by which the yield and quality of foods are improved, with less consumption of resources and less environmental degradation.  

Additional support like agronomy, output management, and agri-input services is being included under the broad umbrella of smart agriculture with a keen focus on the financial stability of farmers and the agro-ecosystem. The successful adoption of these technologies will enable the sustainable intensification of agriculture. 

The author is co-founder, Unnati