Agricultural technology — also referred to as ag-tech — isn't just for giant farming corporations anymore. Several technologies are available to small farmers that can make a huge difference, from managing sales to testing soil health. Whether you are looking to invest in an automated greenhouse or simply want to set up an online store, here are the eight most impactful technologies to implement around your farm:
1. Open Source Technology
Open source technology refers to programming and coding that can be modified by users according to their needs. When it comes to building an online presence, the most well-known open-source systems are Drupal and Wordpress, which create a blueprint that can then be customized by developers.
Several open-source programs are available for small farms. One example is FarmOS, a farm management system that assists small farmers and homesteaders with record keeping, planning and other management tasks. This type of technology helps growers within the small farming industry optimize their capacity to collect and distribute data, all in one place.
2. Used and Rental Equipment
New technology is not always the best technology. Many large agricultural businesses rely on costly, heavily subsidized equipment. If you are a small farmer or homesteader, you are most likely not farming in an equipment-intensive way and only need certain tools a few times a year. New technology in farm sharing enables small growers to find used equipment more easily or rent machinery for a specific project.
3. Surplus Distribution
Small farms and homesteaders must be conscious of how much they produce and what to do with the excess, especially today with supply and demand issues rising. Some farms have neighbors or local communities who can collect surplus production, but fresh and perishable products often go to waste.
There are several solutions to this issue in which farmers can invest. For example, Full Harvest allows farmers to sell excess produce that is slightly less-than-perfect directly to consumers. This practice reduces waste and shares produce with those who need it most.
4. Vertical Farming
Small farms tend to focus on producing high-quality products in a small area. While many techniques play a role in growing intensively, vertical farming is a new technology that increasingly automatic farms are looking toward. The concept of vertical farming is just as it sounds — growing produce vertically. This invention reduces the amount of land needed to grow food and often requires fewer inputs than traditionally grown vegetables.
5. Farm Automation
Farm automation is an umbrella term covering anything from smart sensors to GPS powered tractors. For many small farms and homesteads, this automation may seem unnecessary — or even unwanted. Since many small producers are passionate about relying on human power rather than automation, the topic tends to dissuade small growers from investing in this technology.
However, several accessible farm automation technologies may be helpful for small farms. From setting irrigation timers to mapping out new fields, there are ample opportunities to employ farm automation in any setting.
6. Greenhouse Innovation
Greenhouses are not what they used to be, and for the better! Many automated greenhouses today come with extremely customizable settings, making it convenient for the small farm or homestead to invest in this new technology. In addition to measuring temperature and humidity levels, new greenhouses can open window vents on demand, rely on renewable energy and even set irrigation timers.
7. Soil Management Software
For many small farmers and homesteaders, it all comes down to the soil. Regardless of whether you are growing vegetables or raising livestock, small farmers tend to focus on intensive techniques that reduce the need for chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
To maximize their success without using harmful inputs, many agriculturists rely on other forms of management to maintain or improve their soil's health. New soil management software, such as Soilmentor, allow farmers to import soil test results into a mobile app. The software also includes record keeping for biodiversity — such as wildlife spotting — as well as soil mapping across various parts of the farm.
8. Online Farm Store
While many small farms and homesteads historically relied on farmstands and farmers markets, online stores have gained traction in the last few years. Many small farms are utilizing pickup and delivery options to get food to their customers.
However, building an online store from scratch is difficult, and many websites do not have software specific to farm sales. With new technology such as Farmigo and Barn2Door, farmers can use a template to build an online store, manage customers and streamline packing and accounting services.
Small Space, Smart Impact
The current pace of agricultural technology can leave farmers feeling confused as to where to begin. If you own a small farm or homestead, this can be particularly overwhelming. With the near-constant innovation within the field, new software and systems are showing up, and it can be hard to make an informed decision. Not all automated farms are big farms with prior knowledge of agtech.
Technology will continue to play a decisive role in how small farmers work with their land. It may include new robotic milking technology for organic dairy or apps that can discover mechanical issues, but regardless, implementing technology on your small farm can be a game-changer.
Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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