Big data meets agriculture – how farmers can protect crops and the environment
The pandemic is affecting us in many areas, but it is also driving forward digitalization in industry and in our private lives. Digital tools have been used throughout the agricultural sector for a number of years now and are paving the way for a more sustainable future with greater protection for crops and the environment.
For a number of years, farmers in Germany have been using digital tools to work more efficiently and sustainably. Today, the potential applications in agricultural businesses are many and varied. Drones and satellites help analyze soil, plants and weather data in precise detail. Automated tractors and harvesting machinery fitted with sensors drive through fields of corn, rapeseed, potatoes or wheat, while collecting more and more data on plant health, soil composition and the topography of the field. Until now, this data has rarely been interlinked intelligently. “By combining different digital elements, farmers can work more efficiently and transparently while also saving a great deal of time,” says Tilman Puls. Puls works for The Climate Corporation, a Bayer subsidiary, and teaches farmers about innovative digital tools they can use to bring in reliable harvests while also protecting the environment.
The tools help not just large farms but also farmers with smaller businesses. “To farm digitally, farmers don’t necessarily need the most state-of-the-art machinery or drones. A smartphone with an internet connection is enough to get started,” Puls explains. Over 90 percent of German farmers already use their smartphone to work more efficiently and sustainably.
Digital operations mean more sustainable operations
As the world population is growing and climate change and urbanization are limiting agricultural land, we need to achieve sustainable increases in yields on existing land to ensure long-term food supplies. Besides using innovative seeds, crop protection products and sustainable cultivation methods, this can also be accomplished by harnessing digitalization. Throughout the world, farmers are using the largest digital platform for agriculture, Climate FieldView from Bayer, on an area of land that already spans 55 million hectares. This roughly equates to the total area of France – and looks set to rise.
The success of cultivating individual areas depends on a site’s quality and heterogeneity. Instead of treating all fields in the same way, farmers already cultivate individual areas differently according to the specific needs of individual sections, thus enabling them to work much more cost-effectively and sustainably. “Digital tools allow us to see the bigger picture. Drones can identify plant diseases, for example, before we see them with a naked eye. If we diagnose the crop precisely, we can also apply crop protection products and fertilizers precisely, as and when required. Farmers can treat specific sections of a field or even feed individual plants in a targeted way,” says Katharina Au. Used correctly, digital tools and data help not only to get the best out of fields but also to use our resources efficiently and sustainably and thus safeguard the environment.
Modern farmers protect the environment and biodiversity
Thanks to digitalization, modern agriculture has an enormous lever for cutting global greenhouse gas emissions, slowing the rise in global warming and protecting the environment. It is also playing a role in increasing biodiversity – for example, by identifying areas in a field that historically deliver lower yields and can thus be put to good use as lark windows or flower strips. “On the one hand, society wishes to have a diverse choice of safe food. On the other hand, it wants to see environmentally compatible agriculture. Digitalization can help us reconcile these conflicting objectives, make farming more efficient and environmentally friendly and maintain biodiversity,” Au says.
Facing the challenges of the future with innovations
Digitalization is having a positive impact, including on future generations. Au is confident: “Digitalization is helping farmers act more sustainably today so as to enable them to leave their children better farms in the future. To offer practical demonstrations of the opportunities opened up by digitalization, Bayer is planning other ‘ForwardFarms. At these farms, innovative and concrete measures for sustainable agriculture are put into practice in conjunction with farmers. Within this framework, experts showcase new technologies and innovations in crop protection and breeding. I can imagine that digitalization will get us to the point where farmers will no longer be ordering seeds, fertilizers or crop protection products, but a weed-free field, disease-free land or a field with special biodiversity.” Puls confirms this: “Digitalization can help us build a sustainable business model that takes into account both profitable operations and business targets.”