Next Generation Farming Techniques Involve the Clever Use of Technology

A drone hovering above farmland.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The next generation of farmers believe that there are better ways to farm outside of mainstream techniques.

Millennial farmers are incorporating technology into everyday farming practices as a means of increasing productivity and streamlining conventional processes. For example, trends show that younger farmers are leaning towards organic and sustainable small-scale farming.

These small farms often gain support for their technology through crowd funding and are sustained by Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Many utilize farm shares where members subscribe for a portion of produce weekly, monthly, or yearly. They use technology that provides accurate tracking of their produce and livestock so that they are better able to plan for their farming needs and the production requirements to deliver goods to consumers.

Technology also offers opportunities to produce food more sustainably. A mixture of data, math, sensors, analysis, hardware and software allows farmers to go beyond what the eye can see. This data can be monitored all at once, creating greater efficiency in the agricultural process.

Forbes reports that “consumers have gravitated to mobile devices and smart technology to live healthier, safer, and more connected lifestyles–monitoring our thermostats and securing our homes and tracking our health. The migration of technologies that we use in our everyday lives into tools for farmers to grow crops more effectively and create sustainable farms is the model for a new generation of farmers.”

Farmers have successfully integrated such technology as moisture sensors, terrain contour mapping, smart irrigation, drones, and self-driving and GPS-enabled tractor technologies into their daily routines.

Drone technology is another powerful addition to smart farming. Drones allow farmers to map fields aerially in real time. Aerial imagery can expose heavily compacted fields and crop health issues, as well as show improvement in yields.

Drones can also help pollinate crops. Bio-inspired drones could have huge effects on the pollination crises and the decline of bees. They can be designed to fly from crop to crop, fertilizing plats mimicking natural pollination. These flight patterns might also provide researchers with some clues about how to help with pollinator declines.

The hope is that smart farming will help our agricultural industry reduce negative side effects on the environment, protecting our planet’s resources, while still producing the best food supply for a growing and hungry population.

Using Drones to Deliver Blood Samples

Drones

Unmanned drones, small flying machines controlled remotely or programmed with specific flight paths, are becoming increasingly popular. While they are perhaps best known for their military uses, they’ve been seeing use in research, exploration, and even package delivery. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have been experimenting with using drones to deliver blood samples.

In many rural areas of developing countries, laboratories that run blood tests can be quite far from the clinics where the blood was drawn. In Africa, for example, the distance can be up to 60 miles or so, which generally has to be traversed by motorcycle or car. Drones might hold the key to fast, reliable delivery of blood samples because they don’t have to worry about traffic, and they can even be programmed to fly to specific locations.

There was some concern that the take off, flight speed, or landings could harm blood samples, but the tests at Johns Hopkins have found that they don’t seem too. Six samples each were taken from 56 volunteers, then driven out to an unpopulated area where the drones could be flown without breaking FAA regulations. Half the samples were loaded onto drones, and half were simply driven back, and then each sample was subjected to the 33 most common tests, which make up about 80% of all blood tests performed.

The only case where there was any difference was in the bicarbonate test, which records total carbon dioxide in the blood, but the difference could have been caused by the samples having to sit around for up to 8 hours waiting to be flown or tested. Such a result doesn’t really tell us about the drones, and requires more experiments to determine what happened.

Because the FAA has strict regulations on drones in populated areas, they’ve decided to start testing the drones in Africa, where they can be flown with more freedom, and hopefully help save some lives.

Drawing up the Future of Drones

Drone

Amazon has submitted a patent for aerial delivery drones that are able to track the recipient by their smartphone’s GPS. Already news outlets are hypothesizing how creepy this will be, with a horde of drones stalking customers to deliver them their box set of Game of Thrones.

Right now, Google and Amazon are the two companies primarily staking out drone us in the US, but inevitably the law will catch up as more smaller companies take to the skies. Here are a few problems that will have to be solved, and such solutions provide a possibility for entrepreneurs.

Drone Insurance

It seems obvious, and already companies are jumping to expand their businesses to include specialized insurance for aerial unmanned vehicles. Just Google “Aerial Drone Insurance.” The business will inevitably changes as cities and states begin to enact their own requirements for drone insurance—insurance for civilians and property injured or damaged by drones, and possibly insurance for damaging other drones. There are opportunities for businesses to offer drone insurance as well as for lawyers to specialize in relevant laws, existing and future.

Drone Zoning

In major metropolitan areas, drone traffic could increase to a point where cities enact regulations on how many drones can be present, what hours drones can operate, and possibly restrictions on where drones can operate. In large enough cities, one can imagine concerns about a mini Kessler Effect where the skies are too crowded with drones with many concerns about mid-air drone collisions. (There can’t be an actual Kessler Effect because debris doesn’t float this close to earth, it falls.) This leaves room for law firms to help have a guiding hand in crafting legislation that strikes a balance between private and public interests.

Additional Drone Services

Drones are ideal for delivering all manner of products, not just those sold by Amazon and Google. With apps like Eat24 and Grubhub popular, it makes sense that such apps could make use of drones—they could either develop their own or outsource their drones to a third party.

Moreover, computers aren’t always the best at plotting routes or dealing with unstable conditions. There’s a market space for companies that have actual humans manning drones, for areas that have regular bouts of inclement but navigable weather or for cargoes that are time sensitive or have a very particular place they need to be delivered (such as drones carrying urgent medical supplies, to hospitals or emergency areas).

Not only will drones drastically affect the legal landscape, but they will also change the landscape of what we expect from companies and our skies. If the internet was the Wild West of the 90s, we’re now entering the Wild West of the skies. For better or for worse, the skies will be tamed and legislated, so it’s better to become involved in that process earlier rather than later.

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