Agriculture comes to town with digital transformation

Books, films and television promised youngsters growing up in the 1960s a brave new world. They spoke of a future with flying cars and intergalactic travel. A place where technology was completely intertwined with daily life.

Things that once only existed in a fantasy vision of the future are with us today. Disappointingly, the present doesn’t always visually and technologically match those early sci-fi predictions from the Fifties and Sixties. We have handheld communicators and video calls but our space travel is a bit of a disappointment compared to those old sci-fi films and cars are still waiting to be kicked into the 21st century with renewable power and driverless technology.

Many of a mega-metropolis depicted back in those early stories included urban farming. Often hi-rise greenhouses towered as high as the skyscrapers, all well-stocked with lush green produce. Robots would often tend these gardens, leaving the carefree humans to fly cars and drink bright coloured cocktails as they mixed with strange aliens in groovy bars. 

You probably haven’t sipped a glows in the dark drink while standing shoulder to shoulder with a being from another galaxy, even if it often seems that way in the hippest bars. But digitally controlled agriculture is definitely no longer science fiction. 

A farm in Aizu-Wakamtsu, in Japan, is using cloud computing, big data analytics and clean-room technology to grow vegetables in a digitally controlled, urban and ultra-efficient way. Yields of up to ten times greater than open-field agriculture have been claimed. The hydroponic growing technique requires no soil and is ideally suited to urban agriculture. Crops can be grown almost anywhere, such as redundant computer manufacturing cleanrooms - or even in shipping containers.

These indoor farms use the cloud to analyse data from multiple sensor points to ensure the hi-tech LED grow-lamps, irrigation systems, remote controlled ventilation fans and other growing equipment are all optimally managed.

Back out in the great outdoors, Dutch firm Dacom works with Orange Business to provide farmers with smart farming technology. Their hardware and software systems connect multiple sensors in the field to a smartphone app via  M2M technologies, enabling accurate analysis of different streams of information.

Dacom CEO Janneke Hadders is a farmer - and an engineer. She knows what a farmer needs from technology. “Wacom is able to help farmers and agribusiness in general anticipate needs and allocate resources and materials on a continuous basis, all via their smartphones. It’s all about enabling them to be more efficient, less wasteful and to maximise yield”.

According to Japanese indoor farm operator Spread, future urban farms will be entirely automated. It plans to open a huge indoor lettuce factory near Kyoto in 2017 and is predicting that its farmhands will soon all be robots. It’s a complex program and some problems are stickier than others. Trying to teach a robot how to accurately recognise the stages of seed germination had them stalled for a while. Now, after relentless research, they claim they are close to solving the problem.

The future of farming looks increasingly digital and mechanised. The present is starting to look more like the way the past once predicted it.

But we need to have a word with the scientists about their progress with teleportation and warp drive...

Eight Ways technology Is Changing Agriculture :

Glenn Le Santo
Glenn Le Santo

Editor in Chief, International, at Orange Business. I'm in charge of our International website and the English language blogs at Orange Business. In my spare time I'm literally captain of my own ship, spending my time on the wonderful rivers and canals of England.