Our world is rapidly becoming more intelligent. The advancement in technology as well as the increase of connected devices, equipment, machinery and automobiles among other things, have allowed various industries to increase productivity and reduce downtime significantly.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us and various industry sectors have begun to embrace this movement and have started to enjoy the benefits. The agricultural industry has also welcomed this technologically driven wave as the demands of consumers continue to escalate deeming the traditional methods of farming obsolete.

At the recent NAMPO Harvest Day, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agriculture expo, many companies have started to showcase ‘smart’ tools and monitoring systems for farming. One such company, RS Components South Africa that specialises in Internet of Things (IoT), exhibited a number of products that can shift farmers closer towards the 4IR.

MD for RS Components SA, Brian Andrew, said that showcasing the company’s products and services at NAMPO was a ‘natural fit’ for the business. “NAMPO 2019 was a huge success for us as an exhibitor and I am sure the other exhibitors share our sentiments. At this year’s NAMPO event, it was undeniable that agriculture is fast moving into the smart and connected age.

“Over the past few years we have seen the many ways that connected technologies have benefited us from our day-to-day lives to the way we workand the way we communicate –  it has revolutionised the various industry sectors as we know it. Agriculture is definitely one of the many industries that has embraced the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Now farmers can manage their yields wirelessly through connected devices and sensors that can monitor various aspects which affect and have effects on produce and livestock simultaneously.

“Gone are the days of using light aircraft to crop-dust and fertilise fields, farmers are now using drones which are cheaper, sustainable and the farmer can fly the device by himself. Technology is basically emancipating individuals by giving them complete control-all from the palm of their hand. We, at RS Components, are excited to witness many industries adopt in the  age of IOT,” he says.

NAMPO 2019 had more than 80 000 visitors who attended this year’s show in Bothaville, Free State; and it has cemented itself as a popular gathering place for people involved in the agriculture industry. On his first visit to the NAMPO Harvest Day, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sfiso Buthelezi described it as “the best-kept secret of the agricultural sector that should be experienced by everybody in South Africa who consumes food”.

Buthelezi notes that in Chile and Argentina – where he had attended similar shows – the country comes to a standstill to support producers. “I cannot understand why this is not the case in South Africa too.”

According to Professor Louis Fourie from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), the IoT and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) farm management systems, big data analysis and robotics have revolutionised agriculture. “This has resulted in efficient and sustainable ways of farming, higher yields, superior quality products, cost reductions and even the enhancement of food’s nutritional value.

“Several disruptive technologies in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetics and autonomous vehicles play a significant role in the digital transformation of agriculture. Smart farming, including precision farming, often incorporates technologies such as geographic information systems, GPS, remote sensing technologies, AI, robotics, the IoT and big data,” he notes.

Professor Fourie  adds that, based on an analysis of the soil, animals and the weather, smart farming contemplates the individual needs of a plant or animal to optimise yield. “Real-time data input from sensors are increasingly allowing AI systems with machine-learning capabilities to process big data, evaluate situations and make autonomous decisions to improve efficiency.

“Smart farming leans heavily on sensor technology that detects events or changes in the environment and sends information in real-time to other devices within the ecosystem. It is used to collect data on soil moisture, soil nutrients, water levels, crop and animal health, as well as climatic, environmental, and growth information through the integration of different kinds of agricultural devices and equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and even satellites,” he asserts.

Agriculture is still one of the main economic driving forces in South Africa and the adoption of technology in the sector also requires that various stakeholders work together. While agricultural technology will result in higher yields, reduced costs and improved nutritional value of foods, it needs the farming sector, business, government and education institutions to work together.

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