Which farm does the apple in my apple juice come from? How much roaming space do the chickens that lay my breakfast eggs have? Nowadays, we as customers want to know exactly where our food comes from, and thanks to modern technology, we are receiving answers to our questions. This is because agriculture has heavily changed over the past several decades. This new reality is called “smart farming”. Innovative technology is delivering transparent supply chains and more: they also help to conserve resources and the environment.
Is there enough for everyone?
The world’s population just keeps on growing – by 2050, it is expected to be around 10 billion according to the United Nations. This also means increased demand on food – after all, everyone needs to be fed. However, natural resources such as water are in limited supply, and valuable farming land is being built over – according to the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt - UBA), this amounted to an average of 52 hectares between 2016 and 2019 in Germany alone. Monocultures and the use of fertilizers and crop protection products put pressure on the soil. Furthermore, not only does agriculture contribute to climate change globally by being responsible for around 23 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions according to the IPCC, it is also a victim of the effects, with increased weather extremes such as droughts and heavy rain causing harvests to fail – resulting in the loss of food and resources. The key question is therefore how to safeguard food supplies for so many people without harming the environment.
of the world’s agricultural land could be barren by the year 2050 if we continue our current practices, according to the World Atlas of Desertification.
Sustainable development goals
Sustainable agriculture has a positive effect on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, especially the following: 2, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15.
Digital and sustainable
Sustainable agriculture offers an answer to the question. Environmental impacts can be reduced by more targeted use of fertilizers and pesticides, resources such as water can be used more sparingly, fields can be managed more efficiently, and work processes can be made easier. Digital and connected technologies can be vital tools in this. Some examples of intelligent, more sustainable agriculture can already be seen. And it is still early days. The expansion of the 5G network will open up many more innovative applications in the future, as it can transfer large volumes of data in real time thanks to 5G. This would make it possible to monitor self-driving machinery remotely, for instance.
Self-driving agricultural machinery uses satellite navigation to sow, fertilize, and plow with centimeter accuracy, thus avoiding the need for several passes. Our precision positioning system makes it possible to calculate the position of vehicles and machinery with an extremely high degree of accuracy. Sensors recognize when fields need irrigating, and intelligent software solutions automatically adjust the water volume to the soil conditions and the weather forecast for the coming days. Drones can be used to precisely distribute seeds on fields, and they also recognize where the targeted use of pesticides is required and where not, making it unnecessary to treat the entire field. With the help of an app, farmers can see how their animals are doing any time, and wherever they are, and always provide them with the best possible care. The result is higher yields and less impact on the environment. More than that, simplified work processes also save time and money, safeguarding the farms’ existence.
Tim Höttges, Chairman of the Board of Management, Deutsche Telekom AG
“The most digital farmer has the biggest potatoes! Just like any other industry, agriculture is becoming more digitalized. […] Deutsche Telekom partners many agricultural companies in ‘smart farming’, for example in a pilot project with the ‘nPotato’ digital potato.”
Digital harvest helper
In 2018, the Smart Farming World project also created the nPotato – a kind of digital potato equipped with sensors. The nPotato can record movements caused by impact and rotation in real time and send messages about these to the farmer. This makes it possible, for example, to optimize the navigation of the harvesting vehicle to prevent damage to the harvested potatoes.
Without data, everything grinds to a halt.
If different types of agricultural machinery are connected to each other, they can share information relating to areas such as the weather, soil conditions, or the state of the plants. To ensure equipment from different manufacturers can be connected, we worked with agricultural machinery manufacturers on the “Smart Farming World” project to develop the necessary technological basis. Among other things, this enables optimum control of harvesting machines, targeted use of pesticides, and remote diagnostics in response to error messages.
Always on track
According to the German Federal Statistical Office, farmers in Germany cultivated an average of 63 hectares of land each in 2020 – that’s roughly the equivalent of 88 soccer fields! To make it easier to manage these huge swathes of land, Deutsche Telekom has developed a highly accurate positioning and navigation system (Precise Positioning). This makes it possible to calculate the position of vehicles and machinery with great precision, even across the borders of German federal states. The technology thereby solves a previous problem – namely that no matter how good reception was, there could sometimes be discrepancies in positioning in the border areas between the federal states. With this equipment, vehicles and machinery can move around the fields with great precision using satellite navigation and automatic steering systems. Deutsche Telekom offers the technology via the mobile network, meaning no expensive infrastructure is needed. This cuts costs and removes one of the purchasing obstacles.
More precise than ever before
The margin of error in previous positioning technologies was around five meters. With Precise Positioning, on the other hand, accurate navigation is possible with a precision down to ten centimeters.
Grow vegetables anywhere
A garden in the middle of the schoolyard or in abandoned industrial areas? Urban farming is trending and creating fertile landscapes in the city. However, vegetables can not only be grown in previously unused areas in the city: there is even space to do so in a city dwelling’s living room. It is according to BerlinGreen, a start-up supported by Deutsche Telekom. The company has developed a smart mini-garden for indoors that is sure to fit in any apartment – it’s called the GreenBox. The box supplies the plants with the nutrients, light, and water they need. Via an app, integrated sensors indicate whether the room temperature is right, when the water needs refilling, and when the lettuce etc. are ready to be picked. It’s fun to grow things in your own home – and food that has been picked at home is fresh and doesn’t need to be transported.
When clothing becomes a lifesaver
With the big machines and dangerous equipment they involve, there is a huge potential for accidents in agriculture and forestry. If the incident happens in a remote field or in a forest, smart clothing can help locate the injured person – and save lives.
How smart can the future be?
The potential for using smart technologies in agriculture and in urban farming is huge. However, similar sectors can also benefit from it. Take food traceability, for example. Increasing numbers of consumers want to know where the meat on their plate has come from, under what conditions the animals were kept and transported, whether the vegetables were treated with pesticides, and whether the coffee was grown under socially acceptable conditions. In this case, smart solutions can deliver greater transparency in the future: using blockchain technology, data can be transferred transparently and in a tamper-proof manner. The “Thank My Farmer” app can already find out where your morning cup of coffee came from. Quite smart, isn’t it?