Increasingly integrated in urban farming are smart, data-driven solutions, which rely on technology to better understand agricultural production. Through “precision agriculture”, sensing technologies are used to collect all kinds of data associated with the production process, whose analysis allows for a more optimized and customized production. These can go from soil-mapping, machinery, crop yield, weather data…
Sensors can be used all along the production cycle, and provide farmers with better control over seeding, fertilizer and pesticide usage, irrigation; and reducing the need for human surveillance to name a few. An Agetech studyrevealed that data collection and analysis can help reduce costs related to seed, fertilizer and pesticide purchase by 15%, and water consumption by 30%. With such drastic cost savings, the mass production methods used in agriculture today will soon hardly make sense anymore.
Furthermore, the technologies used nowadays in smart farming are numerous: connected objects (especially for livestock rearing), automatization of processes such as irrigation systems… resulting in more efficiently managed rural exploitations, better quality crops, and larger quantities produced. Several projects have already been sponsored by the European Union, such as the EU-PLF project which assesses the feasibility of bringing proven and cost-effective Precision Livestock Farming tools from the lab to the farm.
Data-driven solutions provide two-way street benefits, as they both empower farmers to make better, more informed decisions, while simultaneously providing end consumers with better traceability of the products they consume. The concern that remains with data-driven technologies is always that of ownership. Who owns the data collected? Who is allowed to use it? How is it shared, and to what extent? The companies selling these solutions are numerous, but a legislative framework for how the data should be shared is yet to be implemented.
While smart cities have so far mostly focused on building more efficient and sustainable infrastructures, including in terms of energy usage and means of transportation, urban farming is yet to be fully integrated in the urban ecosystem. In pair with meeting our growing food needs comes reducing our impact on the environment, and smart urban farming might just be the way to do so.