Agriculture goes digital!

Innovations in machinery transformed agriculture a century ago. In the 1930s, one farmer could feed four people. In 2010 one farmer fed 155 people. With digital "agtech" and "precision agriculture" Washington state is headed rapidly into the next transformation. Explore this page to discover how drones, robots and satellite mapping are bringing Washington agriculture into the future.

What happens when agriculture goes digital? This National Geographic video explains.

Precision Ag Tractors

By combining global positioning systems (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS) vast amounts of data about farmland can be collected. Armed with this information, Washington growers can develop site-specific treatments to increase agricultural production.

Tractor cabs equipped to gather data as they go.

A yield monitor in a tractor cab displays information like the crop map above. Farmers can now have real-time information about variables such as soil moisture levels and crop yield.


Washington grows a huge variety of crops-about 300 of them. This fact, coupled with the state's well-developed aviation technology industry makes Washington a natural place for developing and testing Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) in agriculture.


Rotocopter type sUAS are commonly used in agriculture. (Photos by Lav Khat, WSU)

The Washington State University researcher below is using a drone to assess the effects of different irrigation systems installed on a wine-grape vineyard. Normally, it would take hours to walk through the vineyard and examine each plant for vigor. With a drone, that information can be available to a grower in minutes.


About 2.6 million tons of apples are harvested every year in Washington state for fresh market consumption. These fruits must be carefully picked by hand, but often farmers can’t find enough people to harvest the crop. This is where robots could "lend a hand".


The conceptual drawing above shows how a human will interact with the robot which "sees" the fruit digitally then responds to the human's hand motions to pick the apple.

In developing robots, it is important to understand how human hands do the work. Sensors in the glove at left measure force and pressure during hand picking. (Photos by Long He, WSU)