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."


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Attacks on the internet getting bigger and nastier

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids' toys bring the internet to its knees? It's beginning to look that way. On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across the United States. Source
  • Glenn Greenwald weighs in on WikiLeaks data dump on Clinton

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Two people at the heart of the most earth-shattering leaks of stolen data in the past few years are at odds about how those troves of documents should be handled in public. "You'd have to be a sociopath to think that we ought to just take all of this material and dump it all on the internet without regard to the impact that it will have for innocent people," says Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on the massive document leak provided to him by former U.S. Source
  • Alberta to spend more to cut methane emissions

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON - Alberta plans to spend more money to cut methane emissions. Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says another $33 million will be added to the $7 million already pledged to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas by 45 per cent by 2025. Source
  • 'Red Dead Redemption 2' - 3 ways it could fail [Photos]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Saddle up, pardner. It looks like we’re going back to the Wild West. Rockstar Games, the video game empire behind the juggernaut Grand Theft Auto series, set the Internet on fire this week by releasing mysterious images that suggest – nay, outright declare – another game in the Red Dead series is on its way. Source
  • Cyberattacks disrupt Twitter, Netflix, PlayStation Network, others

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    LONDON — Cyberattacks on a key Internet firm repeatedly disrupted the availability of popular websites across the United States on Friday, according to analysts and company officials. The attack had knock-on effects for users trying to access popular websites from across America, Canada and even in Europe. Source
  • Russian indicted on charges he hacked LinkedIn

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- A Russian man has been charged with hacking and stealing information from computers at LinkedIn and other San Francisco Bay Area companies, federal prosecutors announced Friday. A grand jury indicted Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikulin, 29, of Moscow, Russia, on Thursday on charges including computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Source
  • Why it's so hard to land on Mars: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    It looks more and more like the Schiaparelli lander crashed on Mars this week, a huge disappointment for the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. But the incident is only the last in a long history of robot missions to Mars, where almost 60 per cent have failed for one reason or another. Source
  • Jeremy the snail is rare, lonely and looking for love

    Tech & Science CBC News
    more stories from this episodeFacial recognition software 'sounds like science fiction,' but may affect half of AmericansJeremy the snail is rare, lonely and looking for loveFull Episode Jeremy is looking for love. But Jeremy has a problem. Source
  • Can a Twitter taunt bot defeat the trolls and save political discourse?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    more stories from this episodeSecret Path illustrator Jeff Lemire helped Gord Downie bring Chanie Wenjak's story to lifeHow a Vox reporter took on the phone scammers and won Can a Twitter taunt bot defeat the trolls and save political discourse? TV Writer Joe Otterson thinks he knows who's going to die on The Walking Dead this weekendFound guilty of murdering his father, Dennis Oland now appealing his convictionTwin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost reveals the secret history of an epically weird…
  • Schiaparelli Mars probe crash-landed, may have exploded, says ESA

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicate that a missing European space probe was destroyed on impact after plummeting to the surface of the Red Planet from a height of two to four kilometres, the European Space Agency said on Friday. Source