Ag Embraces Tech to Grow Crops Smarter
Better-tasting, fresher food with less environmental impact
Technology for agriculture is growing by leaps and bounds, including enhancing precision agriculture with AI and using light technology to make large scale indoor crop-growing commercially viable. Various resources also address soil health and management, reducing the need for fertilizer and pesticides.
Precision agriculture advances
Minnesota has long been a leader in precision agriculture—customized management of producer’s fields using technology—including through the University of Minnesota. Computer-driven machinery, that can navigate a field with little human input, have been around for years. However, new technology, including artificial intelligence and satellites, is vastly improving processes.
Advances are taking precision ag roots and evolving into a new breed of smart farming. Global companies like Taranis Ag are leading developments, such as adding visual layers from satellites, planes and drones. Taranis’ tools provide farmers with the information to detect and prevent crop disease, weeds and insect damage based on weather forecasts gathered from aerial surveillance. New hardware can capture and interpret high-resolution image detail of an insect on a leaf from a plane flying 200 feet above ground.
Taranis CEO, Ofir Schlam, anticipates most commercial farms will be fully automated, with little human input, within the next decade.
One thing that advancements in machinery and technology cannot overcome is changing weather as a result of climate change. Large indoor facilities with artificial lighting and fully robotic management, bring automated agriculture to more controlled farming environments.
Using LED lights to grow crops commercially may seem a bit impractical at first glance. Mike Zelkind, chief executive of 80 Acres Farms, intends to do just that in neighborhoods across America. The company claims to have perfected the world’s first fully automated indoor farm, producing flavorful produce using 100 percent renewable energy, 97 percent less water and zero pesticides.
We all know plants need light to grow. Turns out Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs are ideal for agriculture. They use less energy, give off little heat and can be manipulated to optimize plant growth.
Inside a shipping container, a field of vegetables under purplish lights looks a little like science fiction. But not only are plants thriving, they are in the middle of a neighborhood in Cincinnati, giving a new definition to urban farming. A former food industry exec, Zelkind points out the advantage of fresh produce being grown in urban neighborhoods, drastically cutting the time from farm to table.
And then of course, there is taste. Having a tomato taste like a tomato. Using LED light “recipes” 80 Acre Farms can grow two types of basil from one plant. One is sweet for consumers in the grocery store, and a stronger variety is grown for chefs. LED lights can be adjusted to determine how plants grow, when they flower, how they taste. A plant’s level of vitamins and antioxidants is enhanced too, making them a healthier option than those grown in sunlight. The lights can also prolong food shelf life.
But it’s not just technology that makes these indoor operations work. Mike and wife Tisha traveled the country talking to farmers, listening to their problems. The stories followed a common thread—poor soil, inconsistent sunny days, unpredictable weather.
Indoor farms solve current agricultural issues, while making a solid plan to address future problems caused by climate change.
Grow your own hi-tech indoor farm
Growing food with LED lights is not reserved for commercial farms. You can have your own smart garden, providing fresh produce for your family in a simple and affordable automated system. Systems like Click and Grow or Aerogarden will give you a low effort, high nutrition indoor garden without GMOs, pesticides, insecticides or other substances.
A multi-billion dollar indoor industry
In case you haven’t heard, indoor farming, also known as “Vertical farming,” “low-impact farming,” and “urban farming,” is all the rage. Corporations are looking at controlled growing environments using a smaller footprint than traditional farming. These small farms have high yields because they can grow year-round.
Numerous high-tech plant factories are cropping up across the U.S. and globally. Entrepreneurs and major investors such as Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Kimbal Musk are drawn to the idea of disrupting the status quo, confronting climate change and applying high-tech systems, not just LED lights. Indoor farming is the wave of the future, with growing crops in a vertical environment already expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry.
Getting farmer buy-in
There is an old adage heard around traditional farms: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Being satisfied in their current methods, fearing change or disruption of farm practices are some reasons smaller farms may be slow to adopt more technology in farming. These producers, however, are becoming more of a minority as farm management generations shift and the benefits of technology becomes more apparent.
Smart farming is projected to create a massive impact on the agricultural economy and is already providing advanced precision technologies and new indoor farming opportunities. For the modern farmer, not only are there greater efficiencies and return on investment through smart farming, but they produce better tasting, fresher food with less environmental impact.