New Agriculture Technology in Modern Farming

Innovation is more important in modern agriculture than ever before. The industry as a whole is facing huge challenges, from rising costs of supplies, a shortage of labor, and changes in consumer preferences for transparency and sustainability. There is increasing recognition from agriculture corporations that solutions are needed for these challenges. In the last 10 years, agriculture technology has seen a huge growth in investment, with $6.7 billion invested in the last 5 years and $1.9 billion in the last year alone. Major technology innovations in the space have focused around areas such as indoor vertical farming, automation and robotics, livestock technology, modern greenhouse practices, precision agriculture and artificial intelligence, and blockchain.

Indoor Vertical Farming

ndoor vertical farming can increase crop yields, overcome limited land area, and even reduce farming’s impact on the environment by cutting down distance traveled in the supply chain. Indoor vertical farming can be defined as the practice of growing produce stacked one above another in a closed and controlled environment. By using growing shelves mounted vertically, it significantly reduces the amount of land space needed to grow plants compared to traditional farming methods. This type of growing is often associated with city and urban farming because of its ability to thrive in limited space. Vertical farms are unique in that some setups don’t require soil for plants to grow. Most are either hydroponic, where vegetables are grown in a nutrient-dense bowl of water, or aeroponic, where the plant roots are systematically sprayed with water and nutrients. In lieu of natural sunlight, artificial grow lights are used.

From sustainable urban growth to maximizing crop yield with reduced labor costs, the advantages of indoor vertical farming are apparent. Vertical farming can control variables such as light, humidity, and water to precisely measure year-round, increasing food production with reliable harvests. The reduced water and energy usage optimizes energy conservation — vertical farms use up to 70% less water than traditional farms. Labor is also greatly reduced by using robots to handle harvesting, planting, and logistics, solving the challenge farms face from the current labor shortage in the agriculture industry.

Vertical farms use up to 70% less water than traditional farms.

Farm Automation

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Farm automation, often associated with “smart farming”, is technology that makes farms more efficient and automates the crop or livestock production cycle. An increasing number of companies are working on robotics innovation to develop drones, autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, automatic watering, and seeding robots. Although these technologies are fairly new, the industry has seen an increasing number of traditional agriculture companies adopt farm automation into their processes.

New advancements in technologies ranging from robotics and drones to computer vision software have completely transformed modern agriculture. The primary goal of farm automation technology is to cover easier, mundane tasks. Some major technologies that are most commonly being utilized by farms include: harvest automation, autonomous tractors, seeding and weeding, and drones. Farm automation technology addresses major issues like a rising global population, farm labor shortages, and changing consumer preferences. The benefits of automating traditional farming processes are monumental by tackling issues from consumer preferences, labor shortages, and the environmental footprint of farming.

Livestock Farming Technology

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The traditional livestock industry is a sector that is widely overlooked and under-serviced, although it is arguably the most vital. Livestock provides much needed renewable, natural resources that we rely on every day. Livestock management has traditionally been known as running the business of poultry farms, dairy farms, cattle ranches, or other livestock-related agribusinesses. Livestock managers must keep accurate financial records, supervise workers, and ensure proper care and feeding of animals. However, recent trends have proven that technology is revolutionizing the world of livestock management. New developments in the past 8-10 years have made huge improvements to the industry that make tracking and managing livestock much easier and data-driven. This technology can come in the form of nutritional technologies, genetics, digital technology, and more.

blankLivestock technology can enhance or improve the productivity capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock. The concept of the ‘connected cow’ is a result of more and more dairy herds being fitted with sensors to monitor health and increase productivity. Putting individual wearable sensors on cattle can keep track of daily activity and health-related issues while providing data-driven insights for the entire herd. All this data generated is also being turned into meaningful, actionable insights where producers can look quickly and easily to make quick management decisions.

Animal genomics can be defined as the study of looking at the entire gene landscape of a living animal and how they interact with each other to influence the animal’s growth and development. Genomics help livestock producers understand the genetic risk of their herds and determine the future profitability of their livestock. By being strategic with animal selection and breeding decisions, cattle genomics allows producers to optimize profitability and yields of livestock herds.

Sensor and data technologies have huge benefits for the current livestock industry. It can improve the productivity and welfare of livestock by detecting sick animals and intelligently recognizing room for improvement. Computer vision allows us to have all sorts of unbiased data that will get summarized into meaningful, actionable insights. Data-driven decision making leads to better, more efficient, and timely decisions that will advance the productivity of livestock herds.

Livestock technology can enhance or improve the productivity capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock.

Modern Greenhouses

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In recent decades, the Greenhouse industry has been transforming from small scale facilities used primarily for research and aesthetic purposes (i.e., botanic gardens) to significantly more large-scale facilities that compete directly with land-based conventional food production. Combined, the entire global greenhouse market currently produces nearly US $350 billion in vegetables annually, of which U.S. production comprises less than one percent.

Nowadays, in large part due to the tremendous recent improvements in growing technology, the industry is witnessing a blossoming like no time before. Greenhouses today are increasingly emerging that are large-scale, capital-infused, and urban-centered.

As the market has grown dramatically, it has also experienced clear trends in recent years. Modern greenhouses are becoming increasingly tech-heavy, using LED lights and automated control systems to perfectly tailor the growing environment. Successful greenhouse companies are scaling significantly and located their growing facilities near urban hubs to capitalize on the ever-increasing demand for local food, no matter the season.

To accomplish these feats, the greenhouse industry is also becoming increasingly capital-infused, using venture funding and other sources to build out the infrastructure necessary to compete in the current market.

The entire global greenhouse market currently produces nearly US $350 billion in vegetables annually.

Precision Agriculture

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Agriculture is undergoing an evolution – technology is becoming an indispensable part of every commercial farm. New precision agriculture companies are developing technologies that allow farmers to maximize yields by controlling every variable of crop farming such as moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions, and micro-climates. By providing more accurate techniques for planting and growing crops, precision agriculture enables farmers to increase efficiency and manage costs.

Precision agriculture companies have found a huge opportunity to grow. A recent report by Grand View Research, Inc. predicts the precision agriculture market to reach $43.4 billion by 2025. The emerging new generation of farmers are attracted to faster, more flexible startups that systematically maximize crop yields.

