Factbox: How digital farming tools boost efficiency and yields

Global pesticides, seeds and fertilizer companies may be forced to re-engineer their business models as farmers adopt specialist technology that helps maximize harvests while reducing the use of crop chemicals.

The following are ways in which new technology could boost productivity in agriculture:

– FARMERS’ NEW EYES AND EARS: Drones, satellites and tractor-mounted optical sensors provide farmers with unprecedented detail about soil characteristics, weather conditions and plant health.

– BEST PRACTICES FROM AGGREGATED DATA: Farmers will be able to draw on the experiences of hundreds or thousands of other users of farm software platforms that aggregate and analyze data. Each new harvest and new customer will help the platform providers to fine-tune their computer models of plant growth.

– UNCOVERING INTERDEPENDENCIES: Crunching the data may help uncover previously unknown ways in which the use of farming inputs are interconnected. A change in the spraying pattern or seed variety, for instance, may turn out to require a tweak to the use of fertilisers.

– PRECISION TOOLS: At field level, GPS-guided precision machines can apply dosages of fertilizer and chemicals by the fraction of an acre.

In Bavaria, for example, farmer Juergen Schwarzensteiner manages his 970 hectare farm in sub-sections of 36 by 36 meters (118 feet). The latest machines for vegetable farming apply pest control and nutrient dosage on a plant-by-plant basis.

A relatively simple upgrade such as switching to satellite-guided tractors to avoid overlapping lanes in the field can cut input costs by 5 percent or more, according to Schwarzensteiner and to Rabobank’s farm sector analyst Harry Smit.