But while farmers are already able to farm an incredible amount of land with high-tech equipment with a shrinking workforce, there is still plenty of room for innovation.
Here's a look at a few of the latest innovations in large-scale farming:
In Minnesota, three brothers have come up with a new way to reduce fertilizer pollution. Instead of spraying a huge amount of fertilizer over an entire field, the Rowbot is a small robot that goes row-by-row to fertilize individual plants. As NPR reports:
The Rowbot, which is 2-feet wide and 7-feet long, is designed to apply nitrogen fertilizer with a lot more precision. Inside it are real-time sensors that are studying the plants and making find-tuned adjustments to how much fertilizer is applied to each plant, says Cavender-Bares.
Farmers can already ride massive equipment, like combines, through a field using GPS without driving. Now the Kinze Manufacturing, Inc. has developed new technology that allows farmers to instruct a tractor to go anywhere in the field without being behind the wheel. As Precision Ag reports:
The “go to here” feature has proven to be very beneficial for the farmers. Users can instruct the tractor to go to a spot in the field that they deem most convenient in relation to the combine’s path, instead of having the system follow the combine through the field. This helps increase efficiency and saves time because the farmer can gauge when they will need to unload next and make sure the tractor is there waiting for them.
Imagery will be tailored to wavelengths that will illuminate specific species of weeds. Problematic weeds in one field can be mapped, and sprayers can focus on just where the problem is versus a blanket application of the field. Less herbicide, less expense.
Robotic field inspector
In Germany, a robot has been developed that can move through a field autonomously to collect information -- nutrient levels, water levels, etc -- about every plant. As The National reports:
Packed with sensors and electronics as well as a 3D laser scanner, BoniRob can recognise gaps between rows and move without damaging plants.
"BoniRob can create a ‘fingerprint’ of every single plant,” says Prof. Ruckelshausen. "Afterwards it can find the location of a certain plant and measure its features again. We can document the growth process of every plant in that way.”
While much of this innovation is leading to positive outcomes, like less pollution, and all of it is making for a more efficient farm, what's the impact on farmers? In the United States, it's a mixed bag. Farmers are seeing profits go up, but at the same time jobs are, unsurprisingly, decreasing, according to Bloomberg. Farmers will see the biggest drop in employment of any job category this decade. By 2020, the sector will have lost 96,000 jobs out of a total of 1.2 million jobs. At the same time, the median wage of farmers is around $60,000 a year, the most of any of the top 20 declining employment categories.
Just wondering what the armies of minimum wage Mexican and Latin American in the US, or Polish (and other eastern european) in the EU, will do when there are no (irony on) unskilled 'cheapo immigrant jobs' left in agriculture or meat packing after the robots have taken over. I'd imagine they won't bugger off back home, and they'll join the swelling 'idle' of the indigenous population who think agriculture is below them, or unable to sustain their lifestyle, and will become another welfare drain.
That's before you talk about ever increasing world population, and the greater propensity to migrate.
Another good innovation will be to have no pesticides. We would jsut design and teach robots to harvest the weeds. We could then easily copost tem and analyze them to determin fisld conditions which is harder to do with the crop. With weeds we can grind them up in a stream and process them smrtly knowing where in the field they came from. This wil aid in ferilizer and field prep. The weeds actually become tools used to measure progress, fertilizer effectiveness and other field conditions. All for the loss of most pesticideds and the ability of a robot to weed and cultivate with as much or more skill than a humangarderner.
Imaging your tomatoes arriving in the store all in absolutely perfect condition.
The yields will be higher, the quality better and the cost lower.
A robot can work tirelessly in the field 24 hours a day under all weather conditions.
The cost saved and the increased yeilds would lead to widespread use of field robotics and would require way more than 60,000 new skilled workers. The economics would support this. We could easily end up with a net increase in jobs by 2020.
@Day Dreamer To the neo-Malthusians, it's a very awful development. Cheaper food means that we have resources to spend on things or activities that they disapprove of. They'd much prefer the opposite happen, where the vast majority of us were living a near-subsistence existence.