agriculture (3)

A bountiful harvest: Smart Farming

When talking about advanced technology in general and Internet of Things (IoT) in particular the first aspects that come to mind are things such as gleaming manufacturing production lines, industrial IoT solutions, critical infrastructure facilities, and consumer products for the home or fitness. It is rare that agriculture or farming gets included. Yet IoT is already having an impact within the agricultural sector, helping to improve productivity and yields.

The need

While food shortages can often be more of a food distribution problem than an absolute shortage of production per se, increases in agricultural food production are going to be essential in the years ahead. The United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019 predicts that global population will rise from an estimated 7.7 billion people in 2019 to c.8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion by the end of the century, increasing the demand for food. This is combined with likely increased levels of prosperity and reductions in poverty, which has been shown before to always lead to increases in per capita food consumption as well as, importantly, changes in the food stuffs consumed. As the UN report puts it, “continued rapid population growth presents challenges for sustainable development”.

The response

First off, it’s important to say that any predictions of a Malthusian population crunch are likely to be way off the mark. In recent history, the agricultural sector has shown itself able to substantially increase levels of production, for example through the Green Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s that witnessed the use of new disease resistance high-yield varieties of wheat, rice and other crops.

But to ensure that food production can keep up with demand, a range of responses will be needed. Some of will be knowledge-based, others practice-based: for example, with knowledge of new farming techniques being spread, notably in developing countries; with increased used of hardier and more resistance varieties of crops; and with increased access to tools that enable greater productivity.

In some cases, this access to tools can mean access to farming equipment such as tractors or irrigation equipment. On others, it can include what is being called ‘smart farming’, ‘precision farming’, or ‘smart agriculture’.

Smart farming

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization summarizes smart farming as: “a farming management concept using modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products. Farmers in the 21st century have access to GPS, soil scanning, data management, and Internet of Things technologies. By precisely measuring variations within a field and adapting the strategy accordingly, farmers can greatly increase the effectiveness of pesticides and fertilizers, and use them more selectively. Similarly, using Smart Farming techniques, farmers can better monitor the needs of individual animals and adjust their nutrition correspondingly, thereby preventing disease and enhancing herd health”.

In essence, smart farming is the deployment of advanced technology and IoT in agriculture.

The benefits that can be gained from this are manifold. There are the afore mentioned increases in production and greater effectiveness of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer. But there are also major environmental benefits to be gained through the more sustainable use of water, energy, feed and the soil. The commercial and economic benefits are also significant. An Irish Government initiative that promotes smart farming states that, on participating farms, it averages EUR 6,300 in cost savings per farm and ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

Using IoT and technology in agriculture

Despite the images that many may have of agriculture being technologically limited, this could hardly be further from the truth. Advanced technology and IoT have been rolling out within the sector in line with the developments elsewhere. One of the first studies to look at IoT in agriculture by Beecham Research identified several aspects where in which these could be used:

  • Sensing (or observation) technologies,
  • Software applications,
  • Communication systems,
  • Telematics and positioning technologies,
  • Data analytics,
  • Hardware and software systems.

Specific areas where IoT and related technologies are being rolled out within include:

  • Livestock monitoring,
  • Storage monitoring, for example in water tanks, fuel tanks, waste tanks,
  • Indoor farming in greenhouses and stables,
  • Forestry,
  • Arable farming,
  • Fleet management,
  • Fish farming.

There are a wide range of uses within each of these areas. For examples, drones are being used for crop spraying as well as providing remote monitoring of crop growth. DroneFly, a US-based drone supplier, provides a multispectral imagery drone for agricultural use that is enabled for sunlight detection; it further estimates that fertilizer can be delivered approximately 40-60 times faster than through traditional methods. 

Larger equipment is also being outfitted with IoT technology. John Deere, the major agricultural and horticultural equipment company, provides a range of precision agricultural equipment that enables automated guidance for harvesting equipment and data collection to assist with input placement and land stewardship, amongst others.

Some of the most important IoT solutions and tools involve observation and diagnostics. Sensing IoT solutions can be used, for example, to record and monitor conditional data from crops, soil, meteorological conditions, or livestock. As with IoT solutions in other fields, this data can then be integrated and diagnosed in order for automated decisions to be taken or alerts raised. All of this reduces the workload on the farmer while improving reaction time.

Conclusion

Although public awareness of IoT solutions within smart agriculture is less than those provided for industrial IoT solutions or within the consumer environment, the range of IoT tools, systems and applications that are being deployed is rapidly growing and will make an important contribution to the future farming and food needs of us all.

 

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Despite the industry being in a state of post-revolution following the onset and adoption of machinery, there is a batch of technologies that already define the state of technological innovation in agriculture.

 

The agricultural sector is in the middle of the data-driven transformation. Farmers and commodity traders are heading towards technological innovation in agriculture, adopting data analytics and smart farming technologies. Facing a crucial period in their history, agricultural businesses are tasked with combating the issues that will change not only their working methods but the world as we know it.

The agribusiness issues at hand

One of the greatest pain points associated with agriculture is the ability to predict the events that will achieve a given result.

Conditions play even less in the favour of farms positioned within markets that face rising production costs. The global population reaching 9.6 billion people by 2050, up from around 7 billion at present, according to forecasts from the United Nations, combined with the spread of economic prosperity are adding great pressure to the market. The UN suggests the doubling of crop production by 2050 as a countermeasure to this growth.

Some farmers simply cannot increase their land in order to grow more crops. As a result, there is a case for technology to make better use of the space available.

 

How IoT and predictive analytics can solve agriculture’s pressing problems

To become more efficient, agricultural businesses need data and plenty of it. This opens the door for technological innovation, as the size of these businesses and their plots of land prevent any kind of manual surveying.

