We have become accustomed to new technologies changing our lives in a wide variety of ways. Smartphone applications, satellite navigation, online retailing and cybergaming are just a few of the headwords illustrating this fact. With the concept of Smart Farming, a similar change is now also underway in agriculture. Agroscope’s aim is to increase the competitiveness of Swiss agriculture through the inclusion of smart-farming technologies by offering decision-making aids for practitioners, with the focus remaining on people in all cases.
To make smart farming tangible both in the field and in the shed, the Agroscope Tänikon site is being turned into the Swiss Future Farm – a unique pan-European platform for new technologies in the agriculture and food sector, and a joint project of the canton of Thurgau with AGCO and GVS Agrar AG. The aim is for professional exchange on concrete applications with farmers – all combined on a single site. On the Swiss Future Farm, Agroscope will investigate how the new technologies can be used with the greatest benefit in Swiss agriculture.
Through the use of smart-farming technologies, humans are freed from routine tasks, allowing them to utilise their labour more efficiently, make better use of available resources, and improve the quality of production processes and products. The psychological stress components are increasingly recognisable in this process, however. Mental barriers frequently come into play here as well, since farmers feel out of their depth with the new technologies, or overwhelmed by their use. The Swiss Future Farm can help break down these barriers.
Opportunities and challenges of digitalization
Sensor-controlled, automated processes are increasingly available for the optimisation of production systems as well as for quality assurance. In addition to furnishing decision-making bases for the use of people and machinery, smart-farming technologies and their interlinkage offer new potentials in terms of:
- Profitability (reduced costs and increased efficiency);
- Quality improvement (e.g. less use of antibiotics);
- Minimisation of emissions (e.g. water-pollution control);
- Resource protection (e.g. water conservation);
- Improvement of animal welfare and health.
Here, there is a vital need for research to pinpoint the conditions under which these new technologies contribute added value in the Swiss agricultural and food sector.