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Big green dreamers: using technology to make farming more environmentally sustainable

19 Feb 2019

Article

There is a perception that large-scale agriculture is environmentally unsound, and this is certainly true of some projects that are not well managed.

Written by: The Agri Team

However, the size of the farms within the Futuregrowth Agri-Funds affords economies of scale which allow operators to invest in technologies and adopt practices that increasingly reduce water consumption and minimise the application of chemicals.

Where technologies have evolved, such as soil analysis and irrigation efficiency, farming practices have evolved along with them. Breakthrough new technologies are also changing the ways in which farms are managed, supporting, in particular, more sustainable use of water and chemical inputs.

 
Philemon making adjustments to a drone

Using drone technology is one of the ways in which UFF contributes to the effective management of all Agri-Fund farms. Philemon Sithole, UFF’s drone operator, travels to every farm within the portfolio, using drones in combination with purpose-designed camera technology to map the productive areas. The results are highly detailed aerial maps which show the health of individual trees by indicating the density of chlorophyll in their leaves – often indistinguishable to the naked eye.

This level of information allows operators to identify and spot-treat plants that are less healthy than their companions, reducing chemical inputs overall. The technology also helps to discern trends in certain areas, as the drone surveys are regularly repeated.

  
Spore detector // Drone view of an orchard

During the Western Cape drought of 2017, drone surveys showed that the rows of beefwood trees planted as windbreaks in many orchards were in fact using so much water that tree health in the first three orchard rows was compromised – and that, on balance, it was better to remove the windbreaks.

Similarly, leading-edge technology to fight crop disease is being deployed on citrus farms in the portfolio, with the support of volumetric spore traps supplied by Laeveld Agrochem. The spore traps are used to detect various wind-borne plant diseases, including the notorious ‘Citrus Black Spot’ fungal disease that regularly interrupts South African citrus exports to the EU. This early and sensitive detection method allows operators to provide targeted interventions, and reduces the use of routine prophylactic chemical treatments: another example of how technology can allow better decision making and reduced environmental impact.

It is by staying abreast of technologies such as these that farms in the Futuregrowth Agri-Funds are able to maximise their production - without doing so at the expense of soil health, biodiversity, air quality and water availability.

All tags:

Agri fund / Agri