Keeping Up With The Pace of ‘Smart’ Farming in Fresh Produce

Source: PMA

When did farming change? We now have autonomous control systems to patrol our fields, automated pickers and packers, and drones and satellites investigating our soil. Even smartphones are now used to control our equipment. But the evolution of farming using these sensing technologies, software apps, hardware systems, and communications systems could not move the industry forward without our ability to translate data.

Keeping Up With The Pace of ‘Smart’ Farming in Fresh Produce
Smart Farming

While technology addressed growing concerns of labor shortages, increasing efficiencies and bringing higher yields, the increase in computational capacity moved smart farming to the next level. The use of credible information allows farms to resemble factories that turn out consistent and reliable products. This, along with cloud-computing, increased our ability to use and understand the implications of swathes of information from interconnected devices and equipment. This is the basis of smart farming.

Each technological element allows produce and floral producers to tweak and trim the cost of farming — resulting in more consistent, predictable yields, according to a June 2016 report in The Economist on the future of agriculture. Farming has been turned into a branch of matrix algebra where soil moisture, soil nutrients, water, pest control, and more, are all specifically placed, allowing farmers to optimize yields and production. Something as simple as more-precise seed placement, tillage and fleet management could reduce costs by as much as 10 percent, as noted in PMA’s 2016 IoT report on reducing risk.

And this interconnectivity does not end on the farm. It is used throughout the supply chain to provide product transparency and ensure the quality of the product when it reaches the consumer. As tech analyst, Bernard Marr wrote in a Forbes report this year, IoT connects the world around us. It allows us to better understand and learn from information about inventory movement, consumer demands, retail purchases, and warehouse data in order to create future innovation. Traceability systems can provide a constant data stream on farm products as they move through the supply chain. In addition, packaging sensors can detect the freshness and quality of the product as it moves through the supply chain. Analytics enable us to determine the best crops for sustainability and profitability.

This trend also means increasing competition for tech workers. Despite a growing number of STEM students, a relative few are choosing to specialize in the produce and floral industries.

Rapid innovation will challenge current employees’ existing skill sets, necessitating a commitment to continuing education and training which begs produce and floral companies to invest in both smart technology an ongoing training.