Clearly one of the big themes in agriculture and land management in the 21st century will be the ongoing digitalisation of farm management and control. These technologies provide extraordinary opportunities to increase the efficiencies of the farm, boost production and vastly reduce input uses and thereby help reduce pressures on the environment.
There is not one single defining characteristic for digital farming; at best they are holistic systems that can be combined farm data from several sources. Drones and satellites can provide aerial data such as detailed terrain mapping, soil types and detailed weather predictions, while soil sensors can provide nitrogen and phosphorus data to a real-time level and cloud-based IT systems create user-friendly maps and application advice. The newest generations of agricultural machineries are designed to act as a focal point for this information and serve as a hub for precise applications.
Key issues still remain before this technology is widely taken up. While the tech industry and the farming community have made great strides in Europe through the Code of Conduct on Agricultural Data Sharing, this is an issue we will need to be vigilant for. Nevertheless, we look forward to a more diversified supply chain for digital tools due to their relatively cheap development costs.
However, large parts of the European countryside are still not equipped with high speed internet or 4G (and higher) mobile data connections. Without these, many of the new digital tools do not have the necessary networks to communicate with each other or send and receive the large quantities of data necessary to create high level field analyses. If Europe is serious about adopting precision farming and wide data use, this must be remedied first.