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Like Smart Cities, Smart Farms pose their own challenges

In several countries, such as Canada, a digital revolution like the one that created smart cities, is affecting farms. Technology is starting to transform farms and farming. Not only the vast, industrial-scale factory farms, but also small and organic farms. As in the case of smart cities, this technology provides significant benefits, but also creates significant challenges.

The central idea behind smart farms is that the new climate-smart and precision agricultural technologies combining digital tools such as GPS and sensors, with automated machines such as robots, smart tractors and drones, will cut costs and increase profits while also reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers. This makes smart farms a very attractive premise for governments, investors and corporations. However, it raises a number of questions on the social impacts of these technological revolution.

One issue is that of the ownership of the vast data produced in precision agriculture. The data produced by farm owners and workers will have massive potential for exploitation not just in the farm in question but in farms in general. The question is whether this data should be open or perhaps whether it should belong to those who produce it. The more alaring prospect is that, like in smart cities, the data will fall under tight corporate control, raising a number of concerns.

Another issue is that these influx of innovative technologies in farming will divide the labor force even more sharply than is currently the case. Higher-skilled jobs will demand even more specific skills, with experts trained in data management and analysis expected to oversee farm operations, setting them even further apart from the on-the-ground laborers, who do difficult planting and harvesting jobs under conditions of severe physical and social immobility, which will only be exacerbated by the smart farming revolution.

All this means that we should ready ourselves for how these changes will impact farming in terms of food production, distribution, climate change, property rights and, crucially working conditions.

The article described here was originally found in THE CONVERSATION.