Blockchain

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Blockchain’s capability of tracking ownership records and tamper-resistance can be used to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency and food traceability in the current food system. Blockchain’s unique decentralized structure ensures verified products and practices to create a market for premium products with transparency.

Food traceability has been at the center of recent food safety discussions, particularly with new advancements in blockchain applications. Due to the nature of perishable food, the food industry at whole is extremely vulnerable to making mistakes that would ultimately affect human lives. When foodborne diseases threaten public health, the first step to root-cause analysis is to track down the source of contamination and there is no tolerance for uncertainty.

Consequently, traceability is critical for the food supply chain. The current communication framework within the food ecosystem makes traceability a time-consuming task since some involved parties are still tracking information on paper. The structure of blockchain ensures that each player along the food value chain would generate and securely share data points to create an accountable and traceable system. Vast data points with labels that clarify ownership can be recorded promptly without any alteration. As a result, the record of a food item’s journey, from farm to table, is available to monitor in real-time.

The use cases of blockchain in food go beyond ensuring food safety. It also adds value to the current market by establishing a ledger in the network and balancing market pricing. The traditional price mechanism for buying and selling relies on judgments of the involved players, rather than the information provided by the entire value chain. Giving access to data would create a holistic picture of the supply and demand. The blockchain application for trades might revolutionize traditional commodity trading and hedging as well. Blockchain enables verified transactions to be securely shared with every player in the food supply chain, creating a marketplace with immense transparency.

Blockchain can be used to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency, and food traceability in the current food system.

Artificial Intelligence

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The rise of digital agriculture and its related technologies has opened a wealth of new data opportunities. Remote sensors, satellites, and UAVs can gather information 24 hours per day over an entire field. These can monitor plant health, soil condition, temperature, humidity, etc. The amount of data these sensors can generate is overwhelming, and the significance of the numbers is hidden in the avalanche of that data.

The idea is to allow farmers to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground through advanced technology (such as remote sensing) that can tell them more about their situation than they can see with the naked eye. And not just more accurately but also more quickly than seeing it walking or driving through the fields.

Remote sensors enable algorithms to interpret a field’s environment as statistical data that can be understood and useful to farmers for decision-making. Algorithms process the data, adapting and learning based on the data received. The more inputs and statistical information collected, the better the algorithm will be at predicting a range of outcomes. And the aim is that farmers can use this artificial intelligence to achieve their goal of a better harvest through making better decisions in the field.

Source: https://www.plugandplaytechcenter.com/resources/new-agriculture-technology-modern-farming/

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10 Emerging Innovations in Agtech

With the global population reaching 7.7 billion as of 2019, sustainable farming is taking center stage in the agriculture technologies industry. More focus has been placed by governmental and international bodies to achieve “sustainable intensification” in agriculture. Creating more sustainable farming practices increasingly requires adopting new technologies that help with crop management, pest control, quality control, and integrated disease management.

These new technologies are important steps to allow current and future generations of farmers to grow without compromising the needs of the earth.

With one in seven people facing starvation on earth, there has been an ever-increasing pressure for farmers to maximize productivity. All while maintaining environmental and economic efficiency. Farmers often face a race against the clock with minimal hands-on deck to plant and harvest, especially with the volatility of recent unpredictable climates. It is with this that technology comes into play. A technological revolution has brought about new agricultural innovations that will change the landscape of farm and orchard management.

Here we explore just ten of these emerging tools that can help today’s farmers achieve precision and increase productivity.

Laser Scarecrows

Since the dawn of farming, the battle between farmers and birds has been a perpetual struggle. Pests like starlings, blackbirds, and crows can destroy up to 75% of crops within 48 hours of harvest, leading to a huge loss in revenue. Growers have tried everything in the name of pest control. From traditional scarecrows to propane cannons, none which have outrun the evolutionary wit of nature.

Recently, a researcher from the University of Rhode Island has invented a new deterrent to keep these birds away. The laser scarecrow projects green laser lighting not visible by humans in the sun. They are effective due to birds’ sensitivity to the color green. The automated laser darts across fields up to 600 feet and effectively startle birds enough to prevent them from destroying any crop. They are also less environmentally destructive and less labor-intensive compared to the use of netting.

There have been different variations of the laser technology, some of which come solar-powered, and with an auto-targeting system on birds. The technology has also been adopted by pest control companies who claim the device can prevent up to 90% of crop losses. It is a silent tactic that doesn’t disrupt neighbors. It is highly effective and to date, comes with a low chance of birds adapting to its scare tactics.

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Bee Vectoring

An exciting new development in disease control management is bee vectoring. A company in Canada has proven bee vectoring to be effective in integrated disease management and pest control. The technology uses a naturally occurring fungus called BVT-CR7, or Vectorite, that helps protect crops from a variety of diseases. The Vectorite solution is placed inside a hive of commercially raised bees and the bees collect the solution whenever they exit the hive. The solution is then distributed by the bees to the surrounding crops and fields. Besides increased disease resistance, the technology also enhances plant growth and naturally prolongs the shelf life of crops. All of these benefits come without the use of chemical pesticides. The innovation is ground-breaking as it integrates nature with agricultural industry systems.

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Harvest Quality Vision - HQV

Pioneered by Croptracker, the Harvest Quality Vision (HQV) is a new technology that simplifies the harvesting process of fruits and vegetables by eliminating the need for manual inspections. 

Released this year, HQV uses computerized scanners to capture and determine the quality and quantity of crops. The huge volume of apples and other fruit harvested at one time means that most fruit is not being graded before it is put into storage. Using a camera to grade produce means better sorting and management of the produce without damage caused by human or machine handling. The software creates alerts whenever there are  deviations such as diseases, defects, and quantity shortages so that growers can correct their course of actions early in the harvesting process. HQV helps farmers produce more consistent crops of higher quality, which increases the farm’s revenue. Currently this technology is only available through Croptracker for apple grading and sorting, but plans to roll out grading systems for other crop types are expected soon.

