The promise of precision farming
It has been estimated that the use of precision agriculture technology could increase yield on any given farm by about 10 per cent, compared with average global annual crop yield increases of about one per cent. Tractors that map fields, drive themselves and precisely calibrate their movements to within inches to minimise wasted fuel, fertiliser or seed are increasingly becoming a standard piece of kit.
Auto steer has been around for about 15 years, but the focus is increasingly on remote sensing and data collection on the dozens of variables, from soil moisture to nutrient levels, that influence success in modern farming. Agricultural companies are trying to make better use of the vast caches of data that farmers generate in areas such as yield and soil mapping, although some farmers have privacy concerns and want to limit the amount they share with big companies.
Monsanto recently spent nearly $1bn acquiring data science company Climate Corporation. Companies clearly see commercial opportunities in relation to climate change, but there is controversy about whether weather derivatives have the market smoothing effect that is claimed for them: Climate data