Humans have been farming for more than 10,000 years, and some aspects remain constant: the weather is always a challenge; crops and animals get sick; soil quality must be managed. But agriculture has also been a force for change. Improvements in farming methods have lifted our species from merely subsisting to enjoying an ever-increasing quality of life.
In New Zealand, agriculture is a lynchpin for our wealth and wellbeing, contributing over $12.5 billion to the economy, or 5% of our gross domestic product, each year. Innovations, from both New Zealand and around the world, are helping Kiwi farmers get more from their land every year.
Some of the exciting innovations in farming today are coming from automation and IoT. Data, automation and robotics are giving us new ways to meet those age-old challenges like weather, soil nutrients and diseases. And as new regulations are put in place by local councils and the government, IoT can also give Kiwi farmers a way to demonstrate their responsible farm management practices.
Read more about how IoT is driving sustainability in agriculture and other industries
Reducing unpredictability with IoT
As a farmer, you are always at the mercy of the weather, but IoT can assist in reducing some of that inherent unpredictability. Using IoT, almost anything that can be measured can now be monitored using sensors, with the information sent to your phone so you can check it at any time. Weather forecasts can be localised specifically to your property. You can monitor soil moisture levels, wind speed, irrigators and water table levels.
This is precision agriculture: millions of data points from your farm providing information, alerts and patterns. They can help you save money, increase productivity and make better decisions. The right set of tools can tell you exactly where every animal on your farm is and its temperature; or when the timing is right to send out a connected robot to harvest your crop.
Read more about fruit-picking robots and more
Demonstrating best practice on your farm
The data you collect can do more than simply inform your decision-making. As farm environment plans become more widely required, reporting on nutrient use and irrigation practices will become essential. When farm management comes under the microscope, having all the data at your fingertips will become a huge part of every farmer’s job.
Dairy farming is one of the backbones of New Zealand’s history and our economy, and dairy farmers are already accustomed to using data to report on their milk. Billions of litres of milk are being monitored each year for a multitude of factors, including temperature, which ensures it stays within the optimal temperature range from milking time to pickup.
Raising profits – with little tweaks and quick wins
Reducing your farm’s outgoings is another major benefit of precision farming. It’s usually about small tweaks that can reduce costs or increase productivity.
But sometimes it’s as simple as a quick win, like preventing fuel theft. Around half of all Kiwi farmers have had fuel stolen over the past two years, according to a 2021 survey by Federated Farmers and the NZ Police, up 20% from 2016. Fuel tank monitoring means you can get a text message any time fuel is removed from one of your farm’s tanks, which helps prevent fuel theft and catch the culprits faster.
Read one farmer’s story of successful fuel monitoring
The future of agricultural automation
The next wave of innovation for farmers is already on the way. You can now buy an all-electric, zero-emission self-driving tractor. You can use drone planting systems to decrease planting costs by 85% and complete aerial spraying five times faster than traditional methods, according to a PWC report.
Read the PWC report on six ways drones are revolutionising agriculture
Managing soil nutrients accurately, with technology that takes into account different types of soil and terrain, is another important goal for agritech. Current methods for estimating nitrogen loss, for instance, are unreliable and contentious. Improvements in this area of agriculture will be welcomed with open arms.
Stepping even further ahead into the future of precision agriculture, hyperspectral imaging could become an essential tech tool. A camera measures light reflected from crops and analyses the light spectrum from that reflection. It picks up tiny differences in the crop that aren’t perceptible to the human eye, indicating any stress, disease, or nutrient deficiency.
Read more about smart farming technology here
Agriculture is a cornerstone of our world and it’s inspiring to see so many people working to find ways to make our farms more sustainable, more productive and more profitable.
If you’re looking for ways to monitor the measurables on your farm or in your business, get in touch – the team at Spark is here to provide custom IoT solutions for all types of Kiwi businesses.
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