BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — There are five ways farmers are using digital technology to boost their competitiveness and foster an ag-tech ecosystem.

Illinois Soybean Association vice chairman Steve Pitstick identified the following technology trends based on his use of digital tools on his own farm and work connecting the organization to a variety of ag-tech companies:

1. Robots improve quality of imagery.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are able to travel longer distances and gather accurate information far more efficiently than a human could. Farmers also are finding that the images and video captured by drones have much better resolution than satellite imagery. The improved imagery results in the better assessment and monitoring of the health of plants.

2. Smart machines boost productivity.

Farm equipment is getting smarter every day with the advancement of machine learning and artificial intelligence. A combination of GPS, sensors and computers in the equipment allows farmers to precisely control the amount of seeds, pesticides or fertilizers applied to their fields.

While connected, in-cab tractors have been driving across the field for some time, fully autonomous vehicles — no farmer in the cab — also are becoming commercially available.

3. More accurate weather with on-farm tools.

The exceptionally wet spring of 2019 and cold, wet harvest conditions created much havoc on farms across the Midwest.

The adverse weather also underscored the need for tools, such as agricultural weather stations, that can detect small changes in field conditions and help farmers better manage operations in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather.

4. Collaboration through crowd-sharing data.

Smart machines, drones and other digital farming tools enable producers to collect more data than ever before. By sharing the data with one another, they can learn a lot more than by only looking at just their own farms. More knowledge leads to better decisions on seeds, fertility, soils and other operations.

5. Precision farming enhances environmental sustainability.

Using data and modern technology not only benefits farmers, but also the environment. Precision farming means using less resources, such as water, fertilizer and pesticides. Emerging technologies also are focused on soil preservation.

“The food and agriculture sector is undergoing unprecedented change, driven by demographics, globalization, sustainability pressures, new energy sources and concerns about food safety and security,” said Pitstick, who grows soybeans and corn near Maple Park, Ill.

“To feed an ever-increasing population, we need to increase food production, reduce inputs and increase sustainability. These challenges demand investments and adoption of new and emerging technologies.”

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