As innovation in agriculture drives efficiency gains, farmers are turning to “smart” technology to promote sustainable harvesting methods. Harvesting accounts for nearly two-thirds of the cost of land farming, and smart harvesting options supported by Internet of Things (IoT) devices aim to help boost crop yields as the world’s food resources face continued strain in the midst of population growth and climate change.
Streamlining through Automation
Technology is helping to bridge the gap between rising food demand and scarce agricultural resources. The ability to reduce reliance on labor highlights much-needed efficiencies, given the increasing scarcity of agricultural workers in certain areas and labor’s substantial share of total costs. According to the US Department of Agriculture, labor amounts to almost 50% of the production cost for lettuce and more than a third of the cost for crops such as peaches, tomatoes, and spinach.
Against this backdrop, various robots are being developed to pick fruit and vegetables, dramatically reducing the amount of labor required at harvest time. For example, US-based Harvest Croo Robotics has created a strawberry-picking robot capable of harvesting the same quantity that a team of 30 workers could achieve in a day.
Smart technology also has the potential to boost yields by improving crop quality. Advanced sensors can monitor yields while helping to regulate precise quantities of fertilizer and pesticide. Sensors and weather-monitoring systems can direct robots to the most appropriate fruits and vegetables to harvest.
New Zealand–based Harvest Electronics offers IoT automated weather stations that use solar power. Meanwhile, Trimble’s yield-monitoring devices allow farmers to view, map, and record crop yield and moisture data in real time. This data can provide instant insight into how well crops have performed.
More integrated solutions are also likely to emerge over the coming years. For example, Panasonic has developed a robot using high-resolution camera sensors and artificial intelligence to pick tomatoes. The company aims to eventually develop a one-stop solution dedicated to all aspects of harvesting tomatoes, including determining when to harvest.
Reducing Food Waste
As farmers look to reduce food loss through smart technology, they are employing a combination of sensors, robots, and drones to quickly spot problems. IoT-connected drones can collect real-time data and point farmers to issues that could threaten the harvest, including pests and weeds. They can also supplement data collected at ground level by sensors monitoring soil and moisture levels. Automating the harvesting process can improve efficiency and profitability as well as cut down on waste; farmers have been known to abandon crops before harvest when faced with labor shortages and the higher harvesting costs that labor scarcity can bring.
Some analysts anticipate double-digit global growth in sustainable harvesting over the next few years. Smart technology is innovating in order to play a key role in protecting agriculture for the future.