Drones, robots, cloud computing: Betting the future of farming on high tech

CALGARY -- The family farm is going high-tech.

From robotic milking machines to data-gathering drones, industry watchers say technology is making agriculture more precise and efficient as farmers push for increased profits and yields.

See Full Article

"There's a whole confluence of technologies that are adding a lot of value on the farm quickly," said Aki Georgacacos, co-founder of Calgary-based Avrio Capital.

The venture capital firm focuses on agriculture and food innovations, and Georgacacos says changes like fine-detailed mapping and sensors for everything from soil moisture to fuel use are just beginning.

"We're not even scratching the surface," he said, adding an older generation of farmers have been slow to adopt new techniques.

But that's changing.

"Right now we're at a bit of an inflection point, where we've moved beyond early adopters and we're moving now into fast followers, and so we're getting to a point where the rate at which some of this technology is accepted is accelerating."

On Monday, Avrio Capital finished raising $110 million in late-stage venture capital that it plans to invest in the next wave of farm-tech companies.

One of them is Fredericton, N.B.-based Resson Aerospace, which has developed drone-based crop monitoring to know when fields need to be sprayed or watered.

Another is Winnipeg-based Farmers Edge, which 10 years ago was based out of Wade Barnes's basement in rural Manitoba, where he and co-founder Curtis MacKinnon were pushing to make local farms more efficient.

Barnes started introducing farmers to technology that allowed them to apply varying amounts of fertilizer on their fields depending on where it was most needed.

"That was quite revolutionary back in 2005," Barnes said in an interview.

Today, the company has evolved into what Barnes says is one of the biggest in the world working in farm data management, using cloud computing to crunch numbers from soil sensors, satellite imagery, weather stations and other inputs to make farms more efficient.

in January, Farmers Edge secured a $58 million investment from investors including Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co. and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"The next big revolution in agriculture is big data," said Barnes from southern Russia, where he was setting up another satellite office for the company now operating on four continents.

Already, he said, farmers are seeing 30 per cent increases in productivity by using the data available, and the technology is only getting more accessible. A system that five years ago would have cost $15 to $25 an acre now costs under $5, said Barnes.

Cheaper technology and advancements in productivity are more important than ever as pressure mounts on the world's food systems, says Viacheslav Adamchuk, an associate professor in McGill University's bioresource engineering department.

"We are not going to see more arable land; land is all allocated. The population is growing, the climate is changing," he said.

Adamchuk's research has focused on sensor technology in farming, which he says has come down dramatically in price in recent years while at the same time growing in precision.

He estimates that farmers can shave off at least 10 per cent -- and upwards of 40 per cent -- of their input costs on things like fertilizer, seeds and water thanks to global positioning systems and sensors that allow them to use those resources only where needed.

"You can maintain the same yield with less inputs," said Adamchuk.

Stan Blade, dean of the University of Alberta's faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences, says innovation is key for the future of farming.

"The farmers who succeed are the ones who are going to incorporate new technologies," he said.

"Auto-steered tractors, yield monitors on combines -- I mean we're all using those things now because it just makes us that much more efficient. They decrease labour, they make things more efficient, they make things safer, so it just presents a whole array of new opportunities for producers that are involved in generating these yields."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Selfies with seal pups a no-no: U.S. science agency

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- U.S. officials are warning people not to take selfies with seals, no matter how tempting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries office says seal pupping season is underway in New England and that means people might see seal pups on the beach during Memorial Day weekend. Source
  • Planting trees can't counter carbon emissions: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new report from the Potsdam Institute in Germany shows that planting trees and other plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere cannot substitute for cutting carbon emissions. Growing trees and other kinds of "biomass" have been thought of as an effective countermeasure against our rising global carbon emissions. Source
  • Ontario community's work to prevent turtles, snakes being killed a model for others

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A rural Ontario community's work to prevent endangered reptiles from being killed on a 3.6-kilometre stretch of road -- once considered among the world's deadliest for turtles -- is being held up as a successful example of how to protect vulnerable wildlife. Source
  • 'Far Cry 5' sneak peek: 5 things we've learned [Photos]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL – The action-heavy Far Cry video game series has always been known for its exotic settings: tropical Pacific islands, sun-baked African savannahs, the lush valleys and snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. And now… uh, Montana? Game studio Ubisoft Montreal is taking Far Cry into unexplored yet timely territory with next year’s Far Cry 5. Source
  • Europeans try to convince Trump not to pull out of climate accord

    Tech & Science CBC News
    European leaders have mounted a last-ditch effort to stop President Donald Trump from abandoning the Paris climate accord, using multiple meetings this week to sell the American leader on the global agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Source
  • Endangered turtles saved by citizens of Ontario hamlet

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Long Point is a popular camping destination in southern Ontario, a rich ecological site with an abundance of wildlife, and part of UNESCO's World Biosphere Reserve. It is full of marshes, dunes, beaches and forests. Source
  • D.C. zoo officials hoping get panda Mei Xiang pregnant again

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Zoo officials in Washington are hoping to get panda mom Mei Xiang pregnant -- again. Smithsonian National Zoo officials say they performed two artificial inseminations Thursday on 18-year-old Mei Xiang. Officials say they were closely monitoring her for when to do the procedure. Source
  • D.C. zoo officials hoping to get panda Mei Xiang pregnant again

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Zoo officials in Washington are hoping to get panda mom Mei Xiang pregnant -- again. Smithsonian National Zoo officials say they performed two artificial inseminations Thursday on 18-year-old Mei Xiang. Officials say they were closely monitoring her for when to do the procedure. Source
  • Using the wrong emoji can cost you — literally

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Imagine if an emoji — one casually fired off in a text-message conversation — ended up costing the sender thousands of dollars. Or $3,000, to be exact. That's what happened in Israel recently, after a judge determined that a message containing a string of emojis conveyed clear intent. Source
  • Yukon looks to preserve and manage grizzly bear population

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Grizzly bears are generally doing "quite well" in Yukon, according to government biologist Tom Jung — and wildlife officials are aiming to keep it that way. The territorial government is developing a conservation and management plan for the species, and it's asking Yukoners to weigh in on what that plan might look like. Source