Agriculture 4.0 will no longer depend on applying water, fertilisers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, farmers will use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas
Over the years, huge development has taken place in agriculture all over the world, which is manifested by many indicators. Such indicators in agriculture include increase in productivity, overall production, the area under cultivation, reduction in poverty, hunger and malnutrition. While this development has improved the overall quality and longevity of life, it has also resulted in a lot of unintended pressure on the social capital, the natural resources, and the climate. Agriculture has been a sector on which all other sectors of the economy are directly or indirectly dependent. It is also the sector which is affected the most by climate and also has a profound effect on climate. In fact, the main constraints confronting agriculture in the near future are scarcity of natural resources, climate change, crop waste, shrinkage of land under cultivation, water scarcity, and demographic pressure.
By 2050, the world will need to produce 70 percent more food. Meanwhile, agriculture’s share in global GDP has shrunk to just 3 percent, one-third its contribution just decades ago. Roughly 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. Under a business-as-usual scenario, 8 percent of the world’s population or 650 million of it will still be undernourished by 2030. Although, the world has now moved much forward from the chemical and labour-intensive production-oriented agriculture to a more advanced data-driven, artificial intelligence-based, industry-oriented and sustainable agriculture based on the conservation of natural resources, yet to meet these challenges will require a concerted effort by governments, investors and innovative agricultural technologies.
Agriculture and industry go side by side. The growth of one cannot happen without the other. The settlement of agriculture, i.e., people staying at one place to cultivate land, we called Agriculture 1.0. The stage second came when small pools, harvesters, mechanisation, etc, was established: we called it 2.0. In the late sixties the green revolution resulted in high-yielding varieties of crops, pulses and seeds, achieving self-sufficiency, and this agriculture was 3.0. The present scenario is agriculture 4.0. Now we look at agriculture beyond 4.0, an era for innovative agricultural technologies having a greater focus on artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, the internet of things (IoT), agri-startups, and the use of big data to drive greater business efficiencies in the face of rising populations and climate change.
Agriculture 4.0 and beyond is an advanced digital technologies ecosystem that will change the environment in the way humans think and work. Agriculture 4.0 will no longer depend on applying water, fertilisers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, farmers will use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas. Agriculture 4.0 enables farms and farm operations to be run very differently, primarily due to advancements in technology such as sensors, devices, machines, and information technology. Agriculture 4.0 is assisted by the use of sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology. These advanced devices and precision agriculture and robotic systems will allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe, and data will be a change agent playing a crucial role in transforming the agriculture industry, benefiting the whole supply chain making it more competitive and profitable.
The advanced connectivity of a global agriculture network will provide a vast number of benefits up and down the supply chain, not only to those at the top of hierarchy but also to those at the grassroots level. Farmers can use their data to supply the right products at the right rates and at the right time. The distributors can use this data to source inputs and position themselves for maximum advantage in the market; manufacturers can improve their means of production and better target their customer base. Farmers will be empowered by increased insights and precise advice given to them. Tighter specifications and traceability will be made possible by data connectivity and that will increase margins across the supply chain, while boosting quality to meet the demands of local and international buyers.
Increased visibility for all parties will lead to higher outputs and greater trust which, in turn, will lead to more consistent returns and increased profitability against a backdrop of better use of resources and lower environmental impact. The Internet of Things (IoT) in agricultural context refers to the use of sensors, cameras, and other devices to turn every element and action involved in farming into data. Weather, moisture, plant health, mineral status, chemical applications, pest presence and much more can all be turned into large data sets that allow big data engineers to draw out insights about the farm at varying levels of granularity via software algorithms. IoT means connecting all those systems together, removing the need to repeatedly enter data into multiple applications that don’t talk to one another.
In short, imagine a farm where all useful information is automatically and seamlessly unified, letting the farmer get on with work that matters. In IoT-based smart farming, a system is built for monitoring the crop field with the help of sensors (light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture, etc.) and automating the irrigation system. The farmers can monitor the field conditions from anywhere. IoT-based smart farming is highly efficient when compared with the conventional approach. Smart farming based on IoT technologies enable growers and farmers to reduce waste and enhance productivity ranging from the quantity of fertiliser utilised to the number of journeys the farm vehicles make. Precision farming enable farmers to do more with less, identifying the key parts of their farm that offer the best return on investment for suitable investment, backed by more effective farm decision-making that is more immediate, whether it’s recognising pest threats sooner or preparing for severe weather events.
Basically, according to the European Parliament definition, it is a farming management model based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. The goals are mainly increasing the productivity of the crops while ensuring a higher environmental sustainability. Precision agriculture, backed by smart data usage, identifies parts of a farm that will deliver an investment return or would be better delivering sustainability and conservation outcomes. Through smart data use, it’s possible for farmers to better understand their output practices and understand what changes can generate the greatest value. Precision agriculture has seen adoption rates surge in recent years, with the market value expected to grow from approximately 5.09 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 to 9.53 billion U.S. dollars by 2023.
Another important aspect of Agriculture 4.0 is the use of Block Chain Technology. This is creating a new mode of interaction in the supply chain: trust is established by consensus between parties and backed by technology, eliminating the need for an intermediary. It doesn’t end there. Block chain has applications that go way beyond basic transactions. Block chain can reduce inefficiency and greatly improve food safety. Traceability is also improved with regulators quickly able to check the source of foods and detect the scope of any contamination issues.
Agri-startups will now have the bigger responsibility to come out with such farm and farmer friendly technologies. The use of innovations like robotics and drones will also dominate farming in the coming years to replace human labour, bringing in more efficiency, accuracy and ensuring timeliness of operations. Agriculture robot refers to a robot deployed for agricultural purposes. These are being used for an incredible number of tasks to ease the burden on the farmers by tackling labour-intensive, repetitive, and physically demanding tasks. In recent years, however, robots are being used for various specialised chores, like picking out sensitive fruits and vegetables such as lettuce and straw berries. The main area of application of robots in agriculture today is at the harvesting stage. Emerging applications of robots or drones in agriculture include weed control, cloud seeding, planting seeds, harvesting, environmental monitoring and soil analysis.
The use of unmanned drones is also a new specialty under agriculture 4.0. One of their most common uses is the capture of images of the crops. These images are later analysed to provide information about how the crops are evolving. These are also nowadays being used as remote fertilising vehicles. By boarding fertilisers on drones and defining the route it will have to follow, they can fertilise specific areas of the farm, or even individual plants. All these technologies falling under the broader ambit of Agriculture 4.0 will not only benefit the farming community but also benefit hundreds of industries including agriculture.
Agriculture 4.0 is more than just a movement, a catch-all term for the next step forward in agriculture, a smarter, more efficient industry that makes full use of big data and new technologies to benefit all the relevant stakeholders. At the same time, it has to be ensured that the marginal and small farmers are not exploited from tech-giants and do not have to face any unnecessary pressure from such innovative technologies. Agriculture beyond 4.0 might be focused on enabling environment of start-up culture, increasing livelihood and income, giving economic and nutritional security and increasing happiness index of farmers.
The writer is Director Extension/ Director Sameti, SKUAST Kashmir