Advanced technology in agriculture often focuses on larger operations. For small farms and homesteads, it can be tricky to find case studies that apply to their business situation. Despite the focus of ag-tech on more industrial systems, there are several options for smaller enterprises looking for new technology.
Whether you're interested in improving crop production, streamlining management processes or using time-saving equipment, some technologies apply to your situation. Ag-tech is also applicable for growers that incorporate alternative growing practices, such as organic or hydroponic systems.
Technology does not mean you are turning your operation over to robots or relying on self-driving tractors. Here are six small farm tech examples to inspire your farm.
1. Real-Time Data
Traditionally, farmers had to analyze crop data manually, relying on their own records to manage production and plan for the next growing season. New technology in farming, such as real-time data, proves to be a game-changer for small farms and homesteads. Intervale Community Farm, for example, improved irrigation practices by collecting valuable information.
Using a Water Deficit Calculator system supplied by Cornell University, Intervale was able to analyze average annual precipitation, record daily plant health and reduce overall crop loss. This new technology in farming is perfect for smaller operations that need time-saving methods to retrieve data efficiently.
2. Drone Technology
A family farm in Wise County, Virginia, has been in the same family since 1837. Since that time, agricultural practices and technology have changed, and the family has worked hard to make sure they're always using the best innovations. The farm relies primarily on a cattle enterprise and has acres of pasture that need regular attention.
Infrastructure maintenance can be an inconvenient hassle. For the Smith family, they decided to test out drones to monitor their pastures. The trial was successful, and they are now able to save precious time by using drone technology to make sure no fences have damage around the property.
Individuals who run small farm businesses are often interested in new technology, but unsure how to navigate the legal aspect of new markets. Organizations all across the country are passionate about rural prosperity and may be able to assist you in making a smart investment.
Ag-tech influences agriculture across the supply chain. As blockchain technology advances, more and more businesses are adopting this digital ledger system. In the case of the healthy fast-food chain, Sweetgreen, blockchain streamlines how they manage locally sourced produce across the country.
The business emphasizes the importance of supporting local producers, and their seasonal menu reflects that value. Using a blockchain network allows them to create transparency for their customers. They can easily track the journey of food from farm to plate, which is beneficial for both the producers and the restaurant.
4. Portable Imaging System
GPS mapping capabilities already transformed large farm management, but now the technology is spreading to smaller operations as well. In New York State, a project coordinated by Cornell University and Penn State is testing out how to use imaging to improve grapevine health. Wineries in the northeast are particularly susceptible to cold spells, as grapevines require careful pruning during winter months.
This portable imaging system, using thermal and multispectral technology, allows farmers to drive through their crops and use the technology to map dead and live buds. Usually, farms do this process by hand, and it's incredibly tedious. With the new technology, farmers can measure the number of dead buds on a grapevine and prune accordingly.
5. Vertical Farming
Vertical farming systems, the process of growing produce indoors in a climate-controlled environment, are increasingly popular in urban areas. This innovation, touted as a sustainable alternative for soil-intensive growing practices, may be an energy-efficient way to grow produce in cities, cutting down on transportation and distribution costs.
However, vertical farming operations often have high operating costs, since the growing areas require specific conditions. Temperature, moisture and light levels must be optimal for the system to be economically viable. For one farm, FarmEcology created a new way of placing LED lights in a display that saves both energy and money. Known as Asymmetrical Integral Motion Sequence, they adjust the orientation, placement and output levels of various LED lights to use less energy and save money on operating costs.
6. Innovate Online Platforms
Some of the most innovative technologies transforming small farms and homesteads today are not in the field. The creation of online resources for farmers is integral to finding solutions to complex problems in an industry that can sometimes feel isolating, especially for farmers in rural areas. One successful example of this is Food & Tech Connect, a digital platform that cultivates an online community in farming and innovation.
Food & Tech Connect has invaluable resources for those interested in the latest innovations in farming, especially as they relate to sustainability. Another great resource for individuals interested in new technology in the sector is FarmHack. In this forum, farmers share projects associated with updating software systems, adding technology to traditional tools and more.
Ag-Tech for Small Farms
Small farm tech examples are essential because it can be difficult for local operations to find success stories. Innumerable cases may be out there, but as a whole, the industry focuses on larger enterprises when it comes to new technology.
Regardless of the size and structure of your operation, there is technology out there to fit your needs. Ag-tech can help streamline your business, from data analytics to supply chain logistics. Whatever it is you're looking for, there are great resources out there to discover.
Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com.
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