Virtually every human endeavor has been revolutionized by modern technology. For example, manufacturing processes have been supercharged through automation and other technologies. Elsewhere, healthcare has become more proactive and personalized. Even agriculture has been—and continues to be—changed by significant advances in technology.
In reality, the impact of technology on agriculture is truly difficult to overstate. When modern technology in agriculture is well-implemented, it can lead to higher crop productivity and yields, increased sustainability and safety, as well as a host of other benefits depending on the technologies being used.
There are several ways to know about the latest trends in agricultural technology, such as professional networking, subscribing to industry publications, or attending an ag tech conference. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the mindsets and technologies that are changing the game in 2023 and beyond.
What Is Technology Adoption in Agriculture, and Why Is It Important?
Technology adoption simply refers to the evaluation and use of new techniques or tools, primarily to improve processes and outcomes. It’s important to note that the word “technology” does not just refer to electronic gadgets and equipment, but technically means “the application of practical knowledge in a particular area” and “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.”
Why is the adoption of new technology important in agriculture? Simply put, the use of technology in agriculture can improve efficiency, increase yield sizes and quality, and reduce costs. These endeavors are especially vital as they relate to our food supply, as research shows that “globally, up to 40% of crop yields are lost every year to pests and disease,” according to United Nations research.
What is the Agricultural Technology Adoption Theory?
As defined within a study published in World Development, the agricultural technology adoption theory is, in simple terms, a “multidisciplinary field” that exists as “an attempt to explain why some farmers adopt new technologies and others do not.” It accepts the importance of technology in agriculture, and works to encourage and systemize the development and implementation of new methods.
Researchers often find that while “agricultural technologies have long been promoted by governments and development organizations as effective ways to increase farm productivity and reduce poverty […] adoption of many seemingly beneficial technologies remains low,” and it’s important to determine why.
Ultimately, the World Development study finds that “most adoption determinants vary widely by technology, cultural context, and geography,” meaning there is no hard-and-fast answer for why some agricultural technologies are widely adopted while others go largely unnoticed. This may be at least partially due to a lack of awareness or appreciation for the transformative impact technology has had on agricultural practices.
Next, we’ll highlight some of the benefits technology has brought to the agriculture industry, as well as some of the new technologies on the horizon.
What Are 5 Ways Technology has Changed Farming?
The most significant outcomes of technology adoption in agriculture include the enablement of farmers to:
- Cultivate higher yields by monitoring the condition and quality of soil and taking steps to address problem areas for increased productivity.
- Improve crops’ consistency and quality by tailoring their practices to specific soil conditions—for example, using more or less water and/or fertilizer in different areas of the farm depending on need. Crop monitoring is just one example of how technology that enables farmers to better observe and care for their crops’ health has been instrumental in increasing yield volumes and qualities.
- Lower consumer prices by increasing yields and crop quality while addressing inefficiencies, thereby reducing overall costs.
- Reduce the ecological impact or carbon footprint of farming practices by updating older machinery and agricultural practices, reducing chemical runoff, etc.
- Improve farmers’ working conditions and quality of life by automating routine tasks, providing insights they can use to drive further efficiencies, and improving safety by replacing outdated machinery or particularly dangerous chemicals.
How Did New Technologies Change Agriculture During the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Agricultural Revolutions?
These innovations and outcomes, of course, did not emerge overnight. Modern farmers owe a great deal to their long-ago ancestors, who were instrumental in bringing about not one or two, but three distinct revolutions in agriculture:
- The 1st agricultural revolution occurred roughly 12,000 years ago and marked a move from a primitive, nomadic or hunter-gatherer mindset to human settlement and the dawn of agriculture. The 1st agricultural revolution is typically credited with the beginning of mankind’s quest to domesticate certain animals and crops, as well as a move toward organization and collaboration, rather than competition and mere survival. The advancements of this time period laid the foundation for modern farming but weren’t without their disadvantages—primarily, early forms of agriculture were fairly destructive to the land and its resources. They’d essentially plant and harvest in a given area, then move to another area once they depleted the previous one.
