One of the key pillars of modern-day agriculture is sustainability. This encompasses a productive and biodiverse environment, intelligent resource use and economically viable businesses. Agriculture is heavily influenced by policy and recent developments are driving change in the industry with a focus on conserving the natural environment and mitigating the negative effects of intensive farming.
Climate change is becoming a challenging factor with the potential to effect weather patterns and impact yields, while agricultural markets and profit margins continue to fluctuate. Consumer interests are evolving with increasing demands for improved animal welfare, environmentally friendly farming methods and detailed food labelling. Ensuring that all aspects of a farm business are managed in a sustainable way is the key to addressing these challenges.
The way in which farmland is managed can heavily influence both production and the natural environment. One of the key elements of sustainability is maintaining healthy soils. This is imperative for sustaining productive land that can support both a diverse ecosystem and a successful farm business. Soil health is influenced by soil biology, soil chemistry, soil structure, organic matter content alongside water movement and content.
Reduced air quality has recently been linked to several industries including agriculture. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are produced on farms through machinery emissions and directly connected with climate change causation. Methane has been frequently associated with beef and dairy industries, while nitrous oxide is produced in soil following fertiliser applications.
The quality of water has been considerably affected by agricultural practices and recent policy changes have highlighted the need to transform nutrient management on farms. Diffuse water pollution is primarily in the form of nitrates, phosphates, organic matter as a result of fertiliser use alongside sediment from run-off. This affects the quality of drinking water and negatively impacts freshwater ecosystems and wildlife, reducing the diversity of watercourses.
These factors are directly affected by how agricultural land and businesses are managed.
An index scale of agricultural sustainability could help farmers assess and manage both the environmental and production elements of their business, as well as ensuring economic viability:
- IoT sensors placed directly in fields, buildings and on machinery can monitor and assess key soil, air and water quality factors in real-time.
- Sensor data can be automatically interpreted by artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms to create detailed on-farm insights and solutions to key sustainability elements.
- The farmer can utilise this information to analyse the overall sustainability of a farm business and make informed management decisions that will ultimately improve soil health, air and water quality while ensuring a stable, robust business.
Agxio’s Mercury platform utilises machine learning to efficiently assess sustainability at a real-farm scale. Sensor network analytics provide detailed information on soil health, air and water quality, alongside a structured monitoring and alerts system that highlights key focus areas for sustainability. This allows the farmer to make informed management decisions that will ultimately improve the environmental status and productivity of the farm business.