In 2050 planet Earth will be hosting over 9 billion inhabitants. The expected 2 billion extra mouths to feed are going to pose a real challenge for agriculture.

Precision agriculture and Big Data: the next revolution?

If everyone is going to have enough to eat in the future, agricultural production will need to increase by 70% over its current level. In other words, we will have to learn to produce more with less. How can this circle be squared?

One of the possible solutions is to make further technological progress in agriculture. Agriculture has already seen two major revolutions: the first, at the time of the industrial revolution when production was mechanised; the second was the ‘green revolution’ when pesticides and other agrochemicals were widely adopted. Now we are seeing the advent of a third revolution, one based on Big Data.

The use of data in agriculture will facilitate the switch from mass production, with its associated wastage, to optimised, customised production. When we are able to gain a better understanding of plants and animals by ‘listening’ to them via sensors, this will lead to radical change across the entire chain of agricultural production. At the beginning of the chain there will be fewer inputs – fertilisers, pesticides, even water. In mid-chain, the availability of accurate data will help farmers to take better account of the factors that have an impact on plant and animal growth – such as climate and diseases – and to plan more precisely the human resources needed to produce the foodstuffs.

At the end of the chain the aggregated analysis of all the data gathered will enable producers to predict their productivity and total output volumes, with ever-shrinking margins of error.

The use of Big Data in agriculture thus has the potential to help meet the challenge of our era: to produce more with less. We can only hope that the market will be able to adapt and seize this golden opportunity.

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By Nathalie Doré and Pauline Canteneur