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Product Testing In-field or On-site

The farming practices of some crops such as Cannabis and Hemp, are highly regulated and require strict lab testing and reporting. Many other crops benefit from monitoring moisture and contaminant levels throughout growth. As such, extra costs are incurred with the requirement of lengthy sampling and lab procedures. This creates a demand for innovations in in-field product testing technologies that can lower the cost, hassle, and wait time to get lab results.

LightLab is one of these inventions. The portable and lightweight equipment can accurately test for the cannabinoid profile of such crops outside of the lab. Sampling and tests can now be carried out in the field or at processing centers, saving growers time and simplifying the production process.

Another device that carries out a similar function on grain crops is the MINI GAC® 2500. The equipment can capture accurate readings to render benefits such as an expanded grain temperature range and faster analysis time. This results in an elimination of shrink charges and dockage fees as well as better control over the drying process of crops.

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Crop & Soil Monitoring & Management

Precision farming involves a lot of data collection and management. It can be tedious and prone to human error. FarmBeats is one of the innovators who has made a breakthrough in this field with the use of sensors, drones, satellites, and tractors. The technology works in real-time, which feeds it into a cloud-based model to render a detailed picture of how the farm is performing.

Other applications such as Agrocares can help farmers efficiently and affordably monitor and analyze soil fertility, such as its nutrients, feed, leaves, and insect contents. It produces reliable and fast data that can provide management recommendations to simplify the process flow of farming. Just like FarmBeats, the innovation utilizes cloud-based technology, which allows it to run in real-time.

Tools such as SGS can also help you to strategize a nutrient delivery plan that can increase crop yields, enhance environmental protection, and fine-tune precision. This is done through precise sampling, mapping, and testing with the help of GPS and GIS. Growers can now be in full control in understanding the soil’s macro and micronutrients, as well as its salinity, carbon content, and other factors so as to achieve optimal conditions when planting.

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Automated Farm Equipment

Automated farming equipment such as a self-driven tractor or seeder solves the problem of both time-constraints and labor shortages.

Machines like these can work round the clock tirelessly to bring higher yields in a shorter time. They are perfect for orchard management as they allow farmers to work on more important things, such as strategizing an improvement in quality for their crops instead of focusing on menial and manual labor

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RFID

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that utilizes radio waves to capture information tagged to an object. They have similar functions as a barcode but work more efficiently and comprehensively in a farm setting as they can be read invisibly and from several feet away in the dirt. Unlike the barcode, RFID can also be reprogrammed and can hold up to 2KB of data, including information such as location, date, and time.

Croptracker has harnessed the technology of RFID for the use of the harvest, storage, and packing of crops. It reduces data errors through automation and allows for enhanced traceability and swift recall management when the need arises. The technology eliminates the risk of costly human error during organization processes. With RFID, customers will be able to know the origins of the product they have on hand, which will lead to more customer loyalty and trust.

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Real-Time Kinematic

Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) is an emerging technology used to enhance the accuracy of existing GPS signals. The technique eliminates the majority of standard GPS errors to centimeter-level accuracy. RTK improves GPS or satellite tracking with stationary receivers in the field to predict more accurately the yields and expenses of farming. This technology is being applied to land surveying mostly right now with the goal of aligning the best plant density and treatment plans to the land being planted.

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Vertical Farming

With the urbanization and industrial development of countries comes a loss of arable lands for farming. A third of arable land has already been lost over the last 40 years, and vertical farming might be the salvaging solution.

With the technique of growing crops in vertically stacked or inclined surfaces that can be integrated into other structures or buildings, vertical farming can produce more crops with less space. This can be the answer to meeting the increasing food demands of an ever-growing population, especially in cities. Farmers can also take advantage of greenhouse settings that can be integrated into vertical farming. This means the production of year-round seasonal crops without any effects from the climate.

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Minichromosome Technology

Genetic engineers have harnessed the application of minichromosome technology to enhance the genetic traits of a plant. Although containing only small amounts of genetic material, the minichromosome can be manipulated with the use of genetic engineering to achieve bio-fortification, the enhancement, or supplementation of the crop’s nutritional content. It can also improve crop resistance with new traits such as drought tolerance.

Because of the minimal amounts of genetic material minichromosomes contain, they make effective vectors to express foreign genes without the interference with the host’s natural development and growth. The technology has not been fully explored and has great potential for broad applications in agriculture. Because of the utilization of the plant’s original chromosomes, there is a less negative connotation labeled by consumers compared to other genetically modified foods.

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5 Innovative Agricultural Practices That Are Changing the World

Digitization in the modern age means that almost every contemporary field or industry is becoming more and more reliant on hardware connected to and, in some cases, controlled by software. These industries are being transformed from the inside out by innovative technology and practices, and even traditionally analogue ways of life are finding it difficult to resist disruption.

Agriculture is a prime example of one of these industries, with the experts at Maryville University actually including it as one of ten “on fire” fields for up-and-coming software developers.

“The agriculture industry has experienced a massive technological shift of late,” they write. “Precision agriculture involves big data, drones, sensors, and farm management software …  Environmental controls, cellular agriculture (micro farms), smart packaging technology, gene manipulation, and e-grocer businesses have also pushed the entire agricultural business world into the computer age.”

These innovative practices and technologies may very well prove to be more than just the future of farming and agriculture — they may be the very keys to the survival of the human race.

Here are five innovative agricultural practices and technologies that are changing the world.

1. Urban Agriculture, Smart Design, and Vertical Farms

The big advantage that urban farming touts is the innovative reimagining and utilization of space. Urban farms might be as humble as your traditional, outdoor community garden. On the other hand, they might be as complex and futuristic as well-regulated, self-contained, environmentally controlled pods that are stacked on top of each other.

In one of the latest trends in urban farming, vertical farming, we’ve begun to realize yields that are nearly 10 times more efficient than traditional agriculture. “Vertical farming doesn’t promise to radically change the way we farm, only make it more efficient, productive, and take up less space,” writes Jelor Gallego with Futurism.com.

Traditional farmers could take a lesson from vertical farmers in their buildings and design, adopting the tenets of smart design to reduce waste and increase yield. Josh Tittle, writing on smart and sustainable barn design, reminds that it’s easy to get carried away by what you want rather than what you need.