- The 2nd agricultural revolution, which is understood to have taken place over the 16th through 19th centuries, coincided with the Industrial Revolution. As basic farming practices became more widespread, so did the desire to increase the productivity of agricultural operations. Several key advancements emerged during this time, like an evaluation of low- vs. high-yield crops, the development of new tools and machinery, and the introduction of chemical fertilizers. During this time, agriculture also became more of an established and profit-driven industry—a shift that, among other things, made innovation emerge as an important part of agriculture as a business.
- The 3rd revolution, which occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, led to the development of growing urban populations—as well as the threat of famine. Also known as the Green Revolution, it came about from a desire for self-sufficiency through increasing yields and optimizing agricultural production processes. It led to a number of developments modern agriculture still benefits from, including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation systems, and even the engineering of novel plant breeds or hybrid crops to increase yields and resistance to weather conditions and disease.
The drive for innovation never stops, which brings us to modern days—and Agriculture 4.0. Keep reading for an overview of where agricultural technology stands today, followed by where it’s expected to go from here.
What Technology Is Used in Modern Agriculture Today?
Since the original agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, various technologies have led to our evolution from the primitive foraging associated with our hunter-gatherer ancestors into organized agricultural operations. For the sake of this article, we’ll primarily focus our technology in agriculture examples on those emerging over the past 50 years and into the present and future.
Among the most mainstream and widely-adopted agricultural technologies are:
- Advances to farm machinery, such as driverless tractors and GPS steering, which can improve the efficiency of various machinery-driven processes, free farmers up to focus on other tasks, and reduce the chance of human error or related inefficiencies.
- Robots and automation, which can be used to relieve farmers of particularly dull, repetitive tasks, so they can focus on things like improving yield volumes and quality. Modern agricultural robotics and automation can be used for various processes including seeding, spraying, thinning, harvesting, picking, and weed control, as well as sorting, phenotyping, and packing.
- High-tech sensors for monitoring conditions such as ambient and soil temperatures, soil pH levels and moisture content, and more. Through the use of various sensors, farmers can better-understand—and optimize—soil conditions in order to boost yields. Like most technologies, agricultural sensors are ever-evolving, including the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) and remote sensors that provide real-time, actionable insights into soil conditions.
- Aerial imagery like satellite and drone imaging technologies, which provide new ways for farmers to visualize and understand crop health from a bird’s eye view. Similar to a doppler-based weather radar imaging system, aerial imagery enables farmers to see one or more layers of insight into crop conditions through what’s known as “index stacking.” The basic concept is that a comprehensive picture of land’s quality and agricultural viability can be constructed by overlaying different individual metrics or indices, such as:
- Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI)
- Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
- Normalized Difference Snow Index (NDSI)
- GPS technology in agriculture that enables farmers to better understand the relationship between land variability, production techniques, and resulting yields. From a practical standpoint, GPS technology makes it possible to map field boundaries—including roadways and irrigation systems—and correlate that information with data from in-field sensors and other sources. They can use those insights to optimize how land is used, prioritize areas that need intervention or remediation (from weeds, pests, or other problems), and effectively manage farmland from one growing season to the next.
How Will New Technology in Agriculture Define Its Future?
Agriculture’s so-called “modern era” is largely defined by the challenges it aims to address, which include:
- An increased global demand for food. Experts predict food demand will “increase anywhere between 59% to 98%” as the global population is expected to near 10 billion by the year 2050. Meeting this demand will require farmers to better-manage available farmland, increase their yields, and keep future generations and sustainability in mind as they optimize their operations.
- The ongoing threats of climate change and erosion. Among those in the agricultural industry, there is little doubt or denial that climate change is very real. If farmers aren’t willing or able to adapt their practices, they risk potential catastrophe over time. Climate change leads to more volatile weather conditions, which can threaten crops and reduce farmable land through erosion, drought, or even wildfires.
