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: it also helps 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 54 hectares between 2017 and 2020 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, but 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 Earth’s land area 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. This would make it possible to monitor self-driving machinery remotely, for instance. The simultaneous transmission of data from multiple sensors, such as in a smart greenhouse, is also possible.
Self-driving agricultural machinery uses satellite navigation to sow, fertilize, and plow with centimeter accuracy, thus avoiding the need for several passes. Our highly accurate positioning and navigation system (Precise Positioning) 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.
Without data, everything grinds to a halt.
If different types of agricultural machinery are connected to each other, they can share data relating to areas such as the weather, soil conditions, or the state of the plants. This kind of information is important when it comes to harvesting grain, for example, since grain can only be harvested when it is dry. Smart farming therefore means that yield losses can be avoided. 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. In addition, the correct machinery settings ensure higher yields can be harvested – and energy costs can also be reduced
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 almost exactly the positions of vehicles and machinery that are moving around the fields with great precision using satellite navigation and automatic steering systems, even across the borders of German federal states. Deutsche Telekom offers the technology via the mobile network, meaning no expensive infrastructure is needed.
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.
Sustainable water management
Groundwater is not only important as drinking water – it is also vital for both nature and agriculture. However, with climate change causing temperatures to rise, it is raining less and the groundwater level is declining – and yet, at the same time, farmers need more and more water to irrigate their fields. The “Ground Water Monitoring” IoT solution from T-Systems helps farmers use groundwater sparingly. It is currently being trialed in Germany’s Diepholz district in Lower Saxony. The Ground Water Monitoring solution tracks and records the volumes of groundwater that are extracted. This means the district water authorities can always keep an eye on the up-to-date situation regarding extracted volumes of water, and draw up forecasts of groundwater level developments. Farmers can use the IoT solution to check their meter values from any location, which means less traveling around and less CO2. What’s more, they can irrigate their fields more efficiently, and receive an alert when they reach the groundwater extraction limit.
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, these technologies also help with food traceability, for example. More and more people 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 fair working conditions. In this case, smart solutions deliver greater transparency: 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?