Using data to drive decision-making in farming could add more than US$10bn (£6.6bn) a year to the value of global cropping, according to a Rabobank report.
The bank predicts that the implementation of data-led farming methods, rather than relying on intuition, has real potential to add value to the farming industry by driving up yields.
But it also admits that the adoption of smart farming techniques will require fundamental changes to the way farmers operate and will be harder to achieve for small and medium-sized farms.
“Also known as smart farming, data-intensive farming utilises new sensor technology to collect and process data for many variables relevant to monitoring and optimising crop growth,” said Rabobank analyst Harry Smit.
“This allows farmers to tailor inputs and fine-tune application rates and cultivation activities down to the square metre. Over time, aggregation of data from many farmers will drive the development of even better agronomic decisions that can be customised and automated.”
The report, From Intuitive to Fact-Based Farming, warns that the industry will have to adapt to help manage the costs of investment.
This will be easiest for the type of large corporate farms, most common to the US, South America and Australia, it says.
It suggests medium and small-sized farms may need to scale up to access the required technology or alternatively become part of a bigger group, which enables them to tap into data, technology and expertise.
They could do this either by co-operating with other farmers or by developing relationships with their suppliers to leverage investments across a range of farms.
Farming co-operatives also provide an obvious framework to help aggregate data and share costs and expertise, it adds.
Rabobank’s estimate of an $10bn annual increase in global field crop value is based on an estimated 5% yield increase on 80% of the area for the top seven crops produced in the world (corn, soya beans, wheat, cotton, rapeseed, barley and sunflower).
The real value is expected to be higher, considering similar benefits to smaller high-value crops, such as sugarcane, potatoes, sugar beet, as well as fruits and vegetables.
The livestock industry is also expected to see similar benefits.