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Digital Farming – Revolutionising Sustainable Agriculture

The initial agricultural revolution shaped humankind by moving us from nomadic tribes to fixed settlements. Staying in one place long enough to harvest crops is why we have cities.

Then, the second agricultural revolution in Europe changed how we farmed and what we ate for good.

Between the mid-17th century and the end of the 19th century, changes in technology and the labour workforce meant food production was growing faster than the population, thereby increasing the population and allowing for exports.

Arguably it shaped the future of the UK.

UK farming is about to enter another agricultural revolution driven by technological developments – the era of digital farming. All the signs are pointing to digital farming being the start of another significant shift.

Digital agriculture practises have been growing steadily since the 1990s, and we are now set to see another massive change in how we farm British soil.

Digital Farming In The Past

The shift from traditional farming practises to the adoption of digital farming methods has been slow and steady.

Most agree that the original digital farming trend was the introduction of GPS tracking in tractors by John Deere in the 90s. This was really the first-time technology began to dictate what was best. Of course, farmers could choose to ignore it, but the GPS was supposed to control steering and minimise human error for more precise farming and for more efficiency.

Since then, technology has been pushing farming onwards.

One such example of digital agriculture (sometimes called smart farming) that is currently in practice today, includes taking soil samples to ensure that the right amount of fertiliser is used. This minimises fertilizer waste and prevents environmental damage.

Farming Needs The Internet, Mobile Devices And Satellites

Digital farming relies on having reliable high-speed internet connections, satellite imagery and mobile devices.

This is because while digital agriculture is as varied in nature as traditional farming, it fundamentally relies on collecting, storing and analysing data.

Precision farming has only really developed at speed thanks to these broader technological developments that have allowed farming equipment to become more accurate and optimised for specific agricultural uses.

Image of digital farming equipment using internet

As communication technology has progressed, farmers have increased production, maximised yields, reduced waste, cared for the environment, cut manual labour and eliminated unnecessary risks without acquiring new land or diversifying.

It is highly likely that digital farming will flourish as long as this communication technology is accessible to farmers, and they have access to farm finance to invest in these technologies.

Benefits Of Digital Farming Technology

In the last few years, the technology explosion has created an entirely new range of digital farming tools and machines to help UK farmers make the most out of their land.

You can now test soil for moisture content and nutrients, accurately predict the impact of the weather, select irrigation channels with precision, control greenhouse climates and increase efficiency by making manual tasks automated.

Research undertaken by the ONDO Smart Agriculture Solution company found that digital farming saves up to 85% of water consumption and 50% energy consumption, increases crop yield by 40%, and minimises human error by 60%.

The result is, that much of the farming is done by software behind-the-scenes, with farmers simply responding to what the data tells them.

Digital Farming Vs Traditional Farming

Farmers no longer make as many decisions as they once did – the data and software make the decisions, the farmers simply carry them out.

Thanks to modern-day technology, some of these actions are already automated, with farmers simply monitoring the technology. So long as nothing goes wrong, farmers need to know less about traditional farming and more about software and computing.

Although for many, this is a sad move away from the traditional farming culture, in the end, it increases profits and protects businesses for a better future.

Almost every UK farm has some form of intelligent digital farming technology used on a daily basis.

Revolutionising Farming In The Future

Of course, digital farming is still in the early stages, but we are starting to see signs of how far digital farming can go.

Digital farming is a crucial part of vertical farming, where precisely controlled environments enable crops to grow in urban areas without the need for acres of farmland. The technology and digital farming systems can even grow crops without using soil (hydroponic farming).

Without the digital sensors and software to keep the climate of these greenhouse type environments in check, vertical farming would not exist.

As urban areas expand and farmland shrinks, we may rely on the combination of digital farming and vertical farming for all our food at some point in the future.

Advantages Of Digital Farming Equipment

The UK farming community felt the impact of Brexit and the consequent restrictions on the manual, seasonal workforce that previously came from Europe to help with harvests.

Crops can still be grown as quickly as ever, but with fewer migrant farm workers coming to the UK, harvesting them is becoming harder.

Digital farming technology is already providing robot harvesting tools to ensure crops can be picked on time. If this trend continues, the need for a manual farming workforce can be drastically reduced.

Even now, drones make it possible for farmers to check vast acres of land without ever setting foot on it.

Digital farmer with mobile watching over farm

In the future, it has been predicted that these drones will be able to fly themselves, with the farmer simply receiving a digital report (via email etc) with information on what checks were performed, the result and the action that has already been taken.

The role of the farmer may move from active participant to passive observer (although many consider this to still be a few years away).

Those farmers who are ahead of the game, are already investing in this type of digital farming equipment. They have secured farm finance loans from specialist brokers who deal with such technology.

Helping With Sustainable Farming

As the climate becomes increasingly unstable, digital farming is helping overcome water shortages, prevent soil erosion, monitor pests, and maintain temperature for healthy crops.

Digital agriculture can monitor a farm for sustainable production and then inform farmers when to rotate crops and which crops to plant. So whilst digital farming is helping to improve farming – it may also be saving it by making it sustainable.

Research suggests that farms in the UK, France and across Europe are attracting fewer young people, as agriculture is viewed as outdated, hard work and has few benefits.

However, this new digital farming technology is attracting a whole new generation to be interested in agriculture.

With so many unknowns in the future of farming, having precise tools and large amounts of data at our fingertips gives us the best chance to react to future challenges.

The farming revolution shaped Britain in the past, and it is looking like the digital farming revolution will be responsible for a large amount of our future as well.

Digital Farming Initiatives

Despite advances in technology, farmers in the UK are facing more and more challenges.

Environmental changes are causing havoc with the climate, government funding is being cut, less land is available and foreign imports are putting pressure on prices.

With more challenges comes the need for more equipment, sensors, and data to meet those challenges and to help improve how we grow food.

Precision agriculture should be accessible for all farmers, resulting in better food production, less waste and a better environment – which equates to a better life for everyone.

Digital farming is continually evolving in order to help farmers face such problems with confidence – but thiscomes at a cost.

Financing Digital Farming Systems

New digital farming systems and equipment come with a high price point. Farmers won’t be able to rely on existing savings or traditional lending schemes from banks to finance new machinery and digital software.

As a result, accessing any available government grants or speaking with finance brokers who can secure good deals on agriculture loans at low rates will become more critical than ever.

With farmers having to rely on more niche funding to keep up with changing technology, the agricultural industry and the digital farming revolution will become incredibly specialised.

Equipment / technology that helps with crop yields may not see any return on investment until the crops are harvested the following year. Farmers will need special agricultural loan arrangements which take into account the farming cycle.

The good news is, that with the increase in the adoption of digital farming systems, specialist brokers such as Evangate FS are able to help finance these type of farming investments.

Contact us today.

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