At first glance, farming might not seem the most technically advanced profession: the image of the farmer toiling on the land remains the most persistent, and for many people, farm technology begins and ends with a tractor. But the reality is far from this, and the agri-food sector is just like any other profession in seeking to take advantage of the benefits that modern technology can bring.
Tracing food products through an app, a cloud application to make precision farming easier or a digital farming advisor for efficient production – these are just a few of the exciting developments in the field (pun intended) of agriculture highlighted at the Agri Innovation Summit 2017 in Portugal on 11-12 October, innovative start-ups created with support from the EU via funding from its common agricultural policy and Horizon 2020 research programme.
Precision farming helps promote sustainable farming
Precision farming in particular has become the focus of much of the innovation in this area, technology's response to the need to produce more with less and in a sustainable manner. In simple terms, precision farming means using technologies such as satellite positioning systems to improve production - for example through monitoring crops and providing data on how best to treat them to increase yields. Monitoring and analysing agricultural data thanks to sensor systems can also improve irrigation management for high water-consumer crops, thus promoting sustainable farming.
But research is not limited to satellites and sensors. The modern world is fuelled by data as much as anything else, and the lack of varied and high quality data about farming is a potential barrier to innovation in this area. This is why the EU-funded Foodie project has developed a cloud-based platform for both spatial and non-spatial agricultural data, which aims to remove the barriers to precision farming.
For most of us, the thought of robots taking over is fuelled by a myriad of science fiction movies, but the reality is far more positive. While there is little chance of them taking over the world, robots are already being designed to help farmers in their day-to-day work:  the EU-funded SWEEPER project, for example, is developing a robot pepper picker (surely it should have been called Peter Piper.
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