How technology is changing farms, fighting global warming

As farms across the world groan under the pressure of spiralling food demand, climate change and dwindling resources such as water, it is technology that is providing a way out. It is, in fact, changing the very face of agriculture.

In India, farmers have been using technological solutions to battle a variety of challenges.

For instance, in parts of North India, farmers are using handheld sensors to monitor the health of their crops. The sensors emit infrared light and measure the characteristics of the waves reflected back to calculate crop health. Farmers say this technology has saved harvests by helping them assess, among other things, the nitrogen needs of the soil.

Laser-controlled devices mounted on tractors, through a process known as laser land levelling, are being used to better flatten farmland. This results in water savings of 25% to 30%.

Direct seeding machines, devices that inform farmers when it’s time to irrigate and phone texts warning of pests are becoming common. Apart from lowering water and fertiliser costs, these have raised crop resilience.

The Asian Development Bank has warned that the changing weather could erase the equivalent of 9% of GDP every year by the next century. There is, therefore, an urgent need for sustainable technology on farms.

In Haryana state, for instance, rising temperatures and dwindling water resources are a threat. That’s why several villages in Karnal district allied with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to adopt ‘climate smart’ techniques.

Meanwhile, a study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute warned that climate change might reduce India’s wheat yield by 6% to 23% by 2050. Rice yields could be another casualty.

Technological innovation is the only way out.

India has almost 900 million cellphones and they are being used to transmit information critical to farmers – from weather forecasts to seed prices. Some are even using it as a platform to answer farmer queries – such as how to rejuvenate the soil after floods – via toll-free numbers.

In adopting technology, Indian farmers are following the lead of those around the world. In the US, for instance, farmers use GPS data from satellites, cellular modems on self-driving tractors and apps for irrigation.

Farm equipment makers are jumping on the bandwagon by adding sensors and chips to their tractors and planters. This is catalysing a significant rise in farm productivity.

It is not uncommon for farmers to hook up tractors to a satellite feed so that they can carve more accurately the furrows between seed beds. The soil is tested with electrical charges and mapped for fertiliser to be applied in exact doses from chip-controlled machines.

Weather apps on smartphones are ubiquitous.

The need for a technological revolution in agriculture is what prompted Monsanto to set up its Integrated Farming Systems platform two years ago. It combines data science with precision technologies to help farmers. Recently, these research and product development teams, along with the Precision Planting group, transitioned to The Climate Corporation.

While building the platform, farmers and other stakeholders were asked for their inputs. The data is strictly protected and farmers are informed how it will be used. The company has strict protocols that combine confidentiality of data with its use for product and service development. For instance:

  • Farmers own the data they create.
  • The company facilitates farmers’ control of who can access the data they provide and for what purpose, and also to easily remove data from the systems.
  • The company provides basic data services to farmers free of charge.
  • The company enables farmers to share their data across other platforms at no cost.

In the end, no matter what platform or technology farmers use, the goal is to ensure food security while preserving resources and the climate. Monsanto is proud to be a key player in that mission.

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