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

  • Electric cars will be cheaper than gas models but Canada lags in EV policy

    Tech & Science CTV News
    OTTAWA - A Canadian energy think tank says the world is less than a decade away from the tipping point at which electric cars will cost the same as conventional gas-powered vehicles. But in a report released Thursday, Clean Energy Canada says this country is lagging on the government polices that elsewhere are helping spur consumers to adopt the new technology despite reservations about everything from price to reliability to the distance they can travel on a single charge. Source
  • Scientists use AI to discover an 8th planet orbiting a distant star

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Our solar system may not be that unique after all. Researchers have discovered a star that lies 2,500 light years away with at least eight planets orbiting it, just like our sun. The Kepler-90 system was discovered back in 2013, and was initially thought to have just seven planets. Source
  • NASA and Google AI find star that ties ours with 8 planets

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NASA’s Kepler telescope and a Google neural network have identified a distant star system orbited by eight planets, tying it with our own solar system for the most known planets orbiting a star. The discovery was made with help from a machine learning neural network at Google AI. Source
  • Eighth planet found in faraway solar system

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A record-tying eighth planet has been found in a faraway solar system, matching our own in numbers. Even more amazing, machines and not humans made the discovery. NASA joined with Google on Thursday to announce the finding. Source
  • New bird species named for Harvard 'father of biodiversity'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Here's something to tweet about: A new species of bird has been named for a retired Harvard biologist known as "the father of biodiversity." The Rainforest Trust said Wednesday that the antbird discovered last year in northern Peru has been given the name Myrmoderus eowilsoni in honour of E.O. Source
  • Scientists solve speed surprise in stratospheric stunt

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- Scientists say they've figured out why an Austrian who became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound fell faster than the drag of his body should have allowed. Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere 39 kilometres (24 miles) above Earth on Oct. Source
  • See the Geminid meteor shower without braving the cold

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The Geminid meteor shower lit up the heavens overnight, delighting the few brave (or foolhardy) Canadians who endured the bitter December cold to catch a glimpse. The meteor shower typically occurs in mid-December each year, when the Earth passes through a cloud of cosmic dust left behind by an asteroid collision. Source
  • Space capsule with 3 astronauts returns to Earth

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MOSCOW -- Three astronauts on Thursday landed back on Earth after nearly six months aboard the International Space Station. A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA's Randy Bresnik, Russia's Sergey Ryazanskiy and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency descended under a red-and-white parachute and landed on schedule at 2:37 p.m. Source
  • Why Canada's net neutrality fight hasn't been as fierce as the one in the U.S.

    Tech & Science CBC News
    On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to reverse rules that regulated internet providers like utilities, freeing providers to block or slow access to content and services online. U.S. policy-makers have spent the past 15 years fighting over the distinction. Source
  • National clean fuels strategy will affect all forms of fuels in Canada

    Tech & Science CTV News
    OTTAWA - Canada's national clean fuels strategy will apply to every kind of fuel - be it liquid, solid or gas, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday. McKenna released the broad brushstrokes of the standard, which aims to eliminate at least 30 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030. Source