n an enormous indoor vegetable farm run by robots, 30,000 heads of lettuce are produced every day. This isn’t a scene from a sci-fi novel but a work in progress. By the summer of 2017, Japanese company Spread hopes to open the world’s first fully automated farm.
More than half of British farmland already uses precision farming techniques including sensor systems, cameras, drones, microphones, virtual field maps, analytics and GPS-guided tractors. These methods improve the efficiency of farm operations, allowing for better targeted fertiliser and agrochemical applications. Farmers using these technologies say they can save them time, energy and money.
Some believe technology offers scalable, global solutions to today’s food challenges. In Scotland for example, satellite technology helps monitor harmful algal blooms (pdf) that could affect the salmon industry. And as climate change brings about weather extremes, technology offering early warnings of problems can help farmers around the world make timely decisions.
The field of “ag-tech” is growing. Data from the Cleantech Group found that investment in agriculture and food technology increased from $157m in 2009 to $277m in 2013.