When you think of smart agriculture or farming, what comes to mind first? Microchips implanted in animals or digital screens installed throughout the farm?
Well, all of this becomes a lot less creepy if we take people as the target of surveillance with animals. Twenty-five million cattle roaming the endless Australian flatlands can be much better treated and thus contribute more meat and milk to the livestock industry if blood oxygen levels, heart rate, body temperature, and daily activities of the cows are remotely monitored. This will also provide cattle farmers with precise data on the health of their herds. A Sydney-based startup, by the way, has already begun using implanted IoT devices to provide what we can call smart farming. But we'll get to that later.
1. How IoT has been affecting Agriculture industry
Sensor use in agricultural operations is now a thing of the past. However, this conventional approach to sensor technology has the drawback of not providing real-time data. These sensors were previously used to store data in the associated memory and then use that data.
Modern sensors are now used in the agriculture industry thanks to the emergence of industrial IoT. The cellular/satellite network connects these sensors to the cloud. With the aid of this system, we may collect real-time data and make smart decisions.
Farmers have benefited from the use of IoT in several ways, including tank water level monitoring. The fact that everything is done in real time makes the entire irrigation process more effective. The ability to track seed-growth is another development made available by IoT technology. Farmers can now monitor resource use and the length of time it takes a seed to fully develop into a plant.
A follow-up to the Green Revolution was the adoption of IoT in agriculture. The farmers have benefited from IoT in two ways. With the aid of new technologies, they can now do the same number of activities in less time and also boost agricultural yields.
2. Applications of IoT in Agriculture
In addition to helping to modernize traditional farming practices, IoT-based smart farming also focuses on organic farming, family farming (complex or constrained spaces, specific cattle and/or cultures, preservation of particular or high-quality varieties, etc.), and farming that is highly transparent.
Smart farming based on the Internet of Things is also advantageous for environmental concerns. It can assist farmers in using water effectively and maximizing inputs and treatments.
Urban citizens in developed Countries may be unaware of the fact that 75% of the world’s poor make a living through farming only. This is about billions of people around the globe. Making applications of IoT in agriculture affordable en masse can enhance the effectiveness of their work and therefore increase their income. It will have a positive effect on the urban population, by the way, who will appear less vulnerable to a food deficiency in such a case.
The cost of IoT hardware, nevertheless, is not the main problem for farmers in the developing countries. Still insufficient broadband internet coverage is what keeps many farmers away from the contemporary IoT achievements, unfortunately.
However, even in the areas where internet connection is available, there is still enough space for the new IoT implementations in agriculture. In sum, the general directions to where smart farming should move through using IoT in agriculture solutions come to the following:
⚈ Monitoring of crops, animals, and weather to transform available parameters into valuable data;
⚈ Optimization of use of water and land;
⚈ Reduction of waste and GHG emissions;
⚈ Improving work efficiency through better planning based on constantly collectible data;
⚈ Improving resilience through mitigation of vulnerabilities to environmental disasters (droughts, floods, wildfires, global warming etc), pests, and pollutions;
⚈ Reduction of costs to boost both the productivity and affordability of agricultural products.
Let's examine some of the IoT applications for agriculture:
An implantable health tracker for livestock was developed by an Australian IoT startup mediVet. The idea comes from a creepy globalistic concept of the future digital concentration camp where humans with embedded microchips are exposed to continuous surveillance of Big Brother. The guys changed humans with cows in the concept and a worthwhile IoT in agriculture use case appeared.
The IoT solutions for remote monitoring of herds are not radically new in the contemporary cattle sector, in fact. However, the rest IoT devices for such an application belong mainly to wearables - the gadgets fixed somewhere on a cow’s body. Ears and tails are usually considered the most convenient parts for fixing such gadgets. EmbediVet went further for a reason: since cattle could hardly be convinced against losing the IoT devices (not to mention taking them off intentionally), the most secure place for sensors should be found literally inside a cow. Being implanted under the cow skin, the EmbediVet sensors become an integral part of cattle.
An in-built tablet battery provides a 3-year power supply for the device which sends collected data about both the health and behavior of herds through the cellular internet. The “always connected” livestock becomes totally trackable that, in its turn, allows farmers to develop a better treatment to get more with less.
The solution seems to meet the objective of smart farming, right?
An independent farm data company, as Farmobile calls itself, explicitly declares the very reason of using IoT solutions in agriculture: generate revenue from your data. The company from the US focuses on collecting and sharing data from the farmers’ mixed fleets through two original IoT software products: Farmobile DataEngine and Farmobile DataStore.
Both products at their core are aimed at optimization of farming machinery exploitation and thus at reduction of operational costs that bring more value from agricultural activities. Farmobile combines knowledge of farmers, agronomists, agricultural retailers, and insurance companies in order to monetize their data sets. The IoT technologies from Farmobile reflect a collect-share-monetized digital strategy which implies the famous “do more with less” principle after all. Redefining wireless data transfers between offices and farming vehicles, Farmobile enhances the significance of farming-centric IoT solutions within the Agriculture 2.0 paradigm.
