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

  • Greenpeace blasts tech giants for environmental impact

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - The environmental group Greenpeace issued a report on Tuesday giving technology titans including Samsung Electronics, Amazon and Huawei low marks for their environmental impact. Many of the biggest technology companies failed to deliver on commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and are still reluctant to commit fully to renewable energy, according to Greenpeace USA's Guide to Greener Electronics. Source
  • Farmers frustrated with elk turn to Indigenous hunters who can legally shoot them

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Hunters and Gatherers is series looking at hunting and fishing in northern Ontario, how Indigenous rights can divide people, how some northerners find ways to share the resources and what sharing the land means for reconciliation. Source
  • Egypt says Ramses II temple unearthed southwest of Cairo

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAIRO - Egypt's antiquities agency says archaeologists have unearthed remains of a temple belonging to King Ramses II southwest of Cairo, which may shed light on the life of the 19th Dynasty pharaoh, over 3,200 years ago. Source
  • Puerto Rico struggles with massive environmental crisis

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAGUAS, Puerto Rico -- Raw sewage is pouring into the rivers and reservoirs of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People without running water bathe and wash their clothes in contaminated streams, and some islanders have been drinking water from condemned wells. Source
  • Whales show brains, social interaction go together: study

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The rich social interaction and highly evolved brains of some whales are linked in a kind of evolutionary feedback loop, a newly published paper suggests. The research, largely done at the University of British Columbia, sheds new light on similarities between whale and human evolution. Source
  • 'Everyone needs to be afraid': Major flaw exposes Wi-Fi networks to hacking

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The U.S. government's computer security watchdog warned Monday of a security flaw in Wi-Fi encryption protocol which can open the door to attacks to eavesdrop on or hijack devices using wireless networks. The disclosure by the government's Computer Emergency Response Team could potentially allow hackers to snoop on or take over millions of devices which use Wi-Fi. Source
  • Hydrothermal vents found on Mars raise hope in search for life

    Tech & Science CBC News
    ?Evidence of ancient hydrothermal vents, similar to those found in the depths of the Earth's oceans, have been spotted on the surface of Mars in an area that used to be covered in water. The volcanic features are around 3.8 billion years old, dating from a time when life was emerging on Earth. Source
  • Scientists witness huge cosmic crash, find origins of gold

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- It was a faint signal, but it told of one of the most violent acts in the universe, and it would soon reveal secrets of the cosmos, including how gold was created. Astronomers around the world reacted to the signal quickly, focusing telescopes located on every continent and even in orbit to a distant spot in the sky. Source
  • Flaw lets hackers read data over secure Wi-Fi

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Belgian researchers have discovered a flaw in a widely used system for securing Wi-Fi communications that could allow hackers to read information that was previously understood to be encrypted, or infect websites with malware, they said on Monday. Source
  • Astronomers see source of gravitational waves for 1st time

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A never-before-seen explosion from the merger of two dense astral bodies known as neutron stars has been viewed with telescopes for the first time. "We did it again," National Science Foundation's director France Cordova said in a press conference on Monday. Source