It’s safe to say that a lot of people—especially those who are unfamiliar with agriculture—don’t associate technology with the industry. Yet, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact is, farmers have been embracing technology for thousands of years as a way to solve challenges and increase crop productivity. This kind of innovation isn’t going away any time soon. As we continue to face global issues like growing demand, unsustainable practices, and climate change, the agricultural industry will evolve to meet these demands.
But we know these kinds of challenges require collaboration; they’re too big for any one person or any one industry to solve. That’s, in part, why cross-sector AgTech conference events like Rally are so important—they provide a way for the agriculture community to meet, network, and share ideas with leaders and innovators in other major industries. This kind of cooperation will help us solve the challenges of today and tomorrow.
But before we talk more about Rally, let’s take a look at an overview of the adoption of technology in agriculture from the Neolithic Era to today to better understand how technology has shaped the industry and where it’s going in the future.
When Was Technology First Used in Agriculture?
The earliest uses of technology dates back roughly 12,000 years ago to the Neolithic Era. This time period is commonly referred to as the first agricultural revolution, and it’s marked by the shift from nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies to permanent settlements. These settlements called for plant domestication and livestock, both of which required the use of new and existing tools. While technologies of the time—like hoes, sickles, and grinding stones—may seem rudimentary to us now, they paved the way for agriculture as we know it.
The next several thousand years saw the use of technology in agriculture advance and grow. For example, the second agricultural revolution, which took place between 1500 and 1850, gave way to chemical fertilizers, mechanical reapers, and seed drills. Each of these new tools and technologies enabled farmers to increase food production to meet growing demand.
Finally, the third agricultural revolution, which occurred during 1950 and the late 1960s, brought about modern irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically engineered crops. Each of these innovations allowed farmers to improve crop productivity to again meet growing demands for food.
These technology in agriculture examples illustrate that the industry has always—and will continue to—innovate to meet ever-present global challenges. Yet, it’s critical to note that some of these efforts have had significant disadvantages, like chemical runoff and increased water scarcity. As we move into the fourth agricultural revolution, called Agriculture 4.0, the focus will be on using advanced technologies to decrease the environmental impact while still optimizing yields.
How Did Technology Change Agriculture in Recent History?
Zeroing in on more recent innovations, technology has helped farmers:
- Yield higher crop productivity, which is critical to sustaining our global food supply
- Limit the use of water to address scarcity concerns, especially in certain climates
- Decrease the use of fertilizer and pesticides, resulting in less chemical runoff
- Reduce the ecological and environmental impact of agricultural practices
In short, the impact of technology on agriculture is immeasurable, and newer technologies are certainly focused on more sustainable agricultural practices. Here are some highlights from the past 50 years.
1975 and the Rotary Combine
The first two-rotor combine was released by New Holland in 1975. This new technology allowed crops to be cut and separated in a single pass. Not only did this decrease plow time—freeing up time for other responsibilities—but it also saved energy, resources, and minimized hours on equipment.
1994 and Satellite Technology
In 1994, for the first time ever, farmers were able to view their crops from overhead thanks to satellite technology. This technology enabled future precision agriculture initiatives, like global positioning system (GPS) receivers, grid soil sampling and variable-rate fertilizer (VRT) application, crop and soil yield monitoring and mapping, and more.
2000s and Mobile Devices
Like nearly every other industry they touched, mobile devices transformed farming. For the first time ever, farmers could stay in touch with their colleagues while they were out in the field. Mobile devices also empowered them to access things like online ordering and agronomic advice anywhere and everywhere.
2010s and Real-Time Data
During the mid-aughts, there was an increasing emphasis on data and how it could be better used in nearly every industry, agriculture included. Farmers gained access to real-time data that empowered them to make data-driven decisions about resources, local weather, soil conditions, harvesting, and so much more. As big data evolves, so too will its applications in agriculture.
The Future and Disruptive Technologies
As we move into the future and embrace Agriculture 4.0, the adoption of new technology in agriculture will only accelerate. In fact, there are a number of new and exciting technologies and innovations on the horizon, such as hydroponics, vertical farming, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and more. Each of these has the potential to help meet goals such as:
- Producing in new and different ways using new methods
- Optimizing efficiencies in the food chain
- Prioritizing cross-industry collaboration
These goals don’t exist in a vacuum. Our ability, as a global community, to meet these pressing challenges by developing new technology in agriculture is critical to sustaining our food supply and our home. That’s why bringing together industry thought leaders and experts from some of today’s most important industries is so critical. Cross-industry collaboration is the key to our future success, and that’s exactly what Rally aims to empower.
What is Rally? It’s the world’s largest cross-sector innovation conference that brings together movers and shakers from Software, Ag & Food, Healthcare, HardTech, SportsTech, and Entrepreneurship. With networking events, more than 200 speakers, and five $1 million pitch competition investments, Rally is the place where founders, thought leaders, advisors, policy makers, and industry personnel get together to think through today’s more pressing challenges.