In terms of agricultural production, the United States is far superior to other countries. Agriculture in the United States not only meets the needs of the population for basic food products and raw materials (except for some crops grown in the tropical zone like coffee, cocoa, bananas), but also provides large export volumes. The country is overflowing with farm coops that push the industry forward. However, their success would not be possible without modern tech. In this piece, we will dig into U.S. agriculture and see how modern tech innovations impact it on the example of California – one of the biggest players in the country’s farming sphere.
Agricultural Industry in the U.S.
Agriculture in the United States is characterized by a certain predominance of animal husbandry over crop farming, providing more than half of all marketable output. However, the ratio between these spheres is not the same in different parts of the country. The role of animal husbandry is especially important in the dairy belt – in the Northeast and in the Lakeside states, which specializes in the production of dairy products, in the corn belt – in the Midwest, south and southeast of the Great Lakes, and in a number of Mountain States. Agriculture in these areas is mainly focused on fodder production. The cool climate and marginal soils make it unprofitable to grow grain, while grasses give high yields. At the same time, in California and in many southern states, crop planting prevails, specializing in the production of valuable industrial and food crops.
On top of that, agriculture in the United States has been greatly influenced by automation technologies in recent years. Besides, the industry is currently experiencing the transition of the agro-industrial complex to a higher biotechnological stage. The share of genetically modified crops on the market is growing higher each year.
Another concept that is gaining popularity is an alternative (organic) farming, which provides for measures to protect natural resources and produce environmentally friendly products. This refers to the creation of a production system that reduces or eliminates the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides when growing crops. To ensure the success of such environmentally-friendly production without sacrificing yields, new varieties of various crops are bred and new automation technologies are applied for smarter plant and soil treatment.
Now that we have an understanding of what an agricultural industry in the U.S. looks like, let’s move on to the state of California to see its peculiarities when it comes to farming.
Farming in California Overview
According to the 2019 Crop Year Report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state’s farms and ranches received over $50 billion profit for their produce. As for California agricultural exports, it has increased by 3% from the previous year with the most popular products for trade being dairy, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and wine.
Since California is the only state in the country with a USDA National Organic Program, it’s not surprising that its organic production has surpassed 2.5 million acres and the total organic products’ sales amounted to over $10.4 billion in 2019, which means more than 3% increase compared to 2018.
Californian is also known as the land of 350 sunny days, which makes it a perfect place for growing fruits and vegetables. For instance, 75% of all vineyards in the country are located in California.
Overall, the state of California produces mostly dairy products, almonds, and grapes. Other popular goods in the state’s agriculture include strawberries, pistachios, lettuce, walnuts, floriculture, and tomatoes.
Apart from California’s ability to grow hundreds of commodities, its geographic location also plays a huge role in its agricultural sphere. The state is home to several ports, which enables California’s agricultural cooperatives to sell and export products worldwide easily.
Now, let’s see which tech breakthroughs are utilized in the state of California to maintain and develop it’s strong agricultural position.
One of the directions in which AI innovations are aimed is the speeding up of genetic crop selection. However, the vice president for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Glenda Humiston, claims that the implementation of AI in agriculture faces many difficulties due to the high variability of environmental conditions across a single field. The detection and analysis of all those conditions require the use of sensors, complex algorithms, and advanced data processing all together to enable smart decision-making in farm management.
The issue is that pulling together such a vast amount of data from different devices like drones, ground sensors, and robotic equipment is not easy and requires significant improvements in big data management. And although startups and corporate innovators are constantly appearing, only a few are integrated in reality to offer real solutions for growers due to their still low affordability and availability.
Luckily, there are AI-powered solutions that can be easily used by most farmers. For example, California-based company EOSDA offers its Crop Monitoring tool for smart fields management by leveraging advanced satellite imagery analytics via AI algorithms. The platform offers data on crop state, moisture levels, weather patterns, field zones productivity, and much more, including enabling equipment data upload for precise field activities analysis.
Water Use Innovations
Various private companies and startups are offering innovations to aid farmers in cutting expenses on inputs. For instance, Illinois-based Precision Laboratories is working on a solution for improving crop’s water retention by moving water through soil to plant roots more effectively via utilizing surfactants. This means the growers will be able to save up water and reduce crop water stress, optimizing the yields overall.
This innovation is of special importance to California since the state is only going to be more restrictive in terms of water use regulations. That is why farmers will have to find ways of growing crops using less or the same amount of water to receive sufficient yields and hence profit. On top of that, Bayer has announced partnerships with an Israeli company Netafim that specializes in irrigation technology, and the Climate Corp digital data provider from San Francisco.