This could also be described as 'efficient' farming, the idea being that only the absolute necessary inputs and operations are applied. The result being lowered production costs and a lower impact on the natural environment.
There is a plethora of new techniques, equipment and concepts in various stages of development.
Minimum tillage, or min-till farming is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year with the least disturbance to the soil possible depending on weather and soil conditions (from deep non-inversion, to strip tillage, to direct drilling). Min-till is an agricultural technique which can increase the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil and increase organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. In many cases it can eliminate soil erosion and increase the amount and variety of life in and on the soil, including disease suppression organisms. The most powerful benefit of min-till is the improvement in soil biological fertility, making soils more resilient. Farm operations are made more cost effective by reducing establishment costs and improving efficiency in fuel and labour.
Modern farming is increasingly dependent on the use of larger and heavier field machinery. The random nature of in-field traffic patterns, covering 80-90% of a land parcel, leads to negative impacts on soil, water and yield as a result of degraded soil structures, impeded root development and water infiltration. Action to remedy soil compaction requires energy, time and cost. Emerging technologies have stimulated a recent shift towards the development of traffic management systems, which aim to reduce the severity of compaction on cropped areas whilst improving efficiency. CTF is a system where all field traffic travels on permanent wheel-ways, significantly reducing the total area trafficked to around 30%, depending on working widths of machinery. CTF can complement strip tillage (see above) operations and is also critical for the use of more automated precision systems (see below).
What if farming was not reliant on large heavy machinery? What if all stages of production could be carried out by smaller, more precise, mechanised tools that enabled tillage and crop establishment to be less weather dependent and time critical? What if these machines could know the precise location of each and every plant and be able to mechanically weed around them and apply fertilisers and pesticides to meet the exact requirements of each individual plant? What if these machines could then selectively harvest depending on the buyer's specification for produce and allow a staggered harvest to ensure the entire crop reaches its full potential yield? It may seem like a vision of the future but these innovations are already well under development. Commercial availability of these technologies will only become widespread once scepticism can be allayed and the potential for robotics in farming can be communicated to a wider audience. In 2014, the GLNP hosted a presentation from Professor Simon Blackmore of Harper Adams at the Farming with nature conference.