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Data-Driven Agriculture: The Key to a Sustainable and Resilient Food Supply

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marvin talsma

Marvin Talsma

Product Marketing Manager, Climate FieldView

If we’re going to sustainably feed the Earth’s rapidly-growing population, modern farmers need every tool we can give them.

As the world’s population pushes eight billion and beyond, as global urbanization continues to expand unabated, and with the future of the climate increasingly uncertain, one big question faces us all: how are we going to fill all these bellies?

Marvin Talsma of Bayer CropScience and Product Marketing Manager for Climate FieldView is based in Southwestern Ontario and the reality of this quandary is apparent in his own backyard. “When I think about food security and the growing population, I see it around me every day,” he says. “The suburbs are growing, the big cities are growing, and they’re spreading out. In Southwestern Ontario, we have probably some of the best Class 1 agricultural land in the country, but we only have a set amount and it’s shrinking every year. It’s not like we can build a factory and manufacture more land to grow food on.”

A fast-moving, high-tech industry

Fortunately, while the urbanized world has expanded and progressed, the world of agriculture hasn’t been standing still. We’re just 70 years on from the beginning of the Green Revolution, which completely redefined farming through the advent of mechanization, modern fertilizer, high-yield crop varieties, and many other game-changing developments. And the innovation has never stopped.

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“On the technology front, we now have machinery that gives us the ability to get across more acres,” says Talsma. “We have technology that brings improvement in placing seed in the ground, whether that’s with a corn planter or soybean planter, where we’re putting them at the right space and at the right depth for the moisture. We’re able to monitor these factors and adjust for them. We have things like GPS technology that allow farmers to drive in a straight line and actually put more seeds on their fields in every acre.”

Farmers want to be sustainable and they want to be good stewards of the land.

From rain clouds to data clouds

Right at the leading edge of farming’s ongoing transformation sits a burgeoning revolution in the data sciences. Like every industry, agriculture is seeing its horizons greatly expanded by technologies such as cloud computing and machine learning, and one of the essential tools making that possible is Bayer CropScience’s digital farming arm Climate FieldView, a comprehensive analytics package that farmers can interface with directly through an ordinary tablet.

“When I think about some of the things we’re doing with Climate FieldView, it’s incredible,” says Talsma. “Just as a start, we can use satellite imagery to create zones in a field where we need to apply a pesticide, whether it’s for weed control or a fungicide to control disease in the crop. We can be precise and put these products only where they’re needed, not blanketed across every acre. The same goes for fertilizers.”

Fertilizer is a key tool that farmers have and when there are shortages or prices increase, digital tools like FieldView help them use it only where the crop needs it. These tools help to ensure that fertilizer is put in the right place, at the right time, at the proper rate.

Sustainability is good business

In many ways, sustainability and resilience are two sides of the same coin. And the ability of farmers to work in a resilient and sustainable way improves dramatically when they can optimize their operations through data. The idea that data-driven farming can improve efficiency and drive economic return in the short term is obviously attractive to Canadian farmers, but they’re just as interested in the benefits these technologies bring on the very long view.

“Farmers want to be sustainable and they want to be good stewards of the land,” says Talsma. “They care about what’s good for the planet and they care about what’s good for the soil because they’re the ones living on these farms.”

Many farmers hope for their children, grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren to still be living on those same farms in the decades and centuries to come. So it’s no surprise that they’re investing today in the technologies that will keep those farms healthy, productive, and able to fill the bellies of our grandchildren.

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