High TechJune 21, 2019

How Digital Technology Will Save the Family Farm

The world saw an agricultural revolution in the 18th to 19th centuries…
Avatar Timothy Svenson

The world saw an agricultural revolution in the 18th to 19th centuries resulting in population booms and disruptive technologies that changed the farming industry forever. Now we stand poised on another age of agricultural change, the digital automation of the farm.

During the agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, efficiency advances in farming technology/equipment freed up masses of field workers, gradually encouraging farmers to migrate to the city where many would become workers of the booming industrial manufacturing world. Now it’s the technologies of Industry 4.0 that are driving great changes in the agricultural world, especially for one small-town smart farm start up.

A recent article in the NY Times explores Rivendale Farms, located just outside of Pittsburgh PA, dedicated to serving its local community with specialized natural produce, fresh buttery milk, chicken eggs, maple syrup, and even honey. It isn’t the wide variety of goods it produces, or even that it supplies goods to local Pittsburgh teams like the Steelers and Pirates, that truly make this farm unique. No, it’s the fact that this farm is on the verge of becoming completely automated, and incorporates numerous disruptive technologies that have already catalyzed major change in other major industrial sectors of the world.

The farm is a one of a kind start up funded and envisioned by billionaire Thomas Tull, who is also on the board of Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Tull is working hand in hand with the senior scientists at the university’s research and robotics institute to implement machine learning, smart apps, and automated processes to allow Rivendale to reach full self-sustainability by 2020.

Rivendale sees a blooming dairy sector, housing 150 cows that feed, roam, and relax wherever they please, fitted with automated collars to track their movements. Sensors and laser scanners help prep and milk the cows when needed – the entire operation would normally need up to five staff, but is over seen by just one worker.

The farm hosts other amazing technologies like mobile solar powered chicken sheds and sensor optimized climate controlled green houses. Nearby, and in collaboration with Rivendale’s staff, the experts at Carnegie Mellon are currently working towards automated robots for both weeding and disease spotting, which will help to diversify the types of crops that could be grown.

While the adoption of much of the farms technology is both expensive and experimental, the team and workers have already found solutions to varying obstacles and have reduced the cost of the farms tooling needs in many areas. The goal of the Rivendale collaboration is to change agriculture across the world, but primarily it seeks to make disruptive automated technologies accessible and affordable for the many small family farms still operating today, giving small farm owners a means to keep their businesses instead of selling them to the highest bidder.

When it comes to equipment manufacturing John Deere has been a leader of innovation and sustainability in the industrial equipment farming sector. They have been at the forefront of the farming digital transformation by providing the technology needed to envision the future farm. Find out how they are changing the landscape here.

We are in the midst of an Industry Renaissance and a digital revolution of agriculture is also underway. If you are curious to learn more about the innovative technologies driving global sustainability and reinventing how food is being produced than navigate to our sister blog, 3DPerspectives, and read about Agritecture: the next agricultural revolution.

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