Technology helps put food on the table for more people
Automation is the new farm hand
The average age of a farmer in the US is 58 years old and one-third of the workforce is over 65. While the overall average age of the US workforce has risen from 35.3 in 2000 to 44.6 in 2020, agriculture continues to have an older workforce. Traditionally, this has been filled by younger members of the family taking over the farm and by the seasonal hiring of migrant workers.
Farmers can now “farm out” tasks that require a less skilled labor force to automation tools such as robotic harvesters and drones. Some examples:
- Corteva has been using drone flights and computer vision to count plants for years, which allows farmers to quickly and accurately predict yield.
- In 2021, John Deere launched a fully autonomous tractor that reduces the need for people when there is limited time to get the work done - such as planting and harvesting - where a missed opportunity could mean a lost season.
- Microsoft recently open-sourced its FarmVibes technology that includes:
- FarmVibes.Edge, which allows growers to capture drone imagery in the field, and
- FarmVibes.Ai, which merges data sources, like heat maps, super-res satellite imagery and other technologies to create a big-picture view of a farm.
Managing soil health and water conservation with technology
Many regions of the United States are facing water scarcity, which greatly affects agriculture. Technology can help farmers conserve water by providing tools for precision irrigation and developing new crop strains that are more drought-resistant. Conversely, we are also seeing an increased number of severe weather events, such as flooding in California. Too much water at the wrong time can wipe out a crop. Creating crop strains with a shorter growing season can help farmers recover from a catastrophic flood.
The proof is in the prototype
Kin + Carta once created a prototype that would allow growers to access a user manual through their smartwatch for a maintenance process performed on their machinery once a year. They wouldn’t have to look for the manual, set it up where they can see it, and follow step-by-step through a process they rarely performed. This would make their lives easier, we thought. We were wrong. When we field-tested the prototype with an actual farmer, the first thing he did was put on heavy-duty gloves that covered his smartwatch, thus making our app unusable.
Understanding your users and their domain is critical to successfully applying your technology.
In an article in MIT Technology Review, Josh Ruiz, the vice president of ag operations for Church Brothers, which grows greens for the food service industry, says, “You can get my attention real fast if you solve a problem for me, but what happens nine times out of 10 is the tech companies come to me and they solve a problem that wasn’t a problem.”
Key drivers for technology in agriculture - usability and profitability
For more information about technology in agriculture, please contact us.