The future of farming blog   #1 Introduction

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Jaco wakes up early from his alarm and checks his watch: 6AM, 1 October 2050. While his personal robot makes his coffee, a heads-up display updates him on what has happened over night: A new outbreak of Thrips was detected on 50 citrus trees in Orchard B, and his drone is in the process of spraying the problem. Another flight has been scheduled for tomorrow to monitor the impact of the treatment. Jaco then gets on with drinking his coffee.

Is this really coming? How far is it away?

I’m James Paterson, and I grew up on a fruit farm in Clanwilliam area, where my family still farm. I went on to study Aeronautical Engineering and Artificial Intelligence at MIT in the USA. I believe in using new technology to improve agriculture and thus started Aerobotics to provide actionable drone and satellite data to farmers. Over the next few months, I’ll be writing this column on agricultural technology, with a specific focus on aerial monitoring. I will talk through where the precision agriculture industry is currently having impact on the farm, as well as what to expect in the future.

As farmers, we all know the benefit of being out in the field, checking up on our production and monitoring irrigation, pests and diseases. We also know that as input costs are rising, the scale of farming is getting bigger in order to maintain profitability. At this scale, traditional methods of monitoring production become difficult to impossible. To add to this, exporters are becoming stricter on tracking the way we manage our farms, from input to spray records and checking residuals.

Luckily, agricultural technology is here to help, and the space is expanding rapidly. Last year R300bn was invested into new agricultural technology companies worldwide, aiming to improve all sectors of the industry.

In these posts, I will be covering topics including satellites, drones, variable rate applications, yield estimates, Internet of things and crop scouting. I believe these technologies will have a major impact in farming and farm automation in the years to come.

Some of the questions, topics and misconceptions I plan on discussing are:

  • What kind of remote sensing data is available?

  • Should I use satellite or drone technology?

  • So what? What can I do with this data and how can you I it on the farm? What are the benefits?

  • Does this all mean that I can farm from my stoep and not go into the field?

I’d also like to hear from you! If you have a topic you’d like to hear more about, or a question, please send me a mail at