There’s no shortage of agricultural technologies being developed for growers which is a positive for the industry. It aligns with how the next generation of growers are looking to leverage technology to improve their operations. Between labor shortages, inflation and low market prices, margins are continually being squeezed and sustaining profitable growing operations is getting harder. If technology can offer a way to improve efficiency it certainly improves the outlook for the future.
The problem is that advanced technologies such as robots and drones may well be the ultimate in the future of agtech but are less likely to be an option for many fruit and nut growers right now. What’s more critical is finding ways to improve current operations and grow margins to feel more secure about making bigger investments.
Smart farming technology is one way to do this by accelerating growing efficiency and better utilizing existing assets to increase margins. By monitoring growing activities it gives managers greater visibility across all growing activities which delivers real time command and control. The data collected provides a window into daily activities and when things aren’t going according to plan, corrections can be made on the same shift so that operational efficiency isn’t lost. It’s small gains like these that all add up to improve the bottom line for growers.
How smart farming technology helps overcome current challenges through efficiency
Growers have their hands full trying to navigate the many challenges being thrown at them. Each of these compounds the difficulty in maintaining profitable operations. What makes it worse is that the majority of the challenges facing growers are beyond their control. The best they can do is manage the effects and mitigate the risks.
Smart farming data shows growers how efficient their current operations are and then creates opportunities to initiate improvements and monitor progress. These are a few ways in which smart farming technology can be applied to specific growing challenges:
MATERIAL OPERATING COSTS: Inflation is increasing the cost of operations in multiple ways, including the price of fertilizers and pesticides. Cutting back too much on the volumes used can impact the quality and yield of crops. But having data can help growers gain visibility into the spray speed and accuracy to optimize material utilization. This has a dual benefit of ensuring costs are kept to a minimum without impacting possible yields and quality.
MACHINERY AND EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT: Ensuring machinery and equipment is running optimally helps to reduce excess repairs and operational costs. Plus, accurate usage data helps manage ongoing maintenance. Being able to track the number of hours that a piece of equipment has worked, at what speed, and the fuel used, helps manage and forecast costs.
LABOR COSTS: The increasing cost and limited availability of labor means growers need to find ways to optimize the labor resources they have. Smart farming technology can provide the data to ensure that activities are carried out at the optimum rate. This kind of visibility on a farm management level can optimize uptime during shifts.
WATER USE: Access to water remains a major issue for most growers in California in particular. The ability to ensure irrigation is sufficient for good growth and yields while reducing wastage and runoff takes careful planning and management. Smart farming technology that can track water usage can help improve efficiency.
CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate wise, shifting and unpredictable weather patterns, as well as water scarcity are making things even harder for growers. It’s also highlighting the need to track growing activities across the seasons. With actual data it is easier to see patterns and how they change from year to year.
ESG REPORTING: ESG is becoming increasingly important, as is the ability to report on sustainability efforts and impact. Consumer trends indicate a desire for greater transparency around our food supply. Additionally investor preferences highlight sustainability as a priority when it comes to farm asset management. To meet these growing demands, it’s essential to have accurate data that shows all growing activities, as this data is then used to calculate ESG impacts.
MARKET PRESSURES: Low market prices, trade tariffs and high exchange rates are making it more attractive for retailers to import fruits and nuts from other growing regions. India and China, two major export markets for almonds, have zero tariff trade agreements with Australia, yet have levied 11% and 45% tariffs on almonds from the USA. While the USA produces significantly more almonds, and is more able to meet demand, cheaper almond imports from Australia may well erode market share.
How smart farming sets the stage for the next level of autonomy
Smart farming technology delivers immediate benefits for growers to gain insights into their operations and how to improve them. But a bigger advantage is that it sets up operations for future autonomy. With the data available on the operations platform, it’s easier to forecast, plan, and schedule growing activities. When it comes to advancing towards autonomy, the baseline for operations is already well established.
Take for example the activity of spraying. Currently smart sensors attached to sprayers can measure the speed at which the equipment is moving through orchards and vineyards. This data is fed into a cloud-based operations platform, which can be accessed across devices. This gives managers remote visibility on spraying activities for each machine and operator.
The next step towards autonomy is auto-spray that detects the amount of canopy in an orchard and automatically adjusts the volume of spray. In young orchards where the trees are still relatively small, this can reduce the volume of spraying by up to 50%, which dramatically reduces costs. The auto-spray technology also automatically stops and restarts spraying activities when there’s a gap in the row or when making a turn, reducing wastage and optimizing the spraying process.
The need to optimize growing operations is urgent and the agricultural technologies that can make this happen are accessible. Growers don’t need to buy new equipment or special machinery. Fieldin’s smart sensors can be attached to any type of machinery; tractors, sprayers, shakers, sweepers, even ATV’s and trailers. It’s a great benefit to growers to be able to continue to use their existing assets, with the goal of making them more efficient.
Data sits at the heart of a better farm future, and agricultural technology such as smart sensors are the first step towards accelerating high value crop growing efficiency. If you’d like to find out how to get started with smart farming technology, reach out to FieldIn for more details.