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How cloud technology can help farmers

Using cloud-based technology solutions for more productive farming
(Image credit: Pixabay)

2019 saw record temperatures globally. In the UK, they impacted farms of all types (arable, pastoral and mixed) significantly. Coupled with this, last winter was one of the wettest on record submerging large areas of land, meaning farmers were unable to drill spring crops and creating problems for those looking after livestock.

It seems like 2020 is set to be a record breaker in the UK, with the country enjoying its hottest day in August for 17 years, as temperatures reached more than 36C (96.8F) in south-east England. The exceptionally hot weather continued in other parts of the UK throughout the following weekend.

These aren’t expected to be a one-off events either, with the Met Office predicting that previously once in every 100-year extreme weather events will become once in 50-year events within the next 25 years.

Increasing incidents of extreme weather isn’t the only issue troubling farmers across the nation. This year, like many other industries, farming has been blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the complications caused by social distancing, the farming industry also had to deal with how the Covid-19 pandemic restricted the movement of people, which meant a shortage of seasonal workers to pick fruit and harvest crops. Many of those workers usually come from other European countries.

Solutions from China

Of course, the UK is not alone in wanting to defend herself against extreme weather and other impacting factors and events. China, as an agriculture nation traditionally, also faces similar challenges. However, thanks to cloud computing, technology is now merging with tradition to optimize farming efficiency. Today, Chinese farmers have a better chance of recovering from extreme weather events, and their experiences may shine a ray of hope on UK farmers, and the growing challenges that they face.

Over the years, many Chinese farmers have benefitted from cloud-based technology solutions that have been developed to help farmers build more productive farms and keep healthier animals. At the same time, cloud-based technologies help farmers to reduce labor costs, and maximize their ROI in agricultural solutions, giving them an even more competitive edge in a sector where efficiency and productivity are key to maintaining profit margins.

More specifically, some cloud and data intelligence companies offer remote sensing technologies - such as satellites - to help farmers monitor crop growth more effectively. By using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze satellite images of crops, farmers can assess their maturity, and come up with a more effective harvesting schedule that’s based on intelligent agriculture data. With accurate information to hand, farmers can then allocate the right amount of resources needed and begin to carry out efficient planning. Again, the knock-on effect is greater efficiency driven through better, data-based, planning.

Large scale planning

Additionally, there are benefits that go beyond the individual farmer and their farm; with easy access to up-to-date geospatial information, little IT infrastructure cost, less labor and easy setup, the modern tools can not only help farmers, but also the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to manage planning effectively for large scale projects. This access to up to date information can also be a great asset in the event of a farm or farms experiencing the outbreak of a disease among their livestock; it makes managing the response easier and far more effective.

For years, Chinese consumers have been demanding higher quality, natural produce and livestock. To help farmers meet this requirement, some technology companies have been working hard to revolutionize the agricultural industry. They have incorporated various AI programs - such as visual recognition, voice recognition and real-time environmental parameter monitoring - to ensure the healthy growth of livestock in a well-maintained environment. By processing farming data and training algorithm models based on machine learning technology, such solutions give farm managers the chance to monitor the farm and the animals in real time, and remotely. The end result for the consumer is better produce with consistent quality.

Technology solutions for the UK

In the UK, farmers could greatly benefit from two of these technologies in particular, especially when it comes to the task of sheep and cattle rearing. Farmers can now use image recognition technology to understand the growth stage of sheep, including their wool growth and body weight. This accurate information is essential for helping farmers to decide on their next steps, as opposed to manually checking them one by one; not only is that time consuming, but it can be error-prone.

Additionally, the technology possesses the ability to monitor cattle for disease with image and sound recognition technology. It can also be used to minimize animal feed waste by assessing and adjusting cattle feeds and also for producing good quality milk with reduced operational and human labor costs. Multiple meters are installed to collect farming data in order to increase productivity, optimize the environment for the herd to grow, as well as reducing human errors in the farming process.

Preparing for the future of farming

As technologies continue to evolve, humans are gaining more knowledge in the modern times to embrace another agriculture revolution, with the assistance of artificial intelligence and cloud computing technologies. The products and solutions created for farmers in other parts of the world, could be a reference point for the UK to implement similar measures to counter the impact of extreme weather events and other impacting factors, so that farmers can be better prepared for future. And, with the planet’s population expected to reach 9.7bn by 2050, farmers globally will need to operate with renewed efficiency if they are going to be able to supply produce consistently and all year around.

  • Zeng Zhenyu, General Manager of Data Intelligence, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.