smart farming (2)

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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5 Innovative Ways IoT Can Help Farms

With the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, innovation in the agricultural industry is more important than ever. This growth brings with it a need for increased food production and a dwindling availability of arable land. Projections show that feeding a population near 9 billion people would require raising global food production by some 70%. To provide for such steep demands, old farming techniques are simply no longer adequate. Thankfully, the agriculture industry is a burgeoning sector within the Internet of Things, and farmers globally are ready to reap the benefits.

Let’s look at a few ways IoT is helping the agriculture industry around the world.

 

  1. Smart Ag Is Environmentally Friendly

Agriculture is responsible for a significant environmental footprint, accounting for 80% to 90% of US water consumption, releasing massive quantities of chemical pesticides, and producing more greenhouse gas emissions with animal agriculture alone than all combined transportation. IoT technology can maximize production capabilities and minimize required resources in order to reduce the industry’s environmental harm. Sensors can be implemented to test agricultural factors such as soil for moisture and nutrient levels to ensure resources are being used as efficiently as possible. This way water and pesticides can be reserved from unnecessary use and alternates can be implemented.

  1. IoT Provides Precision Control for Farmers

The agriculture industry reaches far and wide, and each sector involves too much labor for one person to accomplish alone. As a result, much of the agriculture industry relies heavily on trusting intuition and human judgment. This also means that workers are nearly irreplaceable during illness or absence. Implementation of IoT technology can allow for real-time access to information that otherwise would take too much time or effort to obtain. Managers can have remotely controlled decision-making capabilities at their fingertips rather than having to wait for reports and then send out orders to workers. For example, rather than using valuable workers, drones are now available to monitor crops or apply treatment to specific areas. Also, companies like Lecia have developed GPS-guided combines and other agricultural IoT technologies. Aeris is helping to make solutions like these possible through cellular connectivity, perfect for remote real-time access to critical data.

  1. Farms Are More Productive With IoT

As agricultural businesses gain more insight and control over their operations, they are able to make better business decisions and thus increase productivity. If a farm can use drones or sensors to monitor fields or cattle, for example, then the experience of the farmer can be utilized to make decisions while the manual labor previously needed to monitor these areas can be better repurposed elsewhere. IoT technology can also be applied to agricultural machinery, allowing for preventative maintenance and more accurate reports in the case of a malfunction, saving time and money. As smarter decisions are made regarding resources, productivity will improve.

  1. Smart Farming Saves Money

According to the USDA, some of the top expenses of agricultural businesses include feed, labor, fuel, chemicals, and farm supplies and repairs, all expenditures that can be reduced with the help of IoT. Implementing IoT technology can allow businesses to make better decisions about efficiently using resources including assets, labor, and capital, significantly reducing operational costs. Replacing and improving past techniques will be the only way to maintain a competitive advantage with rising demands and ever-improving technology.

  1. IoT Provides Transparency for Consumers

As more data is made available to the public, consumers demand high quality products more emphatically than ever. Concerns continue to emerge regarding the environmental footprint, personal health effects, and other details surrounding food production. Utilizing IoT technology in production is the only way to provide consumers with the data and transparency that is now the standard expectation, and thus maintain a competitive advantage in the industry.

When you’re ready to connect your agriculture devices to the Internet of Things, contact Aeris for a customized IoT solution.

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