The UK’s Oxford Farming Conference took place last week from 5-7 January, at the Oxford University Examination Schools in, England. I was honored to attend and share insights on the development of digital agriculture and our learnings from the recent launch of the San Francisco-based Climate Corporation’s platform in the United States.
The challenges facing production agriculture today are many. While arable land is decreasing across the globe, population and incomes are rising. According to the UN, the global population is expected to exceed 9.6 billion by 2050. At the same time, economic prosperity, advances in medicine and healthcare, and technology are giving rise to an emerging middle class that by 2050 will be larger than the entire population of humankind in 1980.
These population and economic factors are giving rise to a dramatic increase in the food required to feed a hungry world. At a basic level, over the next 35 years we need to produce more crop calories per acre, and we are likely going to need to do it with less resources and with greater uncertainty.
In recent history, advances in agricultural technology have significantly increased food production. The Green Revolution’s advancements in plant breeding began in the 1940s and boosted yields in the late 1960s and beyond. Another inflection point was the development of advanced breeding and biotechnology that have helped to reduce risk and increase yields since the late 90s.
At The Climate Corporation, which is a division of Monsanto, we believe we’re now on the cusp of another key inflection point – the Green Data Revolution – that will be just as important to agriculture and will usher in the data-driven farm of the future. In my role on the science team at the Climate Corporation, I see firsthand the potential of data science to help farmers optimise both their yield and their use of natural resources.
Our teams of climatologists, engineers, data scientists, agronomists and statisticians develop digital tools that assist farmers in making more scientifically informed decisions on the farm, ultimately improving productivity and sustainability.
All of the information we analyse at The Climate Corporation begins and ends with a farmer’s field. We use data from every interaction taking place in the field (digitisation) to build our models – interactions between the soil and the plant, the plant and the weather and many other interactions that impact yield. These models drive our tools and provide insights to the farmer, such as how nitrogen is moving through a field, what type of hybrid performs best and early recognition of a plant disease threat. This ultimately helps farmers make decisions that improve their operations.
While Climate Corporation’s digital agriculture tools are currently available only in the U.S., we are planning to expand the geography of our offerings in the future. In Europe, we have tested this digital-agriculture approach to farming at 23 of our technology hub sites. We look forward to rolling this service out soon.
We will continue to embrace the emerging opportunity of digital agriculture and help to unlock its tremendous opportunity in our collective effort to feed a growing world.
By David Fischhoff, Chief Scientist at The Climate Corporation. You can find David’s presentation at the Oxford Farming Conference on scientific innovations here.