“ … more space means more energy that’s needed for heat and light, which in turn makes for higher costs and more wasted resources. Instead of building a larger structure, consider what it is you need at the moment and design an efficient space for that purpose,” he writes.

As we continue to overpopulate our world and take up space, we’ll need to rely on efficiency in spaces and growth to continue to feed ourselves. Unfortunately, no matter how high we build or how intelligently we design, human beings are causing extensive damage and change to our environments, impacting our ability to raise healthy, mature crops.

2. The Drones & the Bees

Climate change is a massive problem for human beings that, perhaps, hasn’t been fully realized yet — but it’s no secret that we’re on an extremely destructive path.


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Pollination aside, there are plenty of ways that that agriculture could utilize drones, including aerial drone photography for a quick look at fields, automated crop harvest, and even as delivery drones in the future. This will be further compounded by a further rise in automation, A.I., and the IoT.

“If climate change continues to worsen, food shortages could drive prices higher even in more developed countries like the U.S., leading to a public health crisis in the form of global food shortages and waves of hunger,” write the experts at the University of Reno, Nevada in their blog. “As such, public health officials should turn their attention to exploring efforts to shore up food reserves and alternative forms of agriculture.”

One of the problems that it seems everybody is familiar with is the problem of disappearing bees — Time magazine claims that there are more than 700 species of North American Bee that headed toward extinction. This could spell disaster, as bees “play an important economic role as pollinators helping sustain agricultural production,” they write. “In the United States, that value reaches billions of dollars annually, according to a 2015 White House report.”

Fortunately, drones are now being used in experiments to, hopefully, supplement the pollination efforts that bees have traditionally completed.

“The Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette has become the first apple orchard in the world to pollinate its trees using a drone, according to the start-up company that developed the technology,” writes Rick Moriarty with Syracuse.com.

3. Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and Automation

When we think about the future of driving, we generally think about cars on the road and commuters that aren’t required to keep their hands on the wheel — because A.I. is doing the driving. What we generally don’t think about, however, is driverless vehicles on the farm. Nevertheless, a company called Smart Ag has announced functional driverless tractor technology in the form of “AutoCart” software, according to Matthew J. Grassi with Precision Ag.

“This software application fully automates a grain cart tractor, which provide farmers much needed assistance during the demanding harvest season,” he writes. “Colin Hurd, the founder and CEO of Smart Ag, said the innovative technology will allow farmers to automate their existing equipment and maximize its efficiency and capacity – regardless of manufacturer.”

The AutoCart software is actually a cloud-based platform, meaning that these automated ag vehicles will join the worldwide internet of things (IoT).


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Of course, automated vehicles are just one facet of machine learning and IoT innovation in agriculture. Kristin Houser reports that Chinese farmers have recently begun “testing a new AI system that uses a combination of machine vision, voice recognition, and temperature sensors to keep track of pigs’ location, health, and wellbeing.”

Other use-cases include advanced detection of diseases in crops using many of the same techniques.

It’s important to remember that much of AI’s true potential has yet to even be realized and that the field is still very much in its infancy. A little further along, however, is blockchain technology — the same tech behind the latest financial phenomenon, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

4. Blockchain Technology

While most people know the blockchain for its application in cryptocurrency finance, the agricultural world is beginning to get to know this innovative new technology in another capacity.

Commodity traders Louis Dreyfus Co. (LDC) recently completed the first blockchain-powered agricultural trade, selling and delivering 60,000 tons of soybeans to China in December 2017. This trade represents how the blockchain will likely be used in agriculture early on, with decentralized transactions and self-executing smart contracts.

“Most of the early applications of blockchain in agriculture have to do with traceability and supply chains; a blockchain ledger could record and update the status of crops from planting to harvest to storage to delivery,” writes Remi Schmaltz with AgFunder News. “The upside for large operations is a secure, immutable ledger that ensures you never lose a load. The status of all your crops is available in real time.”

Another way that the blockchain can be used is for resource management, like tracking machinery maintenance records or for tracking other sensors and equipment.

5. CRISPR and Genetic Editing

Scientists have recently begun utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to do precise genetic “surgeries,” so-to-speak, allowing them to target and alter the genome of an organism by cutting out or replacing specific parts of a DNA strand’s genetic sequence. Medical News Today reports that genetic editing via this avenue has been shown to lower cholesterol in monkeys, and could be used to eradicate the herpes virus in humans.

Now, CRISPR is being used to change a cow’s gut microbes to try and reduce the amount of methane they are producing as well as how large they get.

“Tweaking cow microbiomes to make more meat on less food could make the meat industry more efficient and more profitable,” writes Chelsea Gohd with Futurism.com. “Given that methane has roughly 25 times the heat trapping ability of carbon dioxide, reducing cows’ methane production could also have a serious impact on the environment.”

Scientists have also begun engineering crops that require less water and that grow more food. Of course, there could be unforeseen consequences when it comes to messing with genetics in any environment or ecosystem — we’ll have to be extremely cautious that we don’t create more problems in an attempt to solve a few.

These are just a couple of ways that innovative agricultural practices are changing our future, and making the world a more liveable place. Without these innovations, it’s worth mentioning that climate change’s effect on crop growth and the threat of overpopulation could decimate the human race. Innovation in agriculture isn’t just interesting — it’s essential to our survival!

Source: https://innovationexcellence.com/blog/2018/08/06/5-innovative-agricultural-practices-that-are-changing-the-world/

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How AI Is Transforming Agriculture

Agriculture and farming is one of the oldest and most important professions in the world. Humanity has come a long way over the millennia in how we farm and grow crops with the introduction of various technologies. As the world population continues to grow and land becomes more scarce, people have needed to get creative and become more efficient about how we farm, using less land to produce more crops and increasing the productivity and yield of those farmed acres. Worldwide, agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, and now the industry is turning to AI technologies to help yield healthier crops, control pests, monitor soil and growing conditions, organize data for farmers, help with workload, and improve a wide range of agriculture-related tasks in the entire food supply chain.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2019/07/05/how-ai-is-transforming-agriculture/#795c5c94ad10

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Digital Farming Makes Agriculture Sustainable

There are various growing concerns over agricultural sustainability, including forecasted water shortages by 2030.  In order to address this issue, a digital farming technology has been developed in Japan. Experienced farmers are able to use water and fertilizers more efficiently, thanks to their extensive experiences, knowledge and know-how. By utilizing the IoT and AI to collect and analyze data from their farming practices and the surrounding environment, this technology enables even inexperienced growers to implement such intangible techniques. It can improve agricultural productivity even in areas with limited access to water. This technology is expected to bring a huge change to the future of sustainable agriculture.

