May 17, 2019
Software Innovations in Agriculture: Growing Rural Economies and Increasing Opportunity for America’s Farmers
May 17, 2019
The agriculture industry and farming as a way of life have been integral to the United States for centuries. Over time, fueled by American ingenuity, farmers have pioneered new and innovative methods of raising crops to make farming better, faster, and more efficient, solidifying the country as a global leader in agricultural production and exports.
Today’s innovations in connected technology—and the software behind them—give farmers unprecedented opportunity to increase their crop yields, raise the efficiency and productivity of their land and resources, reduce food waste, save water, and combat environmental concerns. This untapped potential is encouraging for agriculture communities, with some studies estimating the market for software and agriculture could grow into a $240 billion economic opportunity by 2050.
In our new report, Software.org examines several case studies that highlight how software is revolutionizing American agriculture with cutting-edge innovations in data analysis, cloud computing, Internet-of-Things devices, and artificial intelligence. This report concludes with recommendations for policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels on how to bring these innovations to rural farms, such as expanding rural broadband and promoting STEM education in top agriculture states.
The rise of interconnected IoT devices, coupled with cloud computing, machine learning through AI, and the near ubiquity of smartphones in the United States, has enabled farmers to develop new precision farming techniques that transform routine farm tasks.
By using low-cost sensors to monitor soil, cloud-based machine learning algorithms can coordinate with data-driven, highly targeted machinery to individually monitor crops and deliver a precise amount of water, fertilizer, or pesticide to each distinct crop. This technology reduces excess water consumption by 20 to 30 percent and limits the overapplication of fertilizer and harmful chemicals by strictly calibrating each dose to meet the crop’s unique needs.
Autonomous drones can easily create HD photos and 3D/multi-spectral maps of the land, giving farmers details about their crops indistinguishable to the naked eye. Combined with AI, drones can increase total crop yield and save money by capturing troves of data that help maximize each harvest and catch deadly crop diseases or extreme weather events early.
Farmers are now able to use a host of accelerometers, stomach sensors, and acoustic devices to remotely monitor livestock around the clock. These devices can alert ranchers when animals are sick and at risk of spreading disease, and they can even track a cow’s diet and health to boost milk production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These promising innovations in precision ag are only the beginning, but many farms—especially those in rural areas—are gated off from these opportunities due to the lack of a reliable high-speed broadband connection, a shortage of high-skilled talent to fill programming and software jobs, and concerns about the integrity of data, cloud computing, and AI. Lawmakers across the country can help remove these barriers to entry by:
- Expanding rural broadband. An estimated 19.4 million Americans have no access to high-speed broadband and 29 percent of U.S. farms have no access to the internet at all. Government officials are already working with telecommunications leaders on clever solutions to bring rural America online, such as redirecting unused radio and TV spectrum (referred to as “TV White Spaces”) for data transmission.
- Closing the software skills gap. Nearly 200,000 skilled software jobs are expected to be created in top agriculture states by 2026, and there are already more than 500,000 vacant computer science jobs nationwide. Investing in STEM education at our schools and universities will pay dividends, and many organizations like Girls Who Code are leading the charge by introducing the next generation to STEM fields.
- Fostering trust by modernizing federal data and cybersecurity policies. As legislators craft laws and regulations on data protection, privacy, and cybersecurity, it is important for any new policies to be clear, predictable, and effective so farmers can be confident their sensitive proprietary data is protected.
- Promoting a national AI framework. Congress can work with agencies and content creators to provide clear recommendations for developers and end users, promoting investment while keeping privacy concerns and ethics front of mind.
Executive Director, Software.org
As the founding executive director of Software.org, Chris Hopfensperger leads the foundation’s efforts to help policymakers and the general public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society. He also helps translate the foundation’s philanthropic and forward-looking agenda into efforts to address key issues facing the software industry.