‘Technology revolution’ in agriculture could reduce environmental impact

A technology revolution in agriculture could help address the global challenge to produce more food while reducing pollution and environmental impact, according to a new report.

The inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021, from intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees’, analyses patent filings across several key environmental issues facing the world, including farming.

The report points to particular technology advances in conventional farming, including agricultural drones and genetic crop manipulation.

Improving conventional farming

According to the report, patent filings relating to agricultural drones, part of precision farming, have escalated dramatically in less than a decade, suggesting the technology may offer a revolution in agriculture.

Drones facilitate fertilisation, irrigation and pesticide application, plus greater data and intelligence collection – helping farmers become more accurate, efficient and sustainable, the report suggests.

China is a leading country in filing new patent applications in drone technology, relating mainly to uses such as transporting and delivering treatments, sowing seeds and pollinating crops.

Outside China, particularly in Japan and the US, drone-related patent applications are also rising, covering innovations relating to sensors, accurate chemical spraying, crop management systems and data processing.

Technology costs ‘likely to fall’ for farmers

Chris Mason, senior associate at Appleyard Lees said: “Drone-related patent applications are now diversifying and, as they become a more mainstream ‘smart farming tool’, costs are likely to fall. Emerging applications could include AI [artificial intelligence] and machine-learning crop management.

“What’s also clear from the companies filing patents in drone innovation, is their shift from supplying only traditional agricultural products to digital, farm-management systems,” he added.

In the field of genetic crop manipulation, the relatively recent development of CRISPR technology has already led to commercial crops, the report noted.

There has also been a rapid growth in patent applications over recent years aimed at improving crop tolerance to heat, cold, herbicides, bacteria and fungus, along with achieving increased size and weight. US-based universities and industry appear to be the leaders in this area.

“While there is still no dominant company in CRISPR agriculture technology, the data shows that filing patents early and broadly is a sound strategy for getting ahead in a fast-developing field of innovation,” Mason added.

Overall, our inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021 aims to bypass the environmental rhetoric and highlight the true state of progress in developing new, sustainable technologies.

“The patent system requires public disclosure of new innovations, providing a valuable resource to identify the issues of the day and which ‘hot’ innovations could bring new advantages to the world.”