Already we are seeing an active use of IoT devices to analyse the status of crops, capturing real-time data with sensors. For instance, with soil sensors, farmers can detect any irregular conditions such as high acidity and efficiently tackle these issues to improve their yield.

The data gathered from sensors allows to apply advanced analytics and get the insight that aid decisions around harvesting, while machine learning can transform the figures into solid predictions. Using advanced analytics, agricultural businesses can forecast yields, foresee unexpected weather conditions, predict market demand and mitigate risks, as well as better plan their capacity.

Agricultural drone is also among the key components of smart farming today. Tasked with the surveying of crop and livestock conditions from up high, their use of time lapsing within onboard cameras is helping farmers identify problems in areas like irrigation, which would otherwise go undetected.

Other members of the drone family allow for the spraying of crops at a greater accuracy than a tractor. As an added benefit, this also seeks to reduce the risk of human exposure to harmful chemicals. Back to ground level, there is potential for other robots to help out with manual duties like planting, ploughing and meat production.

The end goal in this case? A more efficient, more effective farm.

 

Conclusion

To spell things out: population growth could mean that every agricultural business will have to increase their levels of productivity over the next 30 years. That said, a review of the tech on today’s market suggests even the most specific problems can be matched with smart agribusiness solutions.

In the era of smart agriculture, IoT and predictive analytics are powering more efficient operations around the world. Combining IoT with analytics, agribusinesses get accurate predictions for crops and market conditions, allowing to increase their yields and profits. Smart application of technologies can facilitate warehouse and inventory management, help plan and execute seasonal works with the automated flow of data from the fields and agro-research labs.

Get in touch to discuss where the IoT can help futureproof your own agricultural business.

 

Originally published at eleks.com

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In the United States, precision agriculture is one of the largest industries by both operational scale and economic impact. The technology utilized is typically on the cutting edge, especially for automation and control. Things like sensors, programmable IoT radios and generally more complex software applications have allowed that industry to evolve, domestically, to a point where land and other resources are used optimally. Internationally, although there have been ‘smart’ or ‘precision’ practices in certain sectors of agriculture, many countries are just now starting to adopt the technology to its fullest extent, including the ability to innovate via start-ups and new practices.

India & the Digital Agriculture Revolution

According to an article in India Times (image credit), the country is aiming to secure a 20 percent stake in the IoT market share in the next five years through its ‘Digital India’ initiative. While many might look at India and think of the sprawling and diverse urban environments that could offer some potential complications for IoT, it is rural areas seeing the most interesting developments. There has been a noticeable growth in tele-medicine operations, which can allow patients in remote areas to interact with doctors for consultation, eliminating the need to get to a city, or vice versa. Perhaps an even greater area of growth lies in the agricultural realm. According to the article, agriculture employs 50 percent of the country’s population, so the potential for a digital revolution is high. Farmers are just starting to implement sensor technology, automation hardware, and even leading-edge tools like voluntary milking systems the allow cows to be milked on an automated machine according to biological needs.

Israel’s Precision Ag Start-Up Community

In Israel, where IoT technology is starting to mature, the name of the game is data collection and analytics. Mobile applications, sensor data collection hardware, and advanced analytics software are three areas that Israel is seeing significant market growth, according to Israel21c:

Israel stands out in precision-ag subsectors of water management, data science, drones and sensors, says Stephane Itzigsohn, investment associate at OurCrowd. … “Multiple startups are aiming toward the same goal — providing good agricultural data — but approaching it from slightly different angles,” Itzigsohn tells ISRAEL21c. “One might use satellite images or aerial photography; another might use autonomous tractors. Not all will get to that peak in the long journey of farming becoming more efficient.”

For example, CropX, an investor-backed advanced adaptive irrigation software solution, can be placed throughout a farming area and synced with a smart phone, allowing the operators to receive real-time data updates on things like soil and weather conditions. CropX is based in both Tel Aviv and San Francisco, indicating that the technology may be poised for wide international adoption in the future.

Analytics Drive Italy’s Drought Recovery

Italy is perhaps best known for a single agricultural export: wine. However, many would be surprised to find out that it is one of the top corn producers in the European Union, producing more than 7 million tons of corn in 2015, according to an RCR Wireless report. In 2016, the EU’s total corn output dropped noticeably due to year-long droughts affecting production. In Italy, start-up companies collaborated with industrial ag operations develop and deploy widespread soil sensor and water automation technology to help streamline farming practices and create a more efficient system for resource use. The technology allowed farmers to get a comprehensive look at their operations and identify high and low yield areas in order to better utilize the available space.

Precision Agriculture and the Industrial IoT

The continued maturation of IIoT technology is enabling countries around the globe to better utilize resources like water, energy, and land area to create better agricultural operations. As populations continue to expand, and food production becomes even more important, being able to connect these technologies across the globe could become a key factor in optimizing crop output in critical areas. Imagine the above farm in Italy being able to send its data to data scientists in Germany or the Eastern Europe who could in turn analyze it and provide actionable feedback. Or an industrial farm in Israel managing its yields sending that information in real-time around the country. These possibilities are not far off, and as the networks, hardware and software continue to be adapted, the future of precision ag internationally, will become the present.

For additional reading:

India Times: http://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/how-the-internet-of-things-is-digitizing-agriculture-speeding-up-rural-development-in-india-326546.html

Israel 21c: https://www.israel21c.org/5-israeli-precision-ag-technologies-making-farms-smarter/

RCRWireless: http://www.rcrwireless.com/20161005/big-data-analytics/precision-agriculture-omica-tag31-tag99

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