History of Farming: And So Begins the Space Age
And So Begins the Space Age.
10:29 p.m, 4 October 1957, the first satellite was launched. Ninety-five minutes later, it had completed its first orbit around the Earth, and with it, a new era began. Though Sergei Korolev and his team did not set out to solve the agricultural challenges of the future, it is one of the fantastic ways in which satellites are used today.
From Sputnik to Landsat 8
Going to space to take a closer look at Earth seems counter-intuitive. Yet, since the dawn of agriculture, humans have turned to the sky. Predominantly in the hope for favourable conditions that would allow their crops to grow. Today, we too turn towards the sky, but for concrete answers when conditions are not what we need them to be. So how did we get here?
Let’s take a step back to the 1960s. Though globally remembered as one of the most tumultuous decades, it is here that the idea of using satellites to observe the conditions of natural resources on Earth was born. At first, this idea was greatly opposed. The concerns were many ranging from national security to being too expensive. After all, there were already aircraft carriers that were able to collect data through remote sensing. However, using aeroplanes to collect data on a global scale is more than limiting. By 1970 the debate was finally settled, and two years later, the first Landsat satellite (Landsat 1) was launched. We were now able to collect remote sensing data from space!
Since then, many more Landsat satellites have been launched, with Landsat 8 being the most recent, in 2013. With each launch, the satellites (Landsat and others) capabilities have become more sophisticated and improved the data we receive. Examples of such are the development of various so-called Vegetation Indices (VI) that provide farmers with a broad range of data from plant health to soil fertility and irrigation advice.
Simultaneously, other technologies have been developed with similar goals in mind. Many of these are complementary and allow farmers to automate the application of the remote sensing data they receive about their cultivations. GPS enabled tractors and spreaders are great examples. These are especially useful in precision farming, where they allow farmers to optimise their outputs in line with the needs of their fields, based on the remotely sensed data. Even the use of drones and various sensors is worth mentioning here. Though their use is utterly limited (in comparison to the rich & readily available satellite data), it speaks to the innovative nature of the agricultural industry and the hardworking farmers that are true pioneers in their own right
The future we are heading towards and the future we aim for.
The future we envision is sustainable, sufficient and stable. To achieve this, we have to solve a few challenges. How far away are we?
Food production & rapid environmental changes are critical challenges that we need to solve in the coming 30 years and largely go hand in hand. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shares that experts identified an increased need for digitalisation of the agricultural sector, and that precision farming is a solution. The European Commission agrees that precision farming can solve the many challenges around food production. In connection to this digitalisation, they share that reports show that in Europe between 70-80% of all new machinery sold contain equipment that supports precision agricultural practices. Though numbers in other areas of the world may be lower, they shine a hopeful light on the adaptation of sustainable and profitable technology.
So how far away are we?
If the past 10 000 years of farming has taught us anything, farming is an innovative sector and constantly solves problems as they evolve. The agricultural sector is already working hard to tackle the current food production problems. But we need to keep our eye on the ball (or satellite). If we continue to optimise our resources by applying the best practices that precision agriculture has to offer, we have a green future ahead of us.
What farming future would you like to see? How far away do you think we are?
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