Technology improves efficiency, monitoring and reliability. For example:
Traditionally, farmers applied fertilisers evenly across the field. However, the nutrients required by the soil are likely to vary across the field. Precision farming uses technology to accurately monitor soil nutrient levels and apply fertilisers where they are needed. This increases profitability by giving better crops. Using only the fertiliser that is needed is also better for the environment.
Global positioning systems (GPS)
GPS fitted to tractors and combine harvesters allow farmers to map each individual field. Combined with nutrient mapping, the farmer can assess the type of soil in the field and adjust growing techniques and use of fertilisers and pesticides to help the wheat grow well while also protecting the environment.
Grain storage/monitoring quality
The moisture, temperature and quality of the grain can be monitored and controlled using sensors and other ICT equipment. These can react to changes in humidity and temperature to keep the grain at the right constant state.
ICT in milling
Monitoring wheat moisture content
Before wheat is milled, it is 'conditioned' with water to make it suitable for grinding into flour. ICT automatically controls wheat conditioning so that the grain has a uniform moisture content.
Checking flour stream quality
Near Infra-Red (NIR) analysis can be used online to measure the protein and moisture content of the flour streams during milling. The instruments can be used as part of a control loop.
Adjusting the rollers
ICT means that the roller settings can be adjusted remotely and automatically using process control, keeping the balance of the flour streams correct.
Packing the flour
PLCs (Programme Logic Controllers) are used for 'carousel' packing, where over 600 bags of flour may be packed per hour on an automatic carousel. Computer-controlled bag filling means exactly the right amount of flour is added to the bag. This also saves money because bags are not over-filled. ICT is also used to pack the bags as efficiently and neatly as possible onto larger trays or pallets.
ICT in baking
Large bakeries use PLC to control a number of baking processes. The press of a button can regulate the amount and type of flour used, the temperature of ovens and the cooling times.
ICT in retailing and marketing
Retailers and suppliers have linked computers to share order information and invoices using electronic data interchange (EDI). The internet is used to exchange a wide range of information, including sales figures and stock levels. Business to business e-commerce can help track special features such as promotions. The internet is also a powerful marketing tool, with many retailers offering online shopping.