- Reduced biodiversity. As agriculture has expanded throughout its modern era, it has unfortunately caused at least one problematic consequence in the form of reduced biodiversity. As more land has been converted for agricultural operations, it not only means the loss of various species’ natural habitats, it has also reduced the viability of wide swaths of land as viable farmland through the application of harsh fertilizers and pesticides. In order to boost yields, farmers have focused heavily on high-yield crop varieties, resulting in less diversity and more crop monocultures. There is plenty of evidence to support the prioritization of strategic biodiversity—especially in terms of increasing the presence of diverse pollinators, as well as species that can act as natural pest control agents or even improve soil quality.
- Profitability and production. Since agriculture is, in fact, a business, resource management is crucial. In other words, modern farming operations must balance the need for innovative, sustainable practices with the desire to not only meet consumer demand, but turn a profit as well. A spate of modern technologies help optimize the “business” side of farming,
- Consumers’ changing expectations as they relate to food supply. Consumer preferences cannot be ignored by modern agricultural operations. The challenge lies in the seemingly contradictory expectations of consumers: they want consistently high-quality produce and other products, but also desire an emphasis be placed on initiatives like sustainability and environmentalism.
What Is Agriculture 4.0, and What Are Examples of Its Technologies?
A phrase originally coined in a 2018 report commissioned by the World Government Summit (WGS), Agriculture 4.0 describes farming’s current revolutionary stage, “with science and technology as its heart.” As such, the primary objectives of Agriculture 4.0 center around “both the demand side and value chain/supply side of the food-scarcity equation, using technology not simply for the sake of innovation but to improve and address the real needs of consumers.”
When they introduced the concept of Agriculture 4.0, the WGS identified three key priorities for the farmers of today as well as the near- and long-term futures:
- Rethinking and optimizing crop production techniques, such as hydroponics, algae feedstock, and bioplastics.
- Designing and implementing new technologies for food production, such as vertical and urban farming, genetic modification, and 3D printing.
- Developing cross-industry innovations for improved sustainability and productivity, such as drone technology, IoT, data analytics, and precision agriculture.
How Do Farmers Learn About, Adopt, and Implement New Technologies?
One of the best ways to learn about the latest and greatest technologies in agriculture is to attend an agricultural or cross-sector professional conference. Conferences provide a number of educational and networking opportunities that can help you to:
- Gain invaluable insights from experts, influencers, and thought leaders within agriculture and related fields.
- Learn about new innovations, approaches, and ideas and how they can transform agricultural practices and outcomes.
- Expand your professional network by connecting with like-minded individuals and organizations.
- Build your knowledge, earn certifications, and bolster your résumé or CV.
- Preview emerging technologies and trends in order to be prepared for short- and long-term adaptation and success.
Introducing Rally—the Largest Global Cross-Sector Innovation Conference
Taking place this year in Indianapolis, IN, August 29-31, 2023, Rally “forges and celebrates cross-sector connections between companies, universities, entrepreneurs, and investors from across the globe.” Like any number of professional conferences, Rally will feature keynote speakers, content sessions, investor meetups, a startup demo arena, and a $5M cash investment pitch competition…but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What Makes Rally Different From Other Conferences?
Rally is unique because it is firmly committed to the importance of cross-sector collaboration in agriculture and related industries. The conference is organized around six distinct “innovation studios” focused on topics like software, agriculture and food, healthcare, hardtech, sportstech, and entrepreneurship.
Rally 2023: By the Numbers
For this year’s Rally conference, we’re expecting:
- 5,000 attendees from around the globe, including entrepreneurs, VCs and investors, thought leaders, and more.
- 200+ speakers, including 3 keynote addresses.
- 50+ panels and content sessions, across six innovation studios. You can learn more by checking out the Run of Show.
- Up to $5M in investment dollars through the Rally IN-Prize Pitch Competition