The future of farming: from eating insects to urban agriculture

January 23, 2023

One of the most important fields is precision agriculture, the science of improving crop yields and assisting management decisions using the latest technology. Outfield Technologies is targeted at high value fruit farming, primarily apples and pears. It works by farmers buying their own drone, and then the Outfield software devises flight plans over the orchards and processes the images taken by drones. Outfield’s software can also recommend where to start harvesting to reduce waste and labour costs. The chain relies heavily on transportation, but by predicting yields, Outfield aims to reduce waste as distributors can anticipate fruit levels and reduce greenhouse gases caused by refrigerated storage.

One of the most important fields is precision agriculture, the science of improving crop yields and assisting management decisions using the latest technology.

Outfield Technologies is targeted at high value fruit farming, primarily apples and pears. The firm currently has customers in the UK, US, Europe, and South Africa. It works by farmers buying their own drone, and then the Outfield software devises flight plans over the orchards and processes the images taken by drones. The venture was on the Accelerate Cambridge programme at the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre for two years, developing the idea and helping them find their market fit.    

“We believe the answer is more data,” said Outfield co-founder Oli Hilbourne. “The future is not seeing the farm as a block, but seeing it on a far more granular, plant-by-plant level.”  

By counting the fruit on branches and measuring trees, farmers can see where to apply fertiliser with greater precision, reducing usage and improving soil sustainability. Outfield’s software can also recommend where to start harvesting to reduce waste and labour costs. The rising cost of labour globally has become a huge issue within the agricultural sector, for reasons including Brexit, the shortage of backpackers (some of whom become seasonal workers) in New Zealand due to Covid, and the rise of the minimum wage in South Africa.  

The data gathered by drones can also predict yields. ‘Priming’ the supply chain ensures a smoother journey from orchard to the fruit bowl in your home. When an apple is picked, it is stored in a refrigerated environment for up to six months before being transported to a pack house to be washed, sorted, and packaged, before being moved to a distribution centre and finally appearing on supermarket shelves. The chain relies heavily on transportation, but by predicting yields, Outfield aims to reduce waste as distributors can anticipate fruit levels and reduce greenhouse gases caused by refrigerated storage.  

The firm believes there is a willingness to adopt more sustainable methods. “The agricultural industry needs more investment to facilitate change,” said Hilbourne. “More money for better infrastructure including rural broadband, 5G, education and more investment in start-ups.”  

The source of this news is from University of Cambridge

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