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Farmers are stepping into the future

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Agriculture embraces the Fourth Industrial Revolution to improve yields and reduce costs

Our world is becoming more “intelligent” and the advances in technology, as well as the increase in connected devices, equipment, machinery and vehicles, is allowing industries to increase productivity and reduce downtime.

Agriculture is no exception to the fact that various sectors have begun to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

This was evident at the recent Nampo Harvest Day, the southern hemisphere’s largest agriculture expo, where many companies showcased their “smart” tools and monitoring systems for farming. One of these was RS Components South Africa whose managing director Brian Andrew says the event proved that agriculture is fast moving into the smart and connected age.

“Over the past few years we have seen the many ways that connected technologies have benefited us from our day-to-day lives to the way we work, the way we communicate…

“Now farmers can manage their yields wirelessly through connected devices and sensors that can monitor various aspects which affect and have effects on produce and livestock simultaneously. Gone are the days of using light aircraft to crop-dust and fertilise fields – farmers are now using drones which are cheaper, sustainable and the farmer can fly the device by himself.”

Andrew says technology is emancipating people by putting control into the palms of their hands.

More than 80 000 people attended Nampo 2019 in Botha-ville, Free State, with deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Sfiso Buthelezi describing it as the best-kept secret of the agricultural sector. He believes it should be experienced by everyone who consumes food.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) farm management systems, big data analysis and robotics have revolutionised agriculture and Professor Louis Fourie from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology says this has resulted in efficient and sustainable ways of farming, higher yields, superior quality products, cost reductions and even the enhancement of food’s nutritional value.

“Several disruptive technologies in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetics and autonomous vehicles play a significant role in the digital transformation of agriculture.

“Smart farming, including precision farming, often incorporates technologies such as geographic information systems, GPS, remote sensing technologies, AI, robotics, the IoT and big data.”

Based on an analysis of the soil, animals and the weather, Louis adds that smart farming looks at the individual needs of plants and animals to optimise yield.

“Real-time data input from sensors are increasingly allowing AI systems (with machine-learning capabilities) to process big data, evaluate situations and make autonomous decisions to improve efficiency.

“Smart farming leans heavily on sensor technology that detects events or changes in the environment and sends information in real time to other devices within the ecosystem.

“It is used to collect data on soil moisture, soil nutrients, water levels, crop and animal health, as well as climatic, environmental and growth information through the integration of different kinds of agricultural devices and equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and even satellites.”

Agriculture is still one of the main economic driving forces in the country. The adoption of technology in agriculture also requires that various stakeholders work together. And while agricultural technology will result in higher yields, reduced costs and the improved nutritional value of food, it needs the farming sector, business, government and education institutions to work together.

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