Please wait while the search results are loading...

Agriculture Technologies (AgTech) and Irrigation Market Grows Worldwide/Hi Tech Greenhouses Become Commercial, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Around the world, researchers, agricultural equipment firms, GPS makers and other technology firms are investing heavily in the development of advanced technology for the agricultural sector.  These new technologies range from robotic systems to plant, nurture and harvest crops, fruit and vegetables, to wireless sensors that control irrigation via state of the art automated drip systems.  The technology comes at a time when it is extremely difficult for many farmers in the U.S. to find fruit and vegetable pickers and other manual laborers.
Farm Robotics:  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) operates an experimental greenhouse where cherry tomatoes are grown entirely under the care of small robots.  Sensors attached to each plant gauge water, food and/or fertilizer needs, while robots water and feed the plants as necessary.  Vision sensors measure when a plant is ripe, and the fruit is then picked by a mechanical arm.  Other examples of robotic agriculture systems include a rice planter developed by the National Agricultural Research Centre in Japan and a grapevine pruning prototype made by San Diego, California-based Vision Robotics.
The University of Sydney, Australia recently developed the Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application (RIPPA).  It’s a four-wheeled, solar-powered unit that finds weeds in vegetable fields and targets them precisely with herbicide.  Meanwhile, Rowbot Systems of Minneapolis is working on a device that can navigate rows of maize and apply fertilizer without damaging the plants.  For fruit cultivation, the E-Series, manufactured by AGROBOT (, uses cameras to determine when strawberries are ripe and then harvests the berries for packaging by humans.  AGROBOT also offers the Bug Vacuum, an autonomous robot for lygus pest control in orchards.
The cost for new robotic systems is substantial, yet the savings on the cost of human labor, over time, could be significant.  Meanwhile, farm equipment manufacturer Kinze Manufacturing, Inc. and Jaybridge Robotics partnered to develop tractors that run without a human driver.  Another company, Robotic Harvesting LLC, has developed technology for harvesting strawberries that relies on cameras and robotic arms.  An inventor in Oxnard, California created the Agrobot, a $100,000 fruit picking machine with 14 arms, and plans to build a larger 60-armed unit.  Yet another firm, Small Robot Company (, offers “agribots” designed to perform tasks such as weeding, seeding and fertilizing as well as scanning for soil and plant conditions.
Faculty at Britain’s Harper Adams University cobbled together robotic equipment starting in 2016 with the goal of farming a roughly 2.5-acre plot (one hectare) without human assistance.  In its first year, the group harvested 4.5 metric tons of spring barley and 6.5 metric tons of winter wheat in 2018.  Their next goal is hands-free farming of 35 non-contiguous hectares.
Robotic systems are still in an early stage, since the wide varieties of crops grown around the world require highly specialized equipment (picking oranges, for example, is a very different activity than harvesting rice).  Also, systems perfected in greenhouses may prove faulty when working in varied weather conditions and on rough terrain.  However, high-end farming equipment such as commercial tractors are already equipped with real-time GPS software which would enable a certain degree of automation.