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Water, fertilizer, experience and knowledge are essential to agriculture.

But agriculture that relies on large amounts of water and fertilizer faces sustainability issues.

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IoT and AI are coming into wider use in Japan as a way to spread sustainable farming.

Routrek Networks, Inc.
President & CEO
Shin’ichi Sasaki

Water shortages are the biggest problem for agriculture around the globe.

In 2030, water supplies are forecast to be 39% short of demand.

Inexperienced growers have a strong tendency to use more water and fertilizer, and they let more wasted fertilizer flow into groundwater.

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01:00

That water is a health hazard.

Cultivators with superior knowledge and experience can judge the right amount of water and fertilizer to use.
Doing this lets them control yields and quality. That’s where we focused.

01:15

We used IoT and AI to turn that knowhow into data so it could be used more widely.

This is digital farming.

It will take us from farming relying on experience and intuition, to sustainable farming optimized with data.

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Meiji University Kurokawa Field Science Center
Professor
Kiyoshi Ozawa

“Fertigation” is an agricultural technique created in Israel, which has a severe water shortage.

Instead of spraying a large amount of water with sprinklers or the like, fertigation uses narrow pipes to place drops of water and fertilizer at the roots of the growing crops.

We used IoT and AI to make an advancement in fertigation.

We collect data from soil and light sensors.
AI analyzes the data with the accumulated knowhow of skilled cultivators to determine the right amount of water and fertilizer.

We can minimize the amount required to keep the soil in proper condition.

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02:30

With our technology, agricultural productivity throughout the region will drastically improve.

Implementing this simple digital farming method was inexpensive and highly efficient.

Routrek Networks, Inc.
President & CEO
Shin’ichi Sasaki

Agriculture is changing in big ways thanks to IoT and AI. First, it will fix agriculture’s water shortages.

It will also help raise the value of farming.

We are already starting to get results in Japan, and the technologies are beginning to spread to Vietnam, China and elsewhere in Asia.

02:58

We need to keep improving agriculture for the sake of our children’s future.

I believe our technologies will help make agriculture sustainable for the next generations.

Source: https://www.japan.go.jp/technology/innovation/digitalfarming.html

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Demand for agricultural robots to increase sharply

The demand for agricultural robots will see an increase of 24.1% until 2024, according to a recent business and commerce study by Transparency Market Research.

While the population worldwide is ever growing, the availability of arable land is limited as a number of emerging economies are focused on urbanisation, states the Transparency Market Research Agriculture Robots Market report.

According to the report, “These factors have raised a case for extracting maximum yield out of available agricultural landscape and have given birth to the market for agriculture robots, used for weed controlling, cloud seeding, planting seeds, soil analysis, and environmental monitoring.”

Technology becomes more affordable

The researchers say that as the awareness regarding the benefits offered by agriculture robots spreads and the technology becomes more affordable for cost-effective parts of the world, the demand in the global agriculture robots will multiply at an impressive CAGR of 24.1% during the forecast period of 2016 to 2024.

The analysts of the report have evaluated that the opportunities in the agriculture robots market, worldwide, translated into a revenue of US$ 1.01 Bn in 2016 and have estimated it to swell up to US$ 5.7 Bn by the end of 2024.

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Dutch arable farmer Leo Steenpoorte guides his Oz440 to a plot of kale. The little cart is a self-propelled robot that acts like a workhorse.- Photo: Joost Stallen

Key factors

Apart from increasing strain on the global food supply as a result of increasing population, some of the other key factors augmenting the demand in the global agriculture robots market according to the report are: prospects of substantial cost savings by the food producers in a long term and government support to adopt modern agriculture techniques.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

In addition to that, recent new advents such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones that are specifically designed for agricultural farms and welcoming nature of food producers in developed countries regarding new technologies are also expected to reflect positively on the global agriculture robots market in the near future.

Substantial capital investment

On the other hand, the requirement of substantial capital investment before production stage is achieved from agrobots, strong lack of awareness in several emerging economies, and the absence of standardised safety regulations for the usage of these devices are obstructing the market from attaining its true potential.

In addition to that, the commercialisation of agricultural robots is a time-consuming process and the players operating in this market will have to overcome it to gain maximum profits, according to the researchers.

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The TerraSentia robot from EarthSense is designed to survey crops for phenotyping to help gather data for variety breeding programmes. – Photo: EarthSense

Regional players are dominating

The global agriculture robots market makes for a scenario wherein regional players are dominating within the countries they have a presence in. For example, Clearpath Robotics, Harvest Automation, Inc., and PrecisionHawk, Inc. are 3 companies who were ahead of the curve in the region of North America in 2015, whereas SenseFly SA and Naio Technologies held the upper hand in Europe.

Over in the region of Asia Pacific, Shibuya Seiki has been identified as the leader the same year, 2015.

New players

Owing to the sheer profitability of this market and a radical growth rate, a number of new players are expected to make a foray in the near future and eat into the shares of the dominant players. For the key players to maintain their stronghold, the analysts of the TMR report have suggested development of cutting-edge technologies to meet diverse requirements.

Regions

In 2015, North America accounted for the maximum demand as a region in the global agriculture robots market, although vastly populated Asia Pacific is expected to turn into a highly lucrative region towards the end of the forecast period. China and Japan are 2 countries that are at the forefront of growing demand for agriculture robots from the region.

Source: https://www.futurefarming.com/Machinery/Articles/2019/6/Demand-for-agricultural-robots-to-increase-sharply-441661E/

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How High Tech Is Transforming One of the Oldest Jobs: Farming

From equipment automation to data collection and analysis, the digital evolution of agriculture is already a fact of life on farms across the United States.