“We create products making your farming more efficient and your life less stressful” - this is what Moocall project from the US declares on its website (a mobile app for both iOS and Android is also available, by the way).
The livestock hardware is gaining momentum in smart farming since the data collected directly from cattle allows farmers to give up guessing about what their cows feel and do in favor of precise knowledge. And knowledge is power as they say. Moocall offers two types of “wearable” sensors to monitor calving and heat remotely. Looking like hi-tech gizmos they are fixed on the tails and necks of the cattle. The hardware-software IoT project is developed in accordance with everything we used to expect from an advanced Internet-based solution including monthly service plans, text messages on mobile phones etc. A certain wordplay in the very name of the project - “Moocall” hints at a possibility to receive calls from cows, how odd it may sound. The original free-to-download Breedmanager mobile application empowers control over herd management through a widely accepted mobile user experience. Indeed, the global “smartphonization” has already reached even animals.
2.4 Climate Control Systems
Two words inherent originally in the agriculture industry - “greenhouse” and “climate” have received some negative connotations in contemporary environmental discourse. And this is for a reason since notorious “greenhouse gases” generate the horrific “climate change”. However, it is worth remembering that a greenhouse technology in agriculture is a true silver bullet for the areas lacking fertile soil (hydroponics allows growing plants without any soil at all). Climate Control Systems Inc from Ontario (Canada) offers several IoT solutions for greenhouse automation.
Having more than a 30-year experience in manufacturing hardware-software systems for greenhouse management, the company shows that smart solutions appeared in the agriculture industry much earlier that we all started talking about the Internet of Things. Three basic systems from the CCS Inc are aimed at reducing costs in three greenhouse domains: the Fertigation Manager reduces costs for fertilizers and irrigation, the Climate Manager reduces heating and cooling costs, and the Ozon Pro reduces costs inherent in environmental compliance. Taking into consideration the many-year success of the company in smart agriculture, it is worth admitting that improving greenhouse efficiency through automation works. This is really a persuasive use case for those who are still hesitating about the capabilities of the IoT in agriculture.
Robotic milking in the era of dairy automation is what a large corporate smart-farming technology provider Lely from Netherlands advocates.
Some statistics first: established in 1948 (!), 1200 employees, 4 R&D departments, customers in more than 40 countries, 1600 patents, and a revenue of more that € 500 million. Impressive, right? What does Lely offer agriculture to have such achievements? Among many other solutions for dairy automation, the company produces robots that look after cows. Robots. Literally. Why so?
Because the second generation of the Lely family who are managing their family business believes in an infinite potential of technological improvements possible in smart farming. The sky's the limit when it comes to efficiency. In contrast to people who keep leaving the agricultural sector due to the emerging urbanized mentality, robots are sector-agnostic. Created to take care of cows they can feed, treat, and milk cattle in an error-free mode without any desire to leave a farm for a city. Any robot can be considered as a personification of the IoT in its core. The robotized solutions for dairy automation from Lely clearly demonstrate how beneficial IoT-enabled agriculture can be. We safely assume that sooner rather than later robots will occupy the entire farming in a good way.
3. What is the future of IoT in the Agriculture sector?
The potential of the IoT is well recognized in both industrial and municipal sectors. Smart factories and smart cities are not front-page news anymore. It is the turn of agriculture to acquire the “smart” prefix in the light of a total digitization. The so-called “agriculture 2.0” or smart farming is transformed from a conceptual category into a common practice due to several determining factors. The major one is the development of the Internet of Things which keeps booming in both hardware and software aspects (the use cases below in this text prove the statement explicitly). This factor can be seen as an indirect one pushing agriculture toward digitization from outside: why not try available gadgets in farming-specific applications?
The second factor comes from within agriculture. To be more precise, it is created by the following challenges the contemporary agriculture industry faces:
⚈ More than 800 million people throughout the world remain undernourished;
⚈ Agriculture generates 19-29% of the total greenhouse gasses being one of the main causes of the climate change;
⚈ The world population keeps growing at such a furious rate that we will need to produce 70% more food to satisfy about 9 billion people by 2050;
⚈ The irreversible globalization implies creeping urbanization when “ballooning” megalopolis wash workers out from rural areas;
⚈ Land which may be suitable for agricultural cultivation has a particular limit of growth from both technological and environmental perspectives.
There is a good reason for quite enthusiastic expectations regarding a market size of smart farming which is going to reach $15.3 billion by 2025. The IoT keeps covering agriculture at a robust pace. The following telling examples of the successful IoT applications in agriculture reflect some possible paths to go in the realm of smart farming for the IoT developers.
Hence, the agriculture 2.0 becomes an inevitable practice while various IoT-based solutions help smart farming emerge.
Many progressively thinking farmers have already grasped the idea where to move in the present days when global nutrition security becomes really a burning issue. The current state of affairs with the growing population requires agriculture to be smart in order to be effective. Food production must do more with less otherwise humanity is exposed to face a severe nutrition shortage in the nearest perspective. The use cases given above show the way how to improve efficiency at lower costs through implementation of various IoT-based solutions in smart agriculture. The IoT development companies throughout the world should recognize such a promising niche as farming which still has enough space for various IoT projects.