Farming 4.0: coming to a farm near you

A new wave of technology adoption is set to transform the way we farm over the next 10 years, says the head of engineering at the UK’s home for high-tech farming research.

These technologies could give farmers precise warnings of where and when pests and disease will strike, enable them to bypass supermarkets to sell direct to consumers, and see agronomists replaced with super-smart software (see How Farming 4.0 could affect you).

Dr Richard Green, head of Engineering Research at the National Centre for Precision Farming, says all of the technologies needed to drive what he calls “Farming 4.0” will be available by 2025 – and many are already here now.

See also: 4 new technologies on the way for livestock farmers

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They include autonomous drones, able to fly and gather data without the need for a human operator; cheap, smart sensors tracking everything from soil health to animal behaviour; and artificial intelligence software, to interpret the mass of data generated and make high-quality decisions.

“Artificial intelligence will have the biggest impact,” Dr Green predicts. “By 2040 the average smartphone, or whatever replaces it, will be more intelligent than the person holding it.”

Dr Green says to get the most from these new tools farmers need to share their data. “An individual farmer’s data is pretty meaningless,” he said. “It only really becomes valuable if you put it alongside other people’s data.”

His team, based at Harper Adams University, has been talking to key players such as machinery makers, agronomists, farmers and agrochemical suppliers and he says that many companies are already working on new products and services made possible by these technologies.

How Farming 4.0 could affect you – Dr Green’s predictions

 What How When
Precise warning of pests and disease Autonomous drones and ground sensors identify pests and disease spores where they first appear. Data from multiple farms across the UK is combined with weather data to forecast which farms will be hit next and when.  Within 5 years 
Agronomists replaced by software Expert software analyses data from drones and ground sensors to produce recommendations. Farm management software books contractor, sends spray plan and orders right amount of agrochemicals, delivered to the field.  Within 10 years 
Digital marketplace for livestock, giving high-spec producers a better return Multiple smart sensors monitor animals from birth to slaughter. Data made available to buyers through digital marketplace, allowing finishers, supermarkets and others to buy animals at any time, paying a premium to get the right spec.  Within 10 years 
Farmers bypass supermarkets Image recognition app allows consumer with smartphone to track individual product back to farm. Consumers can choose which farm to source products from, delivered by next-generation digital delivery businesses.  Within 15 years 

Farming 4.0: The latest agricultural revolution

Dr Green says the latest technology-driven revolution is the fourth since humans first started cultivating crops and raising animals

Farming 1.0: Subsistence Farming From hunter-gatherers to farmers. Basic stone tools and simple crop and animal husbandry
Farming 2.0: Commercial Farming  Managers, labourers, land ownership, selective breeding, irrigation, ploughs, animal fertiliser, metal tools, markets
Farming 3.0: Industrial Farming  Large-scale farming, banks, crop rotation, steel tools, genetics, tractors, combines, milking parlours, agrochemicals
Farming 4.0: Digitally Connected Farming  Precision treatment, genomics, robots, sensors, big data, Internet of things, online trading
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