02 May, 2024 / BY Neil Sharp

The critical role of technology in climate-smart agriculture

Smart technology is transforming almost every industry today and agriculture is no different. The use of agricultural robots incorporating a range of sensors is revolutionising how crops are farmed in a bid to keep up with demand and adapt to climate change. In this blog, we examine the development of climate smart agriculture and look at some of the tech that is leading the way.

What is climate-smart agriculture?

The phrase "Climate-Smart Agriculture" (also known as CSA) was coined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in 2010.

It refers to a growing range of sustainable farming practices that are designed for climate change adaptation.

Overall, their aim is to ensure there will be sufficient – and sustainable – global food production to meet demand now and in the future.

More specifically, the FAO highlights three main objectives: 

  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes.
  • Adapting and building resilience to climate challenges.
  • Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.

Approaches used within climate-smart agriculture include conservation tillage, crop diversification, the use of climate-resilient crop varieties and improved water management. Also, practices like agroforestry and organic farming promote soil health and biodiversity, which are crucial for long-term sustainability.

By using these methods, farmers can better manage the risks associated with extreme weather events, changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures. This approach leads to more efficient resource use and also contributes to food security and rural livelihoods.

But it’s worth noting that what constitutes a climate-smart practice varies from place to place. This is because it depends on the local context, including socio-economic and environmental factors. For example, large agritech farmers are most likely to have the financial resources that are needed to adopt smart technology.

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Why is CSA so important right now?

Climate resilience in agriculture is the focus of much attention due to escalating climate change impacts on global food systems. These impacts are magnifying existing vulnerabilities in agricultural systems, leading to yield losses, crop failures and disrupted supply chains. Smallholder farmers, particularly in developing countries, are disproportionately affected, facing heightened risks of poverty and food insecurity.

With global temperatures on the rise and weather patterns becoming increasingly unpredictable, traditional farming methods are no longer sufficient. And to make matters worse, with the world’s population projected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050, food demand is expected to increase substantially.

The impact of farming on the environment is also under increasing scrutiny. In 2015, food systems were responsible for 34% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the World Bank highlights that food systems are the leading source of biodiversity loss and deforestation, alongside using around 70% of fresh water.

So, new approaches to agricultural productivity are vital if we are to mitigate these challenges while ensuring long-term food availability for a growing population.

How technology helps with climate smart farming

If we are going to transition towards more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, we need co-ordinated efforts across sectors, supportive government policies and – last but not least – smart technologies.

Fortunately, innovations in farming technology are now being rapidly developed and rolled out commercially, some examples of which are described below.



Using smart robotics technology is one of the main ways of revolutionising agriculture. Nowadays, there are many different forms of robots available to assist farmers, such as:

  • Seeding robots: These can dig soil, plant seeds, and then add fertiliser and water. By using GPS, seeds are only sown where required, which minimises waste.


Source: Farmdroid

  • Harvesting and picking robots: Improved sensor technology and precise motion capabilities now mean that these robots can be used for working on a wide range of crops. Sensors, 3D cameras and machine learning are all key here.
  • Drones: These can be used for tasks such as aerially surveying, mapping and spraying large areas quickly and efficiently.
  • Crop sprayers: Land-based robots can be used to efficiently apply pesticides and fertilisers only where they are required. Using a robot for this job is also beneficial because pesticides can be harmful to humans.
  • Weeding and mowing robots: These are used to both agitate the soil and remove weeds, which are vital tasks for maximum crop yields. Drawing power from onboard solar panels makes the robots even more efficient and cost-effective.

Irrigation technology

Famers continually try to ensure that crops receive sufficient water for optimal growth, which often leads to overwatering. This is clearly inefficient and will become increasingly unsustainable as the climate changes. This is why some of the biggest developments in CSA practices are in irrigation technology.

For example, CASCADE uses AI and the IoT to adjust irrigation levels to the specific needs of the crops. This precision agriculture system collects real-time data from soil moisture sensors and then modifies irrigation patterns as required. It is claimed that the system can reduce water use for irrigation by 7%.

Another example is the OSCAR irrigation robot by Osiris. This is an autonomous electric irrigation and fertilisation robot for industrial crops, capable of covering fields up to 25 ha in total autonomy for 3 months.

oscar robots

Source: World Fira

The manufacturer claims that OSCAR saves 10% water, 80% time and 20% energy.

There are also developments on a much smaller scale, such as remote-controlled or autonomous sprinkler robots. These offer flexibility in use and are relatively cheap, although without the capacity of a larger system.


Optical sensors

One of the most important components of smart tech for farming are optical sensors. These allow the precise collection of data on the physiological health of a crop by using light waves.  

In this way, optical sensors enable farmers to make informed decisions around soil fertility in real-time. For example, farmers can optimise irrigation schedules, minimise water use and enhance crop productivity, according to the data-driven insights provided by the sensors. Additionally, optical sensors aid in the early detection of stressors like drought or disease, allowing timely intervention and efficient resource allocation.

A good example of the use of optical sensors is for the measurement of chlorophyll in leaves, which is an indicator of photosynthetic activity and nutrient uptake. Chlorophyll levels are analysed by optical sensors measuring the reflectance and absorption patterns of light. As a result, nutrient deficiencies and stress conditions can be detected and acted upon early on.


Soil sensors

Soil sensors are also very important components of smart tech. They measure soil conditions in a variety of ways:

  • Dielectric soil moisture sensors: These measure the electrical charge that can be held by soil as this is determined by the amount of water present. This data helps farmers to create effective irrigation and water conservation strategies, which are particularly important in areas of high water stress. Monitoring soil health in this way is also vital to ensure high yields in the long term by identifying issues around soil compaction and waterlogging.
  • Biosensors: These detect specific biological molecules or pathogens that are present in plants or soil. By collecting data on plant health, nutrient levels and the presence of disease, farmers are equipped to optimally manage their crops and also the nearby environment. For example, if plant biomarkers that are indicative of stress are identified, farmers might need to alter the growing conditions – this is likely to increasingly occur as climate change affects temperatures and rainfall patterns.
  • Electrochemical sensors: By converting chemical reactions into electrical signals, these sensors provide information about soil quality (e.g. pH and salinity), environmental pollutants (e.g. heavy metals) and nutrient concentrations (e.g. phosphorus and potassium). This is particularly important for helping farmers to efficiently apply fertiliser when and where it is needed. In turn, this reduces nutrient leaching and runoff into nearby watercourses.

Opportunity for OEMs

Climate-smart agriculture offers a holistic approach to address issues around climate risk, food security and sustainable development. Embracing this technology is crucial for safeguarding livelihoods, preserving ecosystems and ensuring food supply in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

This urgent need for climate adaptation in agricultural production represents a valuable opportunity for OEMs. Manufacturers are in a prime position to be part of a new economy that brings smart tech to both agribusiness and a mass market of millions of farmers around the world.

But to do so, it requires collective action between OEMs and EMS to iterate faster and in more sustainable ways. Along with informed decision-making and long-term investment to build a resilient agricultural sector, we can meet the challenges of the 21st century.

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Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.