SPOTLIGHT:  Agricultural Drones
Low-cost aerial camera drones (flying platforms in the form of small, fixed-wing airplanes or helicopters called quadcopters) can be seen flying over growing numbers of farms to monitor crops and field conditions.  They can cost as little as $1,000, and are equipped with an autopilot, GPS and cameras.  Images analyzed by software on the ground can reveal irrigation problems, soil variation, pests and fungal infestations.  Infrared images highlight potential problems such as chlorophyll levels that can’t be seen with the naked eye.  Low altitudes afford farmers much better resolution than satellite imagery (which is far more expensive at about $1,000 per hour).  Drones can fly at any time, so farmers can compare images shot on a monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis to study changes in crop growth.  Key drone manufacturers include 3D Robotics, Yamaha and PrecisionHawk.
Agricultural Big Data:  Technology is also impacting crop forecasting.  A Chicago-based firm, Lanworth (a unit of Thomson Reuters), has developed a system using satellite images, analytical software and eyewitness reports to compete with agriculture output estimates issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Lanworth’s data, culled at no charge from NASA’s landsat satellite system (which was built in 1972 to record images of Soviet crop production), uses historical reports to compare current images to the quantity and ripeness of past crops.
High-Tech Commercial Greenhouses Grow Crops Indoors:  Another technology of note is vertical farming, in which indoor fields and orchards are built, floor upon floor, in urban areas.  Led by boosters such as Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier, the idea is eco-friendly in many ways.  If food is grown in urban areas, little transportation is necessary to get produce to consumers. 
AeroFarms ( is a greenhouse venture based on aeroponics, which is the practice of soil-free vertical farming.  Seeds are scattered over permeable microfleece cloth, placed under LED lights and sprayed with a super-rich nutrient solution.  A membrane forms on the microfleece in which the seeds germinate.  Roots form and pierce down through the microfleece where they are further treated with nutrient solution.  AeroFarms operates its aeroponic farm and global headquarters in a 70,000 square-foot former steel mill in Newark, New Jersey, where it produces more than 2 million pounds of leafy greens annually.
Freight Farms ( is a Boston-based startup that repurposes shipping containers into arable square footage.  The firm fills the containers, which could be located in any vacant lot or alleyway, with LED lights, sensors and hydroponic systems.  The firm claims that an average Freight Farms box, called a Leafy Green Machine (LGM) can produce 48,568 mini-heads of lettuce per year, or about the same yield as two acres of farmland.
The Coronavirus pandemic spurred interest in vertical farming due to concerns about food security.  These farms can be located in urban areas, simplifying logistics and speeding delivery times.  Empty commercial buildings may possibly be converted to agricultural use post-pandemic.  Vertical farms may also see greater variety in the crops they produce, including root and vine vegetables and bush fruits.
GPS and Precision Agriculture:  Precision agriculture, also called precision farming, is in use to a growing extent across the globe.  The intent is to increase yield, decrease costs (including manpower and water usage) and avoid problems in the field.  Today, it primarily involves the use of GPS to guide tractors for precise tilling and planting.  Eventually, it will evolve to include the use of remote wireless sensors, GPS, satellite imagery, predictive databases and other advanced technologies to monitor and react to soil, weather and crop conditions, such as the local level of soil moisture and soil nutrients.  Robotics and nanotechnology will eventually be part of this trend.
GPS maker Trimble operates a large agricultural division.  It offers a wide variety of location-based technologies and data analytics for farmers.  The goal is to maximize efficiency while reducing waste of farm chemicals and water.  One tool improves irrigation, drainage and land leveling.  Another provides high efficiency tractor guidance via GPS.  Trimble also offers drones for aerial mapping and crop management and overall farm management software.  It recently acquired the HarvestMark technology that enables food supply chain transparency and tracking of food products by origin, from the exact farm location to the supermarket shelf.
Irrigation Technologies:  Agriculture is by far the world’s biggest user of water, and water scarcity is without doubt one of the greatest problems the world will face in coming years.  Out of sheer necessity, vast amounts of money are being invested in research, development and implementation of advanced crop irrigation technologies.  Leading nations in this field include Israel and China, both facing significant water scarcity issues.  American companies and investors also have a keen interest in this field.  In California’s Central Valley, for example, water from the Sacramento River is diverted into canals fitted with control structures and gates.  Any excess is allowed to percolate down into the groundwater basin or diverted to a small structure with pumps, filters and pressure gauges in a drip irrigation system.  Microsprinklers can also be attached to drip systems to disperse water in longer arcs covering more territory.  This is part of the concept of micro-irrigation, pioneered by Israeli-American scientist Daniel Hillel, which exposes crops to frequent, small amounts of water rather than less frequent, heavy watering.

A Representative List of Organizations that Have Used our Research and Products:


I’m amazed at how much information is available and the various ways to access it. This will be a major resource for our serious job seekers.

Career Services, Penn State University

Plunkett Research Online provides a great ‘one stop shop’ for us to quickly come up to speed on major industries. It provides us with an overall analysis of the market, key statistics, and overviews of the major players in the industry in an online service that is fast, easy to navigate, and reliable.

Wendy Stotts, Manager, Carlson Companies

I really appreciate the depth you were able to get to so quickly (for our project). The team has looked through the material and are very happy with the data you pulled together.

Hilton Worldwide, Marketing Manager

We are especially trying to push Plunkett since all of our students have to do so much industry research and your interface is so easy to use.

Library Services, St. John’s College

We are especially trying to push Plunkett’s since all of our students have to do so much industry research and your interface is so easy to use.

Gary White, Business Materials Selector, Penn State University

Your tool is very comprehensive and immensely useful. The vertical marketing tool is very helpful, for it assists us in that venue, as well as targeting customers’ competition for new sales…The comprehensive material is absolutely fabulous. I am very impressed, I have to say!

Tammy Dalton, National Account Manager, MCI

The more I get into the database, the happier I am that we’ll have it–REALLY happy!!! Between the quality and affordability of your product, its appeal to and value for our users, and the inestimably ethical and loyalty-guaranteeing conduct of your business, I will always have more than sufficient praises to sing for Plunkett Research.

Michael Oppenheim, Collections & Reference Services, UCLA

Plunkett Research Online is an excellent resource…the database contains a wealth of useful data on sectors and companies, which is easy to search and well presented. Help and advice on how to conduct, export and save searches is available at all stages.

Penny Crossland, Editor, VIP Magazine
Real Time Web Analytics