As a growing population, climate change, supply chain challenges, demographic shifts and labor shortages are pushing farmers to do more with less, precision agriculture technologies are prime to influence the future of global food production. 

The Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Future of Food Production whitepaper identifies 13 trends that could influence the way food is produced. Precision agriculture ties into these 5 of the 13 trends identified by the AEM — as technology will be vital to helping farmers do more with less.

  1. Produce More with Less Environmental Impact
    The AEM’s Environmental Benefits of Precision Agriculture study found farmers using precision technology saw a 4% increase in crop production, 7% increase in fertilizer placement efficiency, 9% reduction in herbicide and pesticide use, and 6% reduction in fossil fuel use.
  1. Optimization of Water Use
    With food security contingent on water security, the AEM predicts embracing precision irrigation will help ensure a stable food supply. The association’s study found growers using precision irrigation reduced their water use by 4%. Any savings of water matters when water supplies are projected to fall 40% short of meeting global needs by 2030.
  1. Connectivity Gap Narrows
    “Connectivity is the lynchpin of agriculture’s future,” states the AEM report. Connectivity enables precision technologies, artificial intelligence and automation, and other components of the food chain of the future. The report says only 25% of U.S. farms use connected equipment or devices to access data, and more than 22% of Americans living in rural areas don’t have access to broadband. The federal government is accelerating connectivity in rural America by providing $65 billion in funding through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve Internet access. The USDA’s Broadband ReConnect program also provides loans and grants to rural areas to deploy broadband.

    “As reliable internet access becomes more available, the leveraging of cutting-edge technologies becomes more practical, leading to a transformative shift in agriculture practices that drive productivity while conserving resources,” the AEM writes in the report.

  2. Artificial Intelligence Enables Insights-Driven Farming
    The AEM views the agriculture industry as well-suited to maximize the influence of large amounts of IoT data. The report predicts artificial intelligence will begin to assume a prominent role throughout the entire crop production process over the next 10 years.
     Using AI, machines can analyze data to give farmers insights and recommendations to improve and streamline decision making. Equipment will work smarter and do more with continued application of machine learning and use of image recognition. Smart sprayers from John Deere, Precision Planting and other agtech companies are already illustrating the early potential of image recognition paired with artificial intelligence.

    Machine learning can also help predict machines’ maintenance, repair and maintenance needs before they break down. Plus, machines that can work on their own reduce labor needs and expenses, while making the operation more efficient.
    The report cites a 24% increase in net returns when including both input savings and yield increase due to less compaction with the use of autonomous equipment (The economic feasibility assessment assumes the autonomous equipment will be lighter and smaller than today’s machines). “At a time when farmers will be asked to produce more with less impact, artificial intelligence including machine learning will prove to be invaluable,” the report says.
  1. New Business Models Emerge
     As food production changes, so will the business models of farm equipment dealers and manufacturers.

    “Equipment manufacturers and dealers will reassess their value propositions, while farmers will gain an opportunity to reinvent themselves and pivot some of their risk,” the report says.

    The AEM predicts a rise of Equipment as a Service (EaaS), giving farmers the opportunity to lease equipment for a specific time period, rather than buy the machine. Dealers could include additional services, such as data analytics and preventative maintenance, in the price of the rental.

    Custom farming will also become popular as farmers look to farm more acres without assuming the risk of buying and maintaining additional equipment. The industry will also shift to outcome-based pricing models — programs that guarantee a certain yield goal, elimination of disease or other metric — as digital tools make outcomes easier to guarantee. The report says these new business models will encourage competitiveness, attract more venture capital investment in agriculture and lower the barrier to entry for new players.