Global Hunger & Precision Agriculture

A colleague of mine begins his presentation at professional meetings by noting the population of the world. He does this to emphasize that the single goal of agriculture is to feed the world. Like him, I too will begin this article by noting the world population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 6,967,814,676 people on Earth. This number represents a doubling of the world’s population in the last 50 years. I will also add a few facts to this population figure. According to the recently released “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011” report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Program, there are an estimated 925 million undernourished or hungry people. This figure represents about 13% of the world’s population. The majority of undernourished people live in rural areas and four out of five are farmers.

The fact that most hungry people are farmers seems counterintuitive. But as the 2011 report points out, farmers, especially smallholder farmers in food importing countries, are most impacted by high and volatile food prices and extreme weather events. Their livelihood and personal sustenance are tied to food. If they cannot produce a crop, they cannot feed themselves, nor do they have a source of revenue to buy food. The 2011 report also notes that while high prices worsen food insecurity in the short-term, they increase the long-term investment in agriculture. This investment is targeted at not only increasing yields but also at reducing production costs. Improvements such as seeds resilient to abnormal weather conditions, better timing and placement of fertilizers and affordable irrigation practices, attract investment and help farmers counter economic and environmental shocks.

The Role Of Precision

Precision agriculture can contribute to reducing global hunger by providing farmers the tools to create the necessary information for making good investment choices.

The more detailed and complete picture a farmer has about a field, the better the decision as to where and when seed and materials can be applied and what management practice can be implemented to improve crop production. However, precision agricultural tools cost money and take time, both of which are in short supply for many of the world’s farmers. So the challenge to the precision agriculture community is how to bring information-generating tools to the poorest of the farmers and do so in a manner that improves their production and economic situation.

Before taking up the challenge, I believe it would be helpful to introduce a measure for quantifying the contribution that information and technology make to agriculture production. The chosen measure is popular in economic analysis; it is called the “total factor productivity” or TFP. TFP accounts for the efficiency in a production system. That is, the TFP increases when there is an increase in output for the same amount of input. In the case of agriculture, there is TFP growth when yields increase with the same materials and/or practices or when yields remain the same with a reduction in materials and/or practices. The TFP can increase when either a new technology is introduced to save material, energy or time, or when there is a smarter use of resources while realizing the same output. Clearly, precision agriculture is a good candidate for promoting TFP growth in crop production.

The TFP would be important to watch worldwide because it provides a measure of how efficient one production system is over time or when it is compared to another system. It also provides a rough indicator of the sustainability of a production system. As a system becomes more efficient, it becomes more sustainable, because it either uses less of, or gets more out of, the same resources. If the same TFP calculation could be applied to many farms over time, the sustainability of a given operation could be evaluated relative to its neighbors.

Meeting The Challenge

The challenge can now be taken up by precision agriculture. As more farmers around the world adopt precision agricultural tools in their operations, there will be an ever-increasing accumulation of data and information about those operations. These data and information can be mined, organized and evaluated to create recommendations for the community of contributing farmers. These recommendations can be in the form of new seed, materials or practices that either increase yields or reduce input costs. These recommendations can be shared with farmers outside the contributing community by matching up soils, environments and operations. Farmers receiving recommendations outside the community would indirectly benefit from precision agriculture and may be incentivized to invest in it. The implementation of the shared recommendations for a more sustainable operation in a given geography would not only raise the TFP in a region, but also reduce world hunger.

In summary, precision agriculture as a generator of field-level information can play an important role in helping poorer farmers improve their crop production and attract long-term investment. Efficiency measures, such as the TFP, can be used to quantify which farming operations are sustainable and economically successful. Once identified, the technologies and practices of these successful operations can be shared with other farmers in need of assistance.

One last note, in the time it took me to write this article, the population of the world is now 6,967,842,049. It will be over 9,000,000,000 by 2040.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Business Stories
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota High Tech Association
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to Kill Pests
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More