This article is part of our ongoing Fast Forward series, which examines technological, economic, social and cultural shifts that happen as businesses evolve.

Of all the out-of-the-box products a Silicon Valley tech start-up could offer, Bear Flag Robotics may be delivering the most unexpected: plowed fields.

The company is developing autonomous tractors, a goal that equipment companies like Case IH, John Deere and Kubota are chasing as well. But the business model of Bear Flag, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has a twist — it does not build the tractors. Instead, it adapts the sensors and actuators needed for driverless plowing to existing tractors produced by major manufacturers.

That step is not as sci-fi as it might seem. From equipment automation to data collection and analysis, the digital evolution of agriculture is already a fact of life on farms across the United States.

Auto-steer systems, which use GPS receivers to keep rows straight and avoid gaps or overlap, are available for equipment ranging from tractors to harvest combines to sprayers with 100-foot-wide booms. Precision seeders and fertilizer systems can be satellite guided to accuracy of an inch or less.

The difference: For the most part, those operations still depend on an operator at the controls.

“Autonomous operation will be a service in agriculture before it’s a product,” said Igino Cafiero, Bear Flag’s chief executive during a break from his work in a test field of cilantro about 60 miles southeast of the company’s headquarters. The company’s niche is providing secondary tillage, deploying its equipment after a harvest is complete to prepare the fields for the next planting.

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In a demonstration above, an iPad displays the pattern that a driverless tractor with Bear Flag Robotics technology will follow as it plows a field in California.

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Cameras that are part of the guidance system for the Bear Flag autonomous technology. It uses sensors similar to those in autonomous road vehicles under development.Credit…Photographs by Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The need for driverless farming equipment is intensifying, Mr. Cafiero said, because of a crushing labor shortage, which drives up wages and worker mobility. Tractors equipped with Bear Flag technology are able to work fields around the clock, without a driver, using sensors similar to those in autonomous road vehicles under development: lidar, radar and digital video.

The sensory devices provide more than what Mr. Cafiero calls situational awareness, vital for safe operation where workers and livestock may be nearby, also collecting data on the land to improve efficiency. While Bear Flag pursues expanding capabilities to tasks like planting and spraying that have long demanded human supervision, it also plans to expand to the labor-intensive harvest duties of crops including tree nuts and row crops.

The drive to increase productivity is urgent in all phases of agriculture. Feeding a world population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 faces dire challenges, according to the summary of a United Nations report released in August. The effects of climate change — extreme weather, soil loss, migration pressures — will strain land and water resources, potentially disrupting food supplies.

Yet growing crops has historically been an uncertain enterprise, a livelihood that increasingly depends on forecasts of weather conditions, commodity prices and complex factors like maturity index and projected yield. Agriculture is seen as an industry ideally suited to large-scale data collection and analysis, and technology companies more closely associated with databases and computer hardware are seeing opportunities.

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Igino Cafiero, Bear Flag’s chief executive, said the need for driverless farming equipment was intensifying because of a crushing labor shortage.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

IBM, for example, made its move into the cloud — not the virtual data repository, but the puffy ones in the sky — in 2016 with the purchase of the Weather Company, bringing supercomputer prowess to what once depended on the centuries of record-keeping by trusted prediction tools like The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Jeff Keiser, a manager for agribusiness solutions at the Weather Company, knows more than agriculture analytics. He also farms corn and soybeans in Indiana, where he has encountered many of the same conditions as the wide range of food producers who can make use of IBM’s Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture.

FAST FORWARD SERIES Catch up on all our previous stories here.

“With the cold spring followed by high temperatures and a lot of rain, it’s been a very challenging year,” Mr. Keiser said. “I got some planting done in April, but it wasn’t finished until June.”

The decision platform, which will mark its first anniversary in October, is designed to ingest data from satellite imagery and from sensors on farm equipment that monitor, among other things, seed counts, nutrient levels and fertilizer flow, said Cameron Clayton, the chief executive of the Weather Company. A sensor-equipped farm of 1,000 acres requires vast analysis and storage capabilities on the scale of what IBM can provide.

With more than two million acres of farmland around the world covered, the platform provides hyperlocal six-month weather predictions based on satellite and atmospheric data.

The system makes extensive use of IBM’s experience in artificial intelligence to build management models for corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and other crops. Each model takes IBM six months to a year to assemble and accounts for issues that include pest control and fertilizer requirements. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution: The models are tailored to the specific crops, geared to produce longer potatoes for French fries or barley for malting in beer production.

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Jeff Keiser, a manager for agribusiness solutions at the Weather Company, in one of his fields in Indiana, where he farms corn and soybeans.

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The Operations Dashboard within the IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture showing a crop yield forecast.Credit…Photographs by IBM

Humans are not becoming obsolete on the farm by any means, a point that Mr. Clayton, raised on a New Zealand sheep farm, is sensitive to. “We make recommendations,” he said. “We don’t want to be in the business of full automation.”

IBM’s intent, rather, is to provide farmers with a dashboard of controls. A farmer inspecting field conditions can take an image from a smartphone or iPad, automatically uploaded to the decision platform, to diagnose crop health. The system provides a quick analysis and suggested remedy, sort of a WebMD service for crops. The longer-term goal is to deliver real-time growing advice; partnerships with equipment makers also hold the potential to make better use of sensors, equipment monitoring and drones to make remote inspections less labor-intensive.

The benefits of automation scale down to some smaller growers as well. Penny Gritt Goff, the third-generation operating manager of Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse in Red House, W.Va., takes advantage of computerized monitoring to keep tabs on temperature, humidity, nutrient levels and other conditions for three acres of hydroponic greenhouses where lettuce grows in flowing water and tomatoes are raised in a bed of coconut husks.

The computer system can send alarms when it gets too hot inside the greenhouses, but it also takes action on its own, spreading a shade cloth covering to cut down on sun exposure (or retain heat in the winter), open and close vents, and regulate irrigation.

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Crops at Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse in Red House, W.Va. The company uses computerized monitoring to keep tabs on temperature, humidity, nutrient levels and other conditions for three acres of hydroponic greenhouses.Credit…Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse

“The automated controls narrow the chances of failure,” Ms. Goff said, and lessen the need for some aspects of the operation’s human monitoring. “We could add more advanced equipment, but at this size it’s not economically feasible.”

Will tomorrow’s digital farmers spend more of their long days at the keyboard than in the field or the barn? You might think things are headed that way, given that a recent convention of the National FFA Organization (what used to be called the Future Farmers of America) devoted display space to its FFA Blue 365 initiative, an online educational platform, and tech advances in areas that include beekeeping and autonomous vehicles.

A focus of the organization, which has 700,000 members of mainly high-school age, is to prepare them for the coming transformation in agriculture, according to Blaze Currie, a senior team leader for the FFA. But the goal is not so much to promote the changes as to teach the mechanisms to accomplish efficiency advances like remote monitoring of an irrigation system.

“When innovations are introduced on the farm, it’s often the younger generation of operator who gets handed the new technology,” Mr. Currie said, noting that when a sales representative arrives with a device like a field monitoring drone, he’s often directed to the family’s next generation of farmer, a digital native.

“Give him the drone,” the conversation typically ends.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/business/farming-technology-agriculture.html

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Labor Terminators: Farming Robots Are About To Take Over Our Farms

A farming robot revolution is imminent, with fruit-picking machines nearly ready to roll into the fields and start replacing human workers.

Of the industries facing automation, agriculture could see the most upside from robots in the next few years. And the farming robot wave, along with other new agricultural technology, could come even sooner than you think, as the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown worsens an acute labor shortage.

Loup Ventures managing partner Gene Munster compares this next agricultural revolution to the one seen last century, when new equipment, fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield crop breeds sparked an explosion in farm production around the world.

“I think agriculture is the greatest near-term — I define over the next five years — opportunity around robotics and autonomy,” he said.

The relative lack of red tape on wide-open fields is a boon to the farming robot and other new agricultural technology. Compare that to the safety rules needed to deploy self-driving cars on congested city streets. That, plus the labor shortage, helps create “a wonderful intersection between robotics and agriculture,” Munster added.

The farming robot is actually just one new technology that will transform the sector. Today’s agricultural technology helps farmers plow and spray crops with greater precision. Now improved automation and big data analytics are joining with farming robot technology, pointing to big benefits.

Goldman Sachs estimates precision farming — the combination of agriculture and technology — could be a $240 billion market by 2050. Automation will be a key piece of the puzzle. Market tracker Euromonitor says the intersection of robotics, artificial intelligence, analytics and machines for precision farming is one of the industry’s top business opportunities.

“I think that this is the next great wave of agricultural productivity,” William Blair analyst Lawrence De Maria told IBD. “The implementation of precision agriculture with automation will drive yields and reduce input costs for growers. It could rival the Green Revolution and mechanization as great drivers of agricultural productivity.”

For updates on market coverage, visit the Stock Market Today.

Farming Robots Must Fill Unwanted Jobs

Farming’s labor crunch is a global problem. And the industry expects things to get worse in the years to come. Even in Mexico, where many California workers have originated, firms are finding it tough to man the fields.

“Whether it’s berries or lettuce or grapes, we’re all scrambling for labor availability,” said Scott Komar, senior vice president of R&D at U.S. berry producer Driscoll’s.

And higher wages aren’t persuading people to perform the physically demanding task of berry picking, he adds.

The 2017 median pay for an agricultural worker was $23,730 per year, or $11.41 per hour, the Labor Department says. In California, the biggest producer of farm products in the U.S., farm wages can top $20 per hour. But this is still not enough to attract laborers at a sufficient level.

The need for robotics in farming “is immediate,” said David Slaughter, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at UC Davis.

“The political climate has accelerated the problem,” he told IBD. “We are, on some things, a little bit behind the curve in terms of meeting the market demand.”


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Rise Of The Farming Robot

Driscoll’s is one of America’s largest produce distributors. Along with its network of independent growers, it controls around a third of the $6 billion U.S. berry market. It has been testing a number of robots to harvest fruit. One of those is Harvest CROO Robotics‘ farming robot.

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Harvest CROO’s machine is headed for farms in Florida and California next year. (Harvest CROO Robotics)

The Florida-based startup is developing a robot strawberry picker that two-thirds of the strawberry industry has helped fund to bring to market. A single Harvest CROO Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer) machine will be able to pick a plant in just 8 seconds. It will also cover eight acres in a single day and replace a team of more than 30 human pickers.

Next year, the company expects to start fielding its harvesters in Florida and California, COO Paul Bissett says. “We’re probably about two years out from full commercialization.”

But Harvest CROO doesn’t plan to sell its robot harvesters. Instead, it’s finding that growers and the strawberry distributors want robotics as a service.

In Europe, Spanish company Agrobot is developing a rival strawberry farming robot. Its machine uses up to 24 robotic arms to pick fruit and is capable of autonomous navigation.

And in England, Dogtooth Technologies is developing its own series of smart autonomous robots capable of picking fruit. Smaller in size than the Harvest CROO and Agrobot offerings, Dogtooth machines will be capable of autonomous navigation, locating and picking ripe fruit, and grading its quality.

Agriculture Technology Across The Supply Chain

In Cambridge, Mass., privately owned Soft Robotics has developed a robotic gripping system that has the same dexterity as the human hand. Its robotic arms are equipped with soft grippers that can even handle fragile produce such as apples and tomatoes. The firm is targeting both harvesting and food processing to automate the supply chain.

“With soft robotics we can now automate harvesting, processing, packaging and even grocery logistics,” in a way that hasn’t been available before, CEO Carl Vause said. “With our technology we are able to give the industrial robots that are tried and true out there today for speed, for precision (and) for lifetime operations, the ability to do high-speed handling of apples, tomatoes, heads of lettuce (and) strawberries.”

Meanwhile, UC Davis researchers have developed a “no touch” vineyard, where machines do everything. A robotic irrigation system directed by sensors waters the vines. Then machines are used to pick the fruit. The system allows for around 40 more plants per acre, improving yields, quality and costs. It costs around 7 cents per vine in labor to manage the touchless vineyard, compared to $1 in a conventional vineyard.

Industry Giants Eye Automated Farming Too

John Deere (DE) pioneered self-driving technologies, even though they are more popularly linked to Tesla (TSLA). Current tractors can drive themselves after an operator maneuvers them around the perimeter of a field. Full automation may come soon.

Deere continues to seek new innovations and bought Blue River Technology for $305 million last summer. Blue River developed a robot that can see, diagnose, and execute actions such as whether to spray a weed with herbicide. Its machine learning expertise in agriculture was a key reason for the purchase.

But Munster says Deere faces the same problem Apple (AAPL) had when it killed the iPod with the iPhone.

“If they don’t advance from a technology standpoint, someone can come in and steal the business,” Munster said. “But by advancing on that, it can be negative for their business too, because you usher in a new generation of machines that potentially would need less maintenance.”


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Agriculture Technology: Beyond Fruit-Picking Robots

Slaughter believes a mix of disciplines will bring far-reaching changes to the farm. At UC Davis, he leads the Smart Farm initiative, which brings together engineering, computer science and biological science. It aims to use agriculture technology to increase production of food and renewable energy in the face of climate change.

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The UC Davis Smart Farm project is experimenting with an automated crop sprayer. (UC Davis)

One Smart Farm robot has a telescopic neck and is armed with cameras. It can zoom around on rails and collect data on how much light plants are capturing.

“The big data, the sensing, the AI, the robotics — a lot of that is going to allow a massive transformation in agriculture,” Slaughter said.

Berry producer Driscoll’s is looking at other types of agriculture technology too. It tested an autonomous buggy that analyzes the health of plants. The machine can examine 1,500 plants per hour. It should be capable of operating fully autonomously with a 98% accuracy rate by the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, CNH Industrial (CNHI) in February partnered with Microsoft (MSFT) to develop connected vehicles. The aim is to produce farm machines with new connectivity technologies powered by Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

How To Invest In Robotics

ROBO Global created the first benchmark index to track the global robotics and automation industry with its Robotics & Automation ETF (ROBO). President and CIO William Studebaker has been following the progress of agricultural robots with a keen eye. He says farming is a “massive market” for robotics, with a lot of disruption on the horizon.

“It’s all about trying to reduce costs and save time. It’s going to be a growth industry for a long time,” Studebaker said. “The pace of change is only accelerating, and it’s accelerating very dramatically right now. Either you innovate or you will be out of business. Innovation wins, and that’s what’s going on.”

He believes we can barely see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact automation will have on farming going forward.

“If you look at the innings we’re in with robotics and AI, we’re not even in the first inning yet,” he said. “The players are still in the locker room getting their clothes on.”

Source: https://www.investors.com/news/farming-robot-agriculture-technology/

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This Delaware-made robot treats crops with light instead of pesticides

The agricultural industry can’t shut down for a pandemic, and so far, neither has agtech research.

TRIC Robotics, a Newark startup — and 20120 RealLIST Startups honoree — that has designed a robot to autonomously treat strawberry crops with UVC light instead of pesticides, spent the week working in the field at Fifer Orchards in Kent County. (And yes, Fifer Orchards the farm is up and running; Fifer Orchards’ country store and the Farm Market Cafe in Dewey Beach are closed until at least April.)

“The goal is to replace pesticides on strawberry farms,” said Adam Stager, founder of TRIC Robotics. “We’ve got a robot that acts just like a Roomba — it sits on the side of the field and deploys itself automatically. The UVC lights have been shown by 10 years of USDA agricultural research to work as effectively as pesticide.”

Eliminating pesticides in agricultural crops would be a big thing, and TRIC Robotics, which was founded in connection to University of Delaware, has been receiving most of its funding through grants, most recently a nearly $50,000 grant from the Delaware Bioscience Center for Advanced Technology and a VentureWell E-Team Grant for $25,000.

This month, the team was supposed to go to Salt Lake City to compete in VentureWell’s Open Minds Competition. Instead, they competed in — and won — the competition virtually, with a component that allowed people from all over to vote.

“It was actually much less stressful [than other pitch competitions] because they had us just record 90-second videos,” said Stager. “My experience with Kickstarter taught me how to market a levitating top in 2017. We wound up getting twice as much virtual funding, double the second-place team.”

It remains to be seen exactly how Hen Hatch, in which the startup has reached the semi-final level on the alumni/faculty/staff track, will play out, but the annual UD pitch competition will continue this year in alternative ways since its final round at neoFest was canceled.

At the moment, TRIC is using three farms for testing, with each having its own robot: UD’s Carvel Research Center in Georgetown, which is a full acre; a third of an acre at USDA Agricultural Research Center in Kearneysville, Virginia with the inventors of the UVC treatment method; and a quarter of an acre at Fifer Orchards.

With only the family-run farm Fifer open this week, the TRIC team was able to focus on a single location and a single robot.

“Since it’s so close, Fifer has kind of been our go-to-field for field testing,” said TRIC’s Vishnu Somasundaram, who manages UD students who work on the team. “We run into new issues and challenges that we eventually overcome, so we’ve been there a lot.”

Getting access to the farm meant convincing owner Bobby Fifer that it wasn’t too soon to put the robot into a working farm.

“The farmers at first were like, ‘Well why don’t you do this at a UD or something?’” said Stager. “I told them it’s not something we know works yet, we need to see if it works. If we showed it works at UD and then came to your farm next year with this technology that quote-unquote works, would you believe us? Or would it be better if we worked with the largest strawberry farm in Delaware and then came over to you and said it works?” With that Fifer, agreed to set someone thing up.

In January, TRIC Robotics gave a presentation at the North American Strawberry Growers Association Annual Meeting and Conference, where they connected with over 150 strawberry growers across the country, many of them interested in securing robots. If testing goes well, the team may start making deals at the end of the year — but they’re not looking to rush it out nationally.

“We have a nice home base in Delaware,” Stager said. “We’re working out of the house, we’ve got three farms where we can go test the technology. We don’t want to put 20 robots on a field and be scrambling [if something goes wrong].”

Source: https://technical.ly/delaware/2020/03/27/newark-tric-robotics-treats-crops-with-light-instead-of-pesticides/