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The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers the agricultural industry the opportunity to not only increase productivity but also better support for farmers and economic sustainability.

South Africa’s farmers are embracing technology. Agricultural technology, known as AgTech, enables farmers to gather information and data on all aspects regarding their farming operations. Cell phones have enabled farmers to communicate quickly and easily and receive information but cell phones can now be used for every aspect of farming. This includes apps that allow farmers to access every facet of their farming operations with the click of a button.

Daneel Rossouw, an agricultural manager at Nedbank, believes technology must drive smart solutions to help ensure food security for future generations. According to Rossouw new technology enables farmers to obtain data indicating factors such as precise moisture content, soil quality, fertilizer requirements and when to plough. “This means that farmers use less water, less energy and less fertilizer.”

Technology, such as sensors, drones and even satellite technology, is already widely used across South Africa. This enables farmers to monitor livestock and crops, among other things. This means farmers can obtain scientific data to better understand their crops and plan accordingly to obtain the best results. Other options are electronic ear tags that allow a farmer to monitor his livestock at all times.

Further technological advances will also enable farmers to monitor and manage their farming operations at all levels, conduct comprehensive data analysis, apply smart irrigation, identify alternative farming methods and provide direct links between farmers and suppliers or consumers. New technology will also enable farmers to address the negative effects of, for example, safety and climate change.

Like technology, agriculture is an industry that is constantly evolving. “Sustainable agriculture can be defined in many ways, yet the most accurate description is that it sustains farmers, resources and surrounding communities through the promotion of profitable, environmentally-responsible farming activities in the interest of all citizens of South Africa,” says Louis Meintjes, president of TLU SA. “Any business must be profitable for it to be economically feasible.”

Agricultural economist Dr Philip Theunissen said during TLU SA’s annual congress that the reason why farmers can produce food for a burgeoning population at an ever-lower cost, is due to ongoing farming improvements.

“Productivity improvement, sprouting from innovation and the application of technology, is the prime source of economic growth in agriculture,” he says.

In its forecast for 2018-2027, the Bureau For Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) argues that innovation, productivity and investment in the best technology will be critical to position the agricultural sector for a prosperous future.

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