The role of technology in plant and animal production

The use of state-of-the-art agricultural machinery and equipment in the field of foreign and domestic trade has become indispensable in today’s agricultural sector. They make a valuable contribution to coping with the tasks involved and ensure efficient and resource-saving work. Already more than half of agricultural workers are using digital solutions. At the same time, in terms of sustainable agricultural production, it is important to reduce the risk to humans, animals and the environment as much as possible. A modern, location-adapted and resource-saving agricultural technology can make important contributions here.

Modern agricultural technology is already characterized by a high degree of networking (connectivity) within the agricultural production process with currently available products.

The following section lists some examples of digital techniques that are already in use today.

Current technology in plant production

The range of tractors offered on the world market ranges from small farm tractors to high-performance large tractors. The high technological level of modern tractors shows a look at the built-in electronics. Automation, data management and documentation tasks are increasingly becoming the technical features of a tractor that is systematically integrated into all process steps of plant production.

The use of satellite-derived data is already well advanced in agriculture. A tractor with GPS receiver and correction signal can be steered up to two centimeters thanks to power steering and steering. About half of today’s mid-range tractors are already equipped with a GPS receiver. As a result, equipment can be brought to or into the ground precisely and without overlap in conjunction with suitable attachments.

The same applies to the implementation of plant protection measures. Situation-specific section control, speed-dependent volume flow control and software for optimizing the use of resources have long been state-of-the-art for fertilizer spreaders and field sprayers. As a result, resources can be saved, the environment is protected and costs are reduced. GPS technology also offers a wide range of possible uses when transporting agricultural goods, for example when planning routes.

Many operations – from seedbed preparation to seeding – can now be accomplished in a single operation using a single tractor with an attachment. The advantages for the user are obvious: Completely coordinated processes without set-up times and without multiple field crossings relieve the burden on the environment and save time, fuel and other operating resources. Profitability and sustainable resource conservation can be so well combined.

In the grass harvest, drones can be used to protect wild animals. In a research project, the BMEL has tested the suitability of suitable systems for the rescue of wild animals for agriculture. The researchers have developed a system that can locate the animals from the air. The drone, which is equipped with an infrared and a color camera, in combination with a specially developed search and recognition software, it is possible to find the animals quickly. Thus, by flying over meadows in front of the mow, fawns can be removed from the danger area before they are injured or killed by the mowers.

Current technology in animal production

The digitization of production processes is also making great progress in animal husbandry. In the stable, autonomous components as well as fully automated systems are already widely used. These include milking robots, column cleaners, ventilation systems or feeding machines. Milking via Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) has developed rapidly. In 2015, an estimated 3,500 dairy farms in Germany used milking robots. Thus, AMS have been part of the state of the art for years, so that more than every second dairy farmer now decides on an AMS when buying new.

The profitability of digital technology is determined by the ratio between higher investment needs, running costs in relation to the saved costs or higher yields. According to an analysis by the Board of Trustees for Technology and Construction in Agriculture (KTBL), the use of AMS leads to an average increase in milk quantity of seven percent. The AMS used today in the barn determine the milk yield of each cow and are able to evaluate the general state of health, for example on the basis of the milk constituents. Diseases can be detected faster and effectively treated. Early detection of diseases contributes to animal welfare, reduces the cost of treatment and improves the efficiency of the farm.

Today, robots are also available for presentation of the basic feed, for cleaning the treads and for the conversion of pasture fences. More and more work in the barn is ultimately automated for the benefit of the animals.

In addition, both process data of the technical facilities in the barn (eg milking facility, feeding and ventilation system) and animal-specific data (eg movement, feeding and animal activity, vocalization) can now be recorded with a large number of sensors. The animal itself comes to the fore in various health and behavior monitoring approaches. Sensors provide more detailed information about the animals.