How will we feed 9.6 billion people? Increasing agricultural yield with BI
With the UN predicting our world’s population to topple 9.6 billion in just over thirty years, the question of feeding our planet has become more urgent than ever. Climate change, continuous building and infrastructure growth have shrunk our allotment of arable land. Further, the USDA tells us that our food productivity growth is declining. For instance, grains and oilseeds growth dropped from 2.4% from 1970-1990 to 1.6% annually between 1990 and 2010, and this rate is predicted to be at 1.5% by 2021. How will we produce enough food to meet this voracious demand?
Many experts are now pointing to the dual approaches of the IoT (internet of things) and advanced analytics as the solution.
Sensors plus Business Intelligence = Higher Yields
There are a myriad of variables to consider when planning a harvest, from soil condition, to availability of water, to plant health, to weed presence, to topography, to climate, to pests. When you factor in all of the disparate pieces, the data can be staggering.
“Smart farming” takes all of this data into account. Using guidance systems like drones, GPS devices and satellite imagery as well as sensors in the field for real-time metrics, farmers can measure and then compile their data. Admittedly, this is a massive amount of data.
But fortunately, today’s business intelligence software can turn those numbers into easy to see, actionable insights. To go one step further, good analytics can even provide accurate predictions for the future, so that farmers can tailor their variables and accurately predict how well a plant might react to changes in inputs like soil, moisture and temperature, as well as stressors like weeds, pests, nutrients and diseases. This precision agriculture approach enables the farmer to customize his approach by the square meter versus the acre, increasing yield commensurately.
The science behind feeding salmon and protecting oysters
Of course, this approach is just one piece of the puzzle for increasing overall yield; it also requires expertise gained by years in the industry. Together, they can yield some surprising results. Consider the case of Sam Boyes, Senior Manager for ICT at Tassal, which grows salmon in Tasmania. He recently explained their system, which is a farming grid consisting of 20 pens with approximately 20,000 salmon in each. They’ve outfitted the pens with smart cameras both above and below the water to track the water’s oxygen levels, current and temperature.
Analytics help them determine the most effective time to feed the salmon, so they can release the food then. With this strategy, they enhance the salmon’s growth while eliminating food waste. Since that’s their largest expense, this is an efficient and fast way to up their productivity. The company estimates a savings of approximately AU$25,000 per year, according to ZDNet.
Another company puts these systems to work for their oyster harvest. By measuring salinity levels and tracking weather forecasts, farmers optimize their harvest. If a storm is coming in, a farmer will pull the oysters out so they can avoid the contaminated water that would flow in. Prior to this, they’d watch rainfall measurements as the precursor to runoff, but rainfall can affect the oysters from as far as 100km away, so this was cumbersome and inaccurate.
By instead measuring salinity, temperature and depth-sensing, a regulator can automatically open and close the harvests in real time, more effectively protecting the oysters from harm. They’ve reduced unnecessary closures (which can cost up to AU$120,000 lost revenue daily) by 30%, delivering a great savings and increasing productivity. Both New South Wales and the Tasmanian governments are now using this predictive analysis system, which 300 oyster farmers count on to protect and grow their harvests.
Feeding the world
The more data collected, the more accurate the prediction capabilities will be. So it behooves governments and larger organizations to collect from various private and public entities to grow their databases. With the power of business intelligence, they can transform these numbers into real and actionable methods of increasing productivity across industries—and continuing to feed our growing world.
If you think that a business intelligence solution can benefit your business, give us a call. We’ve helped many agricultural companies increase their yield using smart metrics, and we’d be happy to help you too. Contact us.