Smart farming can transform Australian agriculture

| June 23, 2022

Climate change affects every global citizen and has caused a negative ripple effect across industries, including agriculture. As a result of rising global temperatures, drought conditions, water scarcity, disrupted global trade, and beyond, the Australian farming industry is being challenged like never before. The situation is a dire one, as so many of Australia’s citizens rely on the national food supply.

According to researchers, more than 90% of the food consumed by Australians is produced domestically, and the industry employs thousands of workers. Farming is also vital to Australia’s economy, and most of the nation’s edible crops and fibres are exported. As such, Australian farmers must also deal with the uncertainty of global markets and politics, which can impact crop prices.

In an effort to solve some of the glaring issues currently found in Australia’s agricultural landscape, many industry leaders are turning to technology: Specifically, smart farming. Here’s what you need to know about how smart farming techniques — such as IoT tech, remote sensors, and more — may help solve some of Australia’s most glaring agricultural woes.

What’s at Stake: How Climate Change Affects Farming

Climate change has caused numerous agricultural challenges, ranging from supply chain disruptions to poor crop yields, and every nation on Earth has been impacted in some way.

Within the Indo-Pacific region, we’ve seen an increase in flooding, as well as El Niño and La Niña events, which have become more severe in recent years. Flooding from climate change has displaced millions of residents, and decimated countless farms, across the region.

The good news is that humans have more options than ever when it comes to mitigating the damage, and smart farming holds the key. Put simply, smart farming uses technology and data collection to monitor environmental factors like weather, soil, and potential contaminants in order to improve growth and crop yield.

At the same time, robotic sensors and equipment allow farmers to monitor crops remotely, reducing labour costs, and can improve supply chain efficiency. With proper monitoring and fast reactions from farmers once a problem is detected, the nation as a whole may see greater crop yields and significantly less food waste.

The Rise of Smart Farming

Smart farming is already in use at various locations around the world. 80 Acres Farms, which boasts a whopping 150,000 square feet of controlled environmental agriculture (CEA), is located in the US state of Ohio, for example.

The automated vertical farming facility utilises a variety of techniques to streamline operations, including artificial intelligence, sensors, and smart monitors. Further, as the space is controlled and monitored for factors like humidity levels and temperature, 80 Acres Farms can produce crops year-round.

It is this last point that’s of particular note when it comes to feeding the masses despite the environmental effects of climate change. Vertical smart farms are completely isolated from the natural world and are thus unaffected by factors such as drought or inclement weather events.

Most Australians reside in cities, and vertical farming techniques could help transform those urban landscapes and help sustain a growing population. Vertical farming has been utilised successfully in major urban centres throughout the world, including San Francisco.

Interestingly, vertical farming and the IoT may also be more sustainable than traditional farming methods, which require copious amounts of water. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment reports that about 24% of water extractions nationwide are used in agriculture, amounting to some 2,746 gigalitres annually. Water conservation is at the heart of vertical farming, and the method relies heavily on gravity-fed drip irrigation and other water-saving techniques.

Implementing Tech into Agriculture

Not content to be left behind in the agricultural innovation race, Australian farmers are also getting in on the action. At the Global Digital Farm in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, for instance, researchers are using AI to make informed decisions about planting, sowing, and harvesting, using fully autonomous machinery. Farm workers at the innovative facility are also looking into the potential cybersecurity risks associated with food production technology.

In many ways, today’s smart farming facilities resemble a laboratory more than a traditional farm. As such, Australian farmers of the future will need to prepare accordingly and possess a nuanced skill set that merges technology with traditional agricultural methods.

It’s important to note, however, that technological advancements in smart farming are only as capable as the network they’re running on.

Sensors and monitors are the backbone of smart farming, and the tech is becoming more accessible and affordable to farmers. Using IoT technology, smart farming sensors collect live data on soil, plant and animal health, and determine optimal growing conditions.

Yet that data all has to be stored somewhere, and your network must be reliable so that valuable information isn’t lost or overlooked. Ideally, every smart farming IoT network should also be secure and protected from hackers and/or equipment errors.

Key Takeaways

In the wake of dwindling water supplies and persistent drought conditions, smart technology is helping Australia to secure its water future, and it can do the same for agriculture. Technological innovations like vertical farming and hands-free monitoring allow us to make more informed decisions, despite the myriad effects of climate change.

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