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New technologies in digital agriculture

Fernando Gonzalez

May 8th, 2018

Key technologies such as the internet of things, are transforming our definition of digital agriculture. We’re in the midst of a rapid transformation. However technology advancement by itself, is not sufficient. To have a significant business impact on farm operations, an integrated network of parties is required – including farmers, technology service providers and suppliers. Without this network of support, farms will not adopt this new technology, and the technology will not reach its desired market penetration.

The example of drones and field imagery demonstrates the challenge of new tech adoption

When talking to agronomists, crop scouts, farmers and business owners, one of the topics that is often raised is how time consuming some new technologies are. When a very skilled and expensive agronomist ends up spending a large portion of their time in the field performing menial tasks such as flying a drone or entering data on a tablet, we have to wonder whether we are utilising our resources properly. An agronomist for example will want to have an NDVI or RGB image of the field in some instances, but does he or she really want to spend two hours flying a drone around the field? Why does an agronomist need an image with a 2cm pixel resolution? What do they, or the grower, stand to gain from this?

overcoming the challenges of cultivating new technologies in digital agriculture

This very question, is a question that technology service providers are looking to answer: what kind of information do we need, and what is the easiest way to obtain this information? In the case of crop imagery, growers and agronomists are starting to realise that having imagery with a 2cm pixel resolution available is nice to have, but time consuming to gather, and not very useful when your variable rate application equipment can only apply inputs with precision down to 24 meters for example. It is for this very reason that providers like Planet Labs are providing alternative image sources in the form of satellites.

In Planet’s case, they have launched high resolution satellites (rapideye) and hundreds of low resolution satellites (doves). What this offers to growers, is an almost daily overpass of a satellite that is providing an image at 5 meter resolution. Traditionally, satellites such as ESA’s Sentinel and NASA’s Lansat, provide free imagery at 10meter pixels, but they only have sporadic overpasses – which in combination with cloud-cover means in practice that growers often have to wait too long for an image in a critical period of the season. On the other hand, drones are not hindered by cloud cover, but the cost per hectare is relatively high and such a high resolution is not needed. Therefore, services such as that which Planet is offering, have found a trade-off between price, resolution and availability, that has seen a positive reception in the marketplace. And yes, drones are still getting used for certain niche-purposes, but they are not the panacea for agriculture that they were made out to be five years ago; technology has overtaken that idea.

New digital agriculture technology needs to consider the user perspective

The process described above in the example of crop imagery, is something that we will see repeat itself many times in the years to come. Too often do technology service providers look at what a technology can provide, and aim for the best outcome from a technology perspective, not a user perspective. If the network of users is not kept in mind from the beginning of a new development process, businesses are at risk of creating another technology that provides an excellent service but that is not practical to use in the field.

We´ll be discussing the challenge of building technology that incorporates the user perspective, in our upcoming digital agriculture webinar. Register here.


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