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Technologies Changing Agriculture

05 Jul 2017

There’s a connect between farming and technology that is a natural fit as a result of production pressure from an ever-growing human population and the uncertain future of our climate. To compete for a place in the sun or simply meet the demand, farming is constantly developing new methods through the application of innovative technology – change which is currently moving at an unprecedented rate.

From drones to driverless vehicles, robots, sensor technology, fibre optics and drip irrigation – there is every option available, both developed and developing, that will ease the load on farmers, create faster turnaround times, increase safety, reduce costs, avoid wastage, increase yield and quality, and help the farmer to wring the last drop of value from the land without decimating the soil in the process.


Africa is ripe for this technological change because of growing demand, compromised soil and poor farming methods in so many areas. A redesigned agri-sector to ensure food security through faster, better quality production is already underway – a change mainly driven through business opportunities that have created new space for entrepreneurs to offer affordable services to farmers.

  • Entrepreneurs are seizing business possibilities to improve the process of farming and crop yields. As computing systems, connectivity, open-source software, and other digital tools become increasingly accessible, entrepreneurs are able to deliver solutions that small-scale farmers can afford.
  • There are solutions that measure and analyse soil data such as condition, temperature and nutrients, which help farmers apply the right fertiliser and optimally irrigate their farms. In this way, using analytics, farmers can use the data available to improve productivity and reduce waste.
  • Financial solutions specifically designed for farmers are also driving the industry forward. Previously unbanked small-hold farmers are now being offered ways to connect to viable and cost-effective agricultural loan portfolios, opening banks to greater business and farmers to hitherto untapped opportunities.
  • Increasingly, farmers are able to deploy mobile and web technologies that afford diverse advice with regard to weather forecasts, market information and financial tips.
  • Middlemen entrepreneurs are decreasing the barriers to communication in literacy or language, and are educating farmers through their knowledge of new technologies available.
  • A drawback remains: the continent does not as yet have a comprehensive soil map. In addition, limited connectivity is still prevalent in many areas. However, these factors present good opportunities for investors and business to collaborate.
  • Digital technology not only offers opportunities across precision farming and improved efficiency in food supply chains, but also stands to usher in major economic, social, and environmental benefits.

South Africa

Smart technology: South Africa is already well on the road to discovering and injecting digital technology into their farming practices. New methods of management with regard to vital natural resources is particularly motivating.

  • New data intelligence is proving extremely beneficial for water conservation and soil longevity.
  • Monitoring crops in real-time through the use of sensors and drones provides opportunity for precision agriculture, keeping tabs on soil fertility, crop conditions and harvesting – and also allows for more efficient crop rotation and reduced use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Sensors enable farmers to monitor their soils for precise use through measurements of moisture, temperature and nutrients. Farmers no longer need to drive to many locations to physically undertake inspection. They can read a multitude of useful information from a single location - information which is not only more accurate but also provides time-saving for the busy farmer.

Biotechnology: Currently, South Africa ranks as the leading sub-Saharan country with biotech crops, including maize, soybeans and cotton, from seeds derived from biotechnology.

  • Agricultural biotechnology merges various genetic engineering tools with traditional breeding techniques to alter living organisms in order to achieve greater efficiency, or to develop new products altogether.
  • Biotech crops, because of their fast growth and improved qualities, provide the best solution to the challenges of food security and climate vagaries.
  • However, biotech crops still require the same good farming practices as conventional crops – with crop rotation and precise monitoring through digital management still critical aspects for success.

Drip Irrigation

Possibly the most fundamental change that technology has brought to farming since the 1940s, is the application of drip irrigation. The benefits bring great relief to farmers compromised by water scarcity, and those wanting to farm in areas hitherto unexplored.

  • Drip irrigation directs the exact amount of water required by a plant to its roots for immediate uptake.
  • It enables a uniform and continuous distribution of water at precise rates while saving costs and reducing wastage.
  • It is geared to respond exactly to the plant’s needs.
  • There is significant improvement in crop quality and yield, providing a more rapid return on investment.
  • There is more precision application with regard to time, weather and soil.

There’s no doubt that technology will save our planet

At Netafim, while we are dedicated to alleviating water shortage through our drip solutions, we remain cognisant of the advance of digital and biotechnology in the industry. Combining this knowledge with our ongoing research into water saving and optimal plant nutrition, creates a double win-win for all food producers.

Better plants, better soil, better control of water and land resources will make farming one of the most exact and successful sciences on the planet, providing greater food security far into the future. Whichever way the wind blows.

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