What's Happening?

6 technology trends in agriculture



As the world’s population explodes and resources decrease, precision agriculture will be the solution in doing more with less, powered by innovative farming technology. Agritech has become an indispensable part of doing business for every farmer and producer, used to collect and process all types of data, transfer information, make decisions, provide automation and control functions. 

We look at the key trends and innovations that can help farmers work more efficiently, save costs and take their agricultural practice to new heights.  

1. Drones and agribots 

We’ve written before how drones are revolutionising crop management and production. Farmers will increasingly use sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to survey fields and map soil variations, yield and weeds for careful seed planting, irrigation and soil conditioning. Drones are also used for accurate crop spraying and monitoring crop production, and keeping a close watch on livestock health using facial recognition technology. 

The most exciting feature of drones is the vast amount of ‘big data’ (millions of data points) captured that can feed into artificial intelligence (AI) software to automate certain tasks. When data is correctly analysed, it can direct so-called ‘agribots’ (agriculture robots) to perform functions, for example weeding, spraying or harvesting. Robotic seeding and weeding systems will help farmers increase yields – an important benefit considering that production will need to increase by 25% when the world’s population reaches the predicted 9 billion by 2050. 

2. Self-driving tractors and combines 

Self-driving farming equipment is already becoming a reality. The prototype ‘Autonomous Concept Vehicle’, unveiled a few years ago, is programmable via a tablet, and offer the possibility of autonomous seeding, planting and tillage. It allows an operator to plan and adjust paths for fields, and manage multiple tractors at once, enabling 24/7 production. 

3. Water management 

Water management is crucially important for farmers, whether it’s draining excess water from fields due to flooding, or optimising irrigation efforts during a drought. Farmers can optimise water management through smart systems that streamline the surveying and designing of land levelling projects. Systems like Timble’s FieldLevel and WM-Drain have been proven to improve yields by 25% and reduce water usage by 30%. 

4. Smart ear tags 

The Internet of Things (IoT) has now reached livestock too in the form of electronic ear tags that inform a farmer where animals are at all times and monitor animal health. For example, a farmer will know when an animal is about to give birth or when it moves near watering points or gates, decreasing stock theft and livestock going missing. 

5. Crop sensors 

Crop sensors provide farmers with more efficient ways to manage fertiliser inputs, monitor crop health and precisely control weeds. These optical sensors, mounted on existing sprayers or spreaders, measure crop health on the go and control the application of just the right amount of fertiliser, in the right place, at the right time. 

Similarly, a spot spray system can spot if a weed is present and send a signal to a spray nozzle to deliver a precise amount of chemical. The result is that only the weed is sprayed, not the ground, which saves the farmer time and money and reduces the environmental impact of pesticides. 

6. Mobile apps 

Every day, more and more smartphone apps enter the market, designed to help farmers monitor fields and crops via GPS, control drones, access new markets, calculate feed, fertiliser or pesticides, track weather patterns, save water and much more at the click of a button. 

New enhancements to Electronic Equipment cover 

As new innovations are introduced to the industry, Santam will continue to provide specialist risk solutions for electronic equipment. Santam recently made new enhancements that now form part of the Electronic Equipment section on the Agriculture policy, which was amended in line with the new agricultural practices that are part of the farmer’s business. 

For example, the Electronic Equipment section now covers loss of or damage to the property insured from any cause not otherwise excluded. While a drone needs to be insured with Santam Aviation to ensure the liability cover is included, the camera and software can be insured under this Electronic Equipment section. 

Provision will also be made for cover of information technology and items such as GPS guidance, control systems, sensors, robotics, autonomous equipment, GPS-based soil sampling, automated hardware, telematics, software and AMS devices (Auto Pilot) for tractors or combines. 

If you have any questions about Santam agriculture insurance policies, speak to your Relationship Manager or get in touch with us. For more advice tailored to intermediaries, visit our blog